Burning Man just came to a close, which means Black Rock City is no more for the year, and nearly 100,000 Burners have to shake sand out of their luggage, treat some minor sunburns, and return to the lives they had so much fun escaping. For those of us who missed the Burn, there will be no memories of an afternoon on the playa, getting our hair braided by someone in a Wonder Woman outfit; or creating a piece of intellectual sculpture with a dozen strangers who were also on mushrooms. The best we can do is live through the stories and images produced by others. People like beloved festival photographer Miles Najera.
Najera is well known on the festival circuit. Rather than being another photo-happy interloper, he has deep affection for his subjects and his images translate all of the energy and the sensuality of festival life. Whether it’s a curvy brunette manipulating two illuminated hula hoops beneath an inky sky at the Great North Festival, or a dude with a cat ear headband, drawn on nose and whiskers, and quilted batik vest smiling for the camera at Envision, when you see people through Najera’s eyes you’ll want to be their friend. It’s a window into a dream life — a hot, ecstatic, barely dressed fever dream.
Najera is a freelance photographer for a number of different publications, as well as a graphic designer raised in Northern California by an artist father and a photographer mother. His parents were passionate in their encouragement to pursue a creative path, but Najera never imagined becoming a photographer. Even when he was following his mother to shoots and carrying her gear and holding her reflector, it still was never his plan to pursue a life behind the lens. She certainly inspired him in many ways, but he had to find photography for himself as an adult.
When did you first consider becoming a photographer?
I discovered photography on my own when I started going to festivals in 2009. When I was there, I wanted to find a way to contribute somehow, to convey why I was going to these things and capture the magic. The best way that I thought to do that was through photography. There are actually times that I randomly notice myself doing things I learned from helping my mom on shoots that I didn’t know I remembered.
I got a photo press pass to Symbiosis in 2013, and I borrowed a friend’s DSLR camera; I only ended up only taking a few photos, and they were all very bad and out of focus. It wasn’t really a success from a photography standpoint, but that was the moment that I realized that it was possible. It was made possible for me then, and I was inspired from there. I started going to more festivals and bringing my camera around more and having more confidence in my camera.
My girlfriend/partner Morena Duwe, who is a very talented music journalist, got me that first photo pass and has given me a lot of the opportunities that lead me to where I’m at today. We work together all the time. I take the photos for a lot of her articles and we always have each other’s back at festivals.