ERIC SCHWABEL – Burning Man Captured

Eric Schwabel is a terrific professional studio photographer who works out of Santa Monica, California – shooting film stars, musicians  & ordinary people as displayed on his website.  As he says on his bio: “…My work is about the people in front of my lens. I focus on the perfection of the imperfect. I prefer not to rely on retouching, and while I love a good kick in the pants on art direction, the goal is to focus on my craft through the lens, no matter what I’m shooting, and get the best (or worst… which is sometimes the best) out of my subjects. My closeups series began with the legendary Kirk Douglas and spawned a concept of shooting the texture of the human face without makeup. I’ve expanded on that thought more, and the series has become quite successful, attracting numerous legends of stage and screen, as well as authors, musicians…”

All very normal, yes?
He’s even had a book published titled “Shooting Male”.
All good, quite predictable. Ok.

But when Eric Schwabel goes to Burning Man he transforms into this crazy, ballsy, super-innovative, nutter of a mad-scientist / Star Wars* designer /photographer. He doesn’t just  blow you away with his amazing images of participants at Burning Man but made me actually  jump up & down with excitement at his innovative techniques & wild & weird contraption to produce those detailed, beautifully lit pictures.
[The Star Wars analogy is quite appropriate not just because of the weird contraption, but because he works on a hot, humid, very dusty, desert platform – Nevada’s Black Rock Desert in an area called the playa]

He  calls it the “Human Light Suit”  which he hand built and as he explains: “…In 2010, the suit was two medium sized softboxes attached to a military frame pack using general photographic grip equipment (extension arms, knuckles, superclamps, etc).  The lighting was two 1200 w/s battery powered strobe heads.  There were two configurations: with the boxes straight in front of me, and the extra weight supported with a bicycle trailer that I was pushing, and the 2nd was straight up above my shoulders, which allowed me to get a lower angle.  In this case, my assistant towed the bicycle trailer and batteries and I walked alongside.”
[The photo below was taken by Sidney Erthal ]

“In 2011, I switched to one light.  I again used Pro-7b kits, this time with a twin head and a big white reflector.  I also experimented without the suit, using a c-stand mounted to a bicycle trailer. This allowed me to light from more than just “straight on,” though between dehydration, playa dust in the nose and general overwhelm-ment (that’s not a word, I know), I think most of the shots remained straight-on.”



[ For 2012, he says “...The Human Light Suit will indeed make an appearance. It will be joined by 3 mobile lighting towers that have yet to be defined or sketched (we’ve got till August 2012, be patient). And something else… which involves hundreds of humans armed with electricity in the cool night. Maybe you will be one of them?]

Watch the very entertaining videos with the stunning images Eric created right below:

2011 Video of Eric Shwabel’s Human Light Suit adventures

2010 Video of Eric Shwabel’s Human Light Suit adventures


Trying to explain what Burning Man is to someone who has never been to the event is a bit like trying to explain what a particular color looks like to someone who is blind.

Once a year, tens of thousands of people gather in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert (also known as “the playa”) to create Black Rock City, a temporary metropolis dedicated to community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance. They depart one week later, having left no trace whatsoever.

Even considering going to Burning Man for the first time can be daunting. And while it’s true that Burning Man is not for the faint of heart, with some research, preparation, and planning, an experience — and opportunity — beyond your wildest dreams awaits you. In Black Rock City, you’re guaranteed not to be the weirdest kid in the classroom. And you’ll become a part of the growing community of Burners who are active year-round, around the world … ensuring that the fire of Burning Man culture never goes out.

In a very clear descriptive essay By Molly Steenson – a Burning Man 101 –  What is Burning Man?   she writes:

Hurtling down the road to the Black Rock Desert, the colors paint themselves like a spice cabinet …And there you’ve touched the terrain of what feels like another planet. You’re at the end — and the beginning — of your journey to Burning Man…” Read More…

You belong here and you participate. You’re not the weirdest kid in the classroom — there’s always somebody there who’s thought up something you never even considered. You’re there to breathe art. Imagine an ice sculpture emitting glacial music — in the desert. Imagine the man, greeting you, neon and benevolence, watching over the community. You’re here to build a community that needs you and relies on you.” Read More…

You’re here to survive. What happens to your brain and body when exposed to 107 degree heat, moisture wicking off your body and dehydrating you within minutes?…” Read More…

You’re here to create. Since nobody at Burning Man is a spectator, you’re here to build your own new world…” Read More…

You’re here to experience. Ride your bike in the expanse of nothingness with your eyes closed. Meet the theme camp — enjoy Irrational Geographic, relax at Bianca’s Smut Shack and eat a grilled cheese sandwich”. Read More…

You’re here to celebrate. On Saturday night, we’ll burn the Man. As the procession starts… ”  Read More…

You’ll leave as you came. When you depart from Burning Man, you leave no trace. Everything you built, you dismantle. The waste you make and the objects you consume leave with you. Volunteers will stay for weeks to return the Black Rock Desert to its pristine condition….” Read More…

“But you’ll take the world you built with you. When you drive back down the dusty roads toward home, you slowly reintegrate to the world you came from. You feel in tune with the other dust-covered vehicles that shared the same community. Over time, vivid images still dance in your brain, floating back to you when the weather changes. The Burning Man community, whether your friends, your new acquaintances, or the Burning Man project, embraces you. At the end, though your journey to and from Burning Man are finished, you embark on a different journey — forever”. Read More...

 writes The Truth About Burning Man in The Huffington Post: “…The truth, though, is that Burning Man is an ideal place for self-reflection and self-transformation, whether substance-aided or not, and as someone who’s just gotten back from his 8th Burn, Lambert’s revelation didn’t surprise me a bit. Friends of mine have changed their names, their professions, and their entire lives at Burning Man. And not because they were stoned or tripping, but because Black Rock City — the temporary city (built and erased within a month) where the event goes on every year, the week before Labor Day — has a tendency to expand horizons, reveal possibilities, and question the assumptions most of us make about how we’re supposed to live our lives.

Burning Man does this, I think, because of a combination of factors. One of them is the sheer size and scope of the thing. 50,000 people. Hundreds of cars and trucks modified to look like dragons, whales, radios, and steamboats; many breathing fire; most with dozens of revelers dancing on them. It’s like “Mad Max” meets “Blade Runner” meets “The Ten Commandments,” and it’s real, it’s actually happening.

And it’s happening without capitalism. There’s no vending at Burning Man — it’s a gift economy. Entire “theme camps” exist just to give away spaghetti, to serve people free margaritas, to make pancakes. Yes, it does cost a lot to get in (between $150-350), but that mostly pays for the rental of the land from the government, the porta-potties and other infrastructure, and grants made to large-scale art projects. No one — not the celebrity DJs who were there this year, like Armin van Buuren and Carl Cox, and not the people who build the solar electrical grid — gets paid. No one is making a buck…” [Read More at the Huffington Post…]

All I have to say at this point is “I-HAVE-TO-GO-TO-BURNING-MAN-HAVE-TO-GO-have-to-go…”

Eric Schwabel  + Burning Man Contacts:



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