We have reached that special time of the year when people are well and truly into their pumpkin spice latte groove, but also have access to the holiday cup at Starbucks. Sweaters and jackets are out, but people in some parts of the country are still wearing shorts (we see you, OC). As we speed toward winter, it’s nice to stop for a minute and think about Burning Man. Mock all you want, you know that spending a few weeks in the desert riding bikes, looking at art, and expressing your bold sexuality is a lot more fun than hauling your ass to work in November, especially if you work retail.
We turned to our friend Galen Oakes (@OneNativeYouth) for some vibrant images of this year’s festival. He’s a photographer whose commitment to joy and vitality manifest in photos that seem to leap off the screen — bright, colorful, humming with good vibes. You may remember his pics from this year’s Desert Hearts festival, which showcased the zany exuberance of the event. His Burning Man images lean more toward art and artistry — without losing the dynamism that defines his style.
Take a few minutes out of any humdrum fall day to scan these photos from Black Rock City and channel their vigor. A change in weather and obligations to your daily life may not let you truly shed your clothes and dance on the Playa, but take some of the spirit these images embody back into your daily life. Or, if that’s too new-age, just check out the pics and think “Damn, that looks fun.” That works, too.
When you last met up with us, you explained how you got your start in photography and festivals but you also said it’s not your full-time job anymore. Is that the case?
Yes. It’s something that I’m transitioning out of and even more so than when we spoke last.
What is your main job?
I make most of my money doing press shots for artists and DJ’s and those are for EPKs, electronic press kits, to be used for tour announcements, single releases, promotional flyers, etc. I do those out of my home studio in downtown Los Angeles. I also do music videos. I just finished one for Anabel Englund — which is going to be coming out soon. I’ve done product photography as well, more recently for the company Zevia, who make naturally sweetened drinks with stevia (the plant extract).
In my spare time, I’m working on OpenCall, which isn’t generating any money at the moment. But, we will be turning on the subscription soon, which will be a way of monetizing it. Hopefully, that will bring in some revenue that we can use to continue growing our user base and adding new features to the app. When I’m not doing things for money, I am working with my friend, Kelsey, who’s an amazing body painter and creative director. We’ve been creating some incredible images together that we will be premiering at a gallery show in the spring.
Wow. So then when you’re doing Burning Man, that’s just out of love?
Yes. My career with photography and videography and digital content started out of my passion for festivals. Shooting festivals was how I learned to hone my craft and to meet people and to get paid in the beginning. It’s where my passion started, though I don’t need to create a living in that space anymore because I’d rather make work doing different projects. In saying that, I always have fun at Burning Man but I always feel like I wanna create so much art because there’s so much that we can capture there. I always leave with the feeling that I didn’t capture enough, yet I’m always capturing so much.
For example, this year I had a few different projects at Burning Man. I was camping with the Mayan Warrior — who have arguably the most incredible art car on the playa. The sound system, the lasers, the vehicle itself and the curation of music is just next level. The owner, Pablo Vargas from Mexico City, invited me to camp with them this year and be one of their official photographers, so I was very honored to be able to camp with them and be able to reflect that experience to the world. Beyond that, I was taking photos for Everfest (formally Fest 300), which I’ve been doing for the last three years at Burning Man. I also was shooting for another camp that was doing a flavor experiment pop up produced by Guerrilla Science that helped people understand how smell and different parts of taste are influenced by the way we look at or think about things.
Oh, I was also shooting for Jen Lewin Studio, who created an amazing art activation out there this year. She’s also camped with Mayan Warrior and the art piece was these iridescent-coated acrylic panels that had LEDs in the inside, and when you stepped on the panels they lit up and then they’d create different patterns. And so, at night time, there were a bunch of people running around dancing, walking on them.