A Man Who Has Attended Burning Man for Decades Captured the Event From His Airplane—See His Stunning Photos Here

Will Roger captures the beauty of Black Rock City, the temporary desert settlement built each year for Burning Man.

Will Roger, photo from the back cover of Compass of the Ephemeral: Aerial Photography of Black Rock City through the Lens of Will Roger, showing Arthur Mamou-Mani's Temple Galaxia at Burning Man in 2018. Photo courtesy of Smallworks Press.
Will Roger, photo from the back cover of Compass of the Ephemeral: Aerial Photography of Black Rock City through the Lens of Will Roger, showing Arthur Mamou-Mani's Temple Galaxia at Burning Man in 2018. Photo courtesy of Smallworks Press.

Each August, a unique gathering takes place in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, as tens of thousands descend on the Burning Man gathering, an annual spectacle of art, music, and community that has become a cultural phenomena—and, increasingly, a lightning rod—since its founding in 1986.

Now, a new book from Will Roger, a Burning Man devotee since 1994, showcases this epic gathering on the playa in stunning aerial photographs, taken on site between 2005 and 2018.

It was Roger’s girlfriend, now his wife, Crimson Rose, who first brought him to Burning Man. “There were about 2,000 attendees that year,” Rogers told artnet News. (By comparison, Burning Man expects as many as 100,000 people to make the trip this year.)

It was the explosive growth of the counter-cultural event that led the couple to get more involved. In the late 1990s, Burning Man had grown to a point where it needed a more structured organizational system if it was going to survive. In 1997, Roger and Rose became part of Burning Man’s core team as cultural co-founders of Black Rock City LLC—it has since transitioned to a nonprofit—with Roger serving as the gathering’s first director of operations.

Will Roger in 2007. Photo by Marnee Benson, courtesy of Smallworks Press.

Will Roger in 2007. Photo by Marnee Benson, courtesy of Smallworks Press.

Where infrastructure had previously been minimal—“desert operations to that point involved simply drawing a hundred-foot circle, putting the Man in the center, and then having a beer” writes Roger in the forward to the book—urban planner Rod Garret was brought on that year to help erect temporary living quarters and venues where there is normally just dust and sand.

“The Black Rock Desert is transformed into a city, home to 80,000 citizens with a full city infrastructure, and back to a blank canvas in just over two months,” said Roger, noting that the city has become increasingly complex in the years since, as it has grown in size and population, becoming subject to more and more regulations from government agencies. “[It’s] truly a miracle in the high desert.”

Will Roger, photo from <em>Compass of the Ephemeral: Aerial Photography of Black Rock City through the Lens of Will Roger</em>. Photo courtesy of Smallworks Press.

Will Roger, photo from Compass of the Ephemeral: Aerial Photography of Black Rock City through the Lens of Will Roger. Photo courtesy of Smallworks Press.

When he started taking photographs, Roger didn’t intend to turn them into a book. Instead, he thought the images would make great thank you gifts to the people who made Burning Man possible. “I have always considered Rod Garrett’s city design to be an amazing work of environmental art,” he explained. “Since I had aerial photography experience, it only seemed natural for me to photograph the structure from above.”

Compass of the Ephemeral: Aerial Photography of Black Rock City through the Lens of Will Roger, published in June by Smallworks Press, showcases Burning Man’s history, pairing Roger’s images with those of other photographers, as well as an essay from Roger about the challenges of putting on an event of this size and magnitude in a barren desert.

Will Roger, photo from <em>Compass of the Ephemeral: Aerial Photography of Black Rock City through the Lens of Will Roger</em>. Photo courtesy of Smallworks Press.

Will Roger, photo from the front cover of Compass of the Ephemeral: Aerial Photography of Black Rock City through the Lens of Will Roger. Photo courtesy of Smallworks Press.

His favorite photo is the one on the cover, taken during a particularly dusty, cloudy morning. “I didn’t think I got any good shots that day because of the poor conditions,” Roger recalled. “When I got back to camp and started to look through what I had captured, that image just jumped out at me.”

And despite his many years on the playa, Roger is still a steadfast believer in the magic of Burning Man. “Each year on the morning of the event opening I look forward to the remarkable energy shift after 40,000 to 50,000 burners arrive in Black Rock City,” he said. “That energy, filled with positive intention, unconditional love, and creativity is powerful. Everyone feels it and is affected by it.”

See more photos from the book below.

Will Roger, photo from <em>Compass of the Ephemeral: Aerial Photography of Black Rock City through the Lens of Will Roger</em>. Photo courtesy of Smallworks Press.

