You may remember photographer Alina Rudya from when we discussed Prypat Mon Amour, a portrait book that pays homage to the individuals displaced from her hometown by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986. For those who aren’t familiar, Alina is a Berlin-based photographer and storyteller with a knack for capturing human emotion. Most recently, she returned from an epic 10 day road trip along the west coast of the USA. The grand finale of the trip was spent at Burning Man where she delivers another striking photo essay, this time detailing the sights and emotions she experiences while she was there.
Tell us about this road trip you just returned from, what was your itinerary?
In late August I’ve taken a road trip I always dreamed of taking. You can call it an ultimate bucket-list trip and I believe that all dedicated travellers should do a similar route at least once in their lifetime. I was accompanied by my boyfriend, who helped me by photo-assisting, for which I am enormously grateful – if you have ever dated a photographer, you know that your every holiday transforms into a series of photoshoots, observing nervous breakdowns because of the missed photo opportunities, early raising for sunrises and enjoying sunsets through the viewfinder rather than live. I am exaggerating of course (but also not really).
The itinerary was quite dense, since some of us had a full-time job and a short holiday (hint – not me). Thus this article can be also described as “How to see as much as possible in 10 days.” The road trip though, was a great possibility to drive through many different places in a short period of time, which allowed me to see how States are all different from each other not only landscape and weather-wise, but also culturally and traditionally.
The route we’ve taken was San Francisco – Pacific Coast Highway – Big Sur – LA- Joshua Tree Park – Grand Canyon – Antelope Canyon – Horseshoe Bend – Zion National-Park – Lake Meade – Las Vegas – Death Valley National Park – Sequoia National Park – Yosemite – Lake Tahoe – Reno – Black Rock City -San Francisco.
The final destination of our trip was the Burning Man festival, Black Rock City, Nevada, held this year from the 28th August till the 5th of September.
What were some of your top highlights of the trip?
I’ve heard a lot about the Joshua Tree park from Californians and I must tell it didn’t disappoint. The first advantage was absence of people. We also got lucky with the entrance fee, since we visited it on the 100th anniversary of the National Park’s service, so the whole weekend of parks was free of charge. Camping under the stars was also one of the cool things I rarely do.
Death Valley is known to offer some of the hottest temperatures and I’ve experienced the heat on myself. 47C/116F of dry heat can be only compared to sticking your head into an oven for no reason, but experiencing something so unique, even though discomforting, was another unforgettable experience. Landscapes of the Zabriskie Point and Artist Pallete are just extraterrestrial. At some point the landscape reminded me of Iceland, just in a desert condition.
Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks. On the way to Yosemite valley we made a detour to look at the biggest tree in the world – a 2300-2700 year-old sequoia named General Sherman. It was totally worth it. Just looking at that enormous tree, knowing that it grew on that exact spot at the times before Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Christ, Napoleon and Donald Trump, was an eye-opener. Yosemite was without doubt spectacular. I wish I had more time to spend here off the touristic routes. There is a lot of possibilities to discover wilderness in the park, but it is of course risky as well, because of the wild animals (primarily bears) and lack of mobile connection for emergency situations.
Bodie Ghost town was an accidental detour. I saw a picture of this miner-town stuck in the 40s in one of the gift stores in Yosemite and I immediately wanted to go there. It was a miner gold-rush center in the late 1880s and had a population of almost 10K people, before fading off and being completely abandoned in the 1940s. Now it is a memory site and the buildings around the town are left in the state they were left by the owners. You can look inside through the dusty windows and even come in to see the frozen past. Spooky and unbelievably cool.
Black Rock Desert/Burning Man
I’ve seen many pictures and videos from the Burning Man festival before. But no picture or even film can fully represent the festival. The feel, the look, the atmosphere, the sounds. I was truly amazed and can only recommend to people, who want to experience a different lifestyle, community and probably even for those who want to reinvent themselves.
How would you sum up your experience at Burning Man? Why did you decide to go and how long were you there for?
It is hard to describe my experience, since it was all I’ve expected and none of it at the same time. There is a funny video online, which shows a person, coming back home from the festival and trying to explain to his girlfriend the meaning and the essence of the place and event. It is quite funny because it is so close to the truth. If you look at the pictures and think “woah” than imagine that “woah” multiplied in its intensity. Overwhelming wave of all kinds of senses, sleepless nights, breaking of boundaries – in the end of the burn you won’t be surprised by anything. Probably only by the lack of man in tights in your hometown. I was fascinated by the amount of creative and artistic people, who, nevertheless, were no artists. By the amount of weird mutant vehicles, neon glow and great music, which was all free of charge to experience for those who purchased the ticket. There is no money and no barter inside the Black Rock City, people just give you things, free hugs, food, drinks, compliments, workshops… Honestly, I haven’t experienced a 10th part of all things offered at the playa, but this small amount is enough for another 10 years of memories and weird stories.
I had a goal of getting the best shots at the festival, so many times, when everyone was partying their heads off, I was biking around taking pictures, concentrated and determined. Nevertheless, it didn’t ruin my days there. Since the festival is about expressing yourself, and photography is my way of feeling best.
What are some common misconceptions that people have about Burning Man, since you’ve experienced it now in real life how has that changed?
Many people think, that Burning Man is a music festival, like Lollapalooza or Tomorrowland. Others think that it is a hippie event for people, who have no real jobs. Both statements are, to a certain point, misconceptions. There is music, but it is not THE essential part. It is about radical expression of your talents, personality and feelings, and people express themselves in all genres – art, music, dance, costumes etc.
Most people I’ve met had either a full-time job or were entrepreneurs. The truth is, participating in Burning Man is not the cheapest thing, if you want to do it right. Just to set up a camp, buy a ticket, rent transportation and provide yourself with shelter, food and water for the week of the event, can cost you a monthly wage, if not more. There’s been criticism recently about the wave of tech-millionaire ruining the vibe by flying in on private jets and setting up private camps with air-conditioned RV’s and private cook, but I’ve got no negative vibe at the playa. The territory is huge, the amount of tickets sold – over 70K, so I think there is a place for everyone in the desert.