I had rolled out of bed at 5:30 and ridden my bike out onto the Playa to take photos of Burning Man’s 2015 Temple of Promise. It was truly beautiful and promised to be even more so at sunrise. There were lots of folks already there when I arrived (even mutant vehicles), but none of the hustle, bustle and noise that normally accompany Burner events. As the sun hit the spire, the people present spontaneously formed a large circle and silently held hands. No one said let’s hold hands; or let’s form a circle. It was unplanned, a response to the beauty of the moment, yes, but more, something transcendent, a reflection of how Burners feel about their temple.
I use the word ‘their temple’ on purpose. The people responsible for building the temple each year— the architects, master builders, and volunteers who donate thousands of hours— and the people responsible for funding it (somewhere in the neighborhood of $250,000), generously contribute their work of art to the people attending Burning Man, as part of the event’s unique gifting society. Every year, the temple is different, a unique creation, and every year I have attended, the temple has been something special, a thing of beauty. Here is a selection of the temples.
The significance of the Temple goes beyond its beauty, it becomes a refuge, a place to say goodbye to friends and loved ones (including pets) who have passed on, a place to ask for forgiveness and leave messages of forgiveness, and a place to celebrate and say thank you. Literally thousands of messages are left on the temple walls during the week. Photographs, perhaps a dog’s favorite chew toy, even someone’s ashes are left as remembrances.
Photographing the Temple at different times of the day and from different angles only added to its beauty.
On Sunday evening the Temple burns. It is a solemn occasion. Tears run down cheeks, people whisper goodbyes, and friends hold each other tight as flames leap into the air, lighting the night and carrying memories of loved ones into the sky. But it is also a celebration of life, a letting go, and permission to move forward. I had planned to attend the 2015 ceremony along with my friends Tom Lovering and Don Green, but we had the wrong time and the temple burned quickly. Here are two photos from the Temple burn of 2012.