Notes on Kite Aerial Photography: Photo Gallery

Above Black Rock City
Burning Man 2001

An early-morning view from high above the blowing dust. One arm of the city, approximately 10 o'clock, is visible to the left. (Canon 24-mm, August 2001).
Black Rock City is a temporary community erected on a dry lake bed in the middle of nowhere. The approach involves driving into the desolate country east of Reno, Nevada then turning north on state roads and driving another hundred miles. One arrives on a large, dry lakebed surrounded by modest mountains. The lakebed is 12 by 15 miles, with an elevation change of only 5 feet from the middle to the edges. It's so flat that the world supersonic land speed record was set there.

On the left is a view across the playa toward the east. If you look at the larger jpg you can pick out the 'man' on the extreme left and several of the art structures on the inner playa. The tilted image on the right captures an 8 am dust storm over an occupied portion of the city (Canon 24-mm, August 2001)

This is the country I enjoy pondering from 30,000 feet as I fly over barren stretches of the American West. From miles up you can see various ridges scattered across the Great Basin and the desolate valleys they define. These valleys contain dry lake beds, the occasional hamlet, and irrigation circles that seem as though vestigial residue of optimistic moments. So this was the setting of our temporary community and it was entertainingly elemental.

Various iterations of Burning Man on the Black Rock Desert are remembered by the vagaries of that year's weather. The 2001 event will be remembered as the Year of Dust. You are close to the weather while living out on the playa (desert floor). During the day it was hot and exposed while the nights were generally mild with the occasional chill. At any time of day the wind might rise. It did not seem to take much provocation for the talcum-powder-like dust to become airborne and drift in low clouds across the lake bed. You should take a look at Lawrence Cook's Burning Man site for aerial images taken from an airplane. His higher views really provide a visual explanation of the dust patterns and a fine perspective of Black Rock City.

Here are comparison shots of Black Rock City under breathtakingly clear desert conditions (left) and breath-hindering dust storm conditions (right). The dust doesn't look like that much from the air but it had a very tangible presence as experienced from the ground.  (Canon 24-mm, August 2001)

Blowing dust presented photographic challenges. It seemed to have a particular affinity for my camera, lens and radio gear. Even 10 minutes of exposure would produce visible dust on the lens and sadly I was without my sable cleaning brush. So I exercised what few precautions I could devise. I tried to avoid flying in the worst conditions although sudden onset made it difficult to predict when dust would be troublesome. I decided to put only one lens -- the 24-mm EOS --  in harm's way. I kept the camera back facing upwind when the dust was severe and I tried to fly above the worst of the dust. 

These strategies appeared feeble in comparison to the threat and I became convinced that camera and lens would surely cease to function. Instead, they seemed to hold up quite well and bear no scars from the experience. Furthermore, the slides taken were delightfully clear and well exposed. A couple of rolls suffered from a film scratch I associate with some internal bit of debris. 

Plan views of the Black Rock cityscape showing settlement densities with recreational vehicles on the left and automobile / tent settlements on the right ( Canon 24-mm, August 2001)

The dust seemed to coat much more than my camera and lens. Every object in the landscape acquired a chalky patina. Happily, I had grabbed a respirator from my shop on the way out the door and this helped immensely to keep the worst of the playa dust out of my lungs. Seems to have gotten about everywhere else though. After returning from Burning Man I took the old Plymouth van in to John, my mechanic, for a bit of work. He called saying that it appeared that there had been a fire in its engine compartment. Turns out the problem was a uniform coating of the light playa dust. 

Your author on the playa with his fashionable respirator (Canon 24-mm, August 2001)

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