Will Roger, photo from Compass of the Ephemeral: Aerial Photography of Black Rock City through the Lens of Will Roger. Photo courtesy of Smallworks Press.

Will Roger, photo from <em>Compass of the Ephemeral: Aerial Photography of Black Rock City through the Lens of Will Roger</em>. Photo courtesy of Smallworks Press.

Will Roger, photo from Compass of the Ephemeral: Aerial Photography of Black Rock City through the Lens of Will Roger. Photo courtesy of Smallworks Press.

Dan Adams, photo (2011) from <em>Compass of the Ephemeral: Aerial Photography of Black Rock City through the Lens of Will Roger</em>. Photo courtesy of Smallworks Press.

Dan Adams, photo (2011) from Compass of the Ephemeral: Aerial Photography of Black Rock City through the Lens of Will Roger. Photo courtesy of Smallworks Press.

Vanessa Franking, photo from Compass of the Ephemeral: Aerial Photography of Black Rock City through the Lens of Will Roger. Photo courtesy of Smallworks Press.

Will Roger, photo from <em>Compass of the Ephemeral: Aerial Photography of Black Rock City through the Lens of Will Roger</em>. Photo courtesy of Smallworks Press.

Will Roger, photo from Compass of the Ephemeral: Aerial Photography of Black Rock City through the Lens of Will Roger. Photo courtesy of Smallworks Press.

Laura Henkel, photo (2017) from <em>Compass of the Ephemeral: Aerial Photography of Black Rock City through the Lens of Will Roger</em>. Photo courtesy of Smallworks Press.

Laura Henkel, photo (2017) from Compass of the Ephemeral: Aerial Photography of Black Rock City through the Lens of Will Roger. Photo courtesy of Smallworks Press.

Will Roger, photo from <em>Compass of the Ephemeral: Aerial Photography of Black Rock City through the Lens of Will Roger</em>. Photo courtesy of Smallworks Press.

Will Roger, photo from Compass of the Ephemeral: Aerial Photography of Black Rock City through the Lens of Will Roger. Photo courtesy of Smallworks Press.

Vanessa Franking, photo from <em>Compass of the Ephemeral: Aerial Photography of Black Rock City through the Lens of Will Roger</em>. Photo courtesy of Smallworks Press.

Vanessa Franking, photo from Compass of the Ephemeral: Aerial Photography of Black Rock City through the Lens of Will Roger. Photo courtesy of Smallworks Press.

Will Roger, photo from <em>Compass of the Ephemeral: Aerial Photography of Black Rock City through the Lens of Will Roger</em>. Photo courtesy of Smallworks Press.

Will Roger, photo from Compass of the Ephemeral: Aerial Photography of Black Rock City through the Lens of Will Roger. Photo courtesy of Smallworks Press.

Will Roger, photo from <em>Compass of the Ephemeral: Aerial Photography of Black Rock City through the Lens of Will Roger</em>. Photo courtesy of Smallworks Press.

Will Roger, photo from Compass of the Ephemeral: Aerial Photography of Black Rock City through the Lens of Will Roger. Photo courtesy of Smallworks Press.

A spread from <em>Compass of the Ephemeral: Aerial Photography of Black Rock City through the Lens of Will Roger</em>. Photo courtesy of Smallworks Press.

A spread from Compass of the Ephemeral: Aerial Photography of Black Rock City through the Lens of Will Roger. Photo courtesy of Smallworks Press.

A spread from <em>Compass of the Ephemeral: Aerial Photography of Black Rock City through the Lens of Will Roger</em>. Photo courtesy of Smallworks Press.

A spread from Compass of the Ephemeral: Aerial Photography of Black Rock City through the Lens of Will Roger. Photo courtesy of Smallworks Press.

A spread from <em>Compass of the Ephemeral: Aerial Photography of Black Rock City through the Lens of Will Roger</em>. Photo courtesy of Smallworks Press.

A spread from Compass of the Ephemeral: Aerial Photography of Black Rock City through the Lens of Will Roger. Photo courtesy of Smallworks Press.

A spread from <em>Compass of the Ephemeral: Aerial Photography of Black Rock City through the Lens of Will Roger</em>. Photo courtesy of Smallworks Press.

A spread from Compass of the Ephemeral: Aerial Photography of Black Rock City through the Lens of Will Roger. Photo courtesy of Smallworks Press.

Burning Man 2019 will take place in Black Rock City, Nevada, August 25–September 2, 2019. 


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