"One of my happiest experiences is, recurringly, Burning Man. No matter how many times I go, I just find it so beautiful and I never cease to be amazed by what incredible, transformative experiences I have there each year."
"Because of the drugs?"
"Not even. Every year, I go with a camp that takes genital portraits. That's our "gift." One night I was behind the camera and a huge group of women came in, and there was one woman who I could tell just wasn't as into it as all of the rest of her friends were. She was a little more shy, more hesitant. I asked her what was going on, and of course, it was that she just didn't think any part of her looked good.
"This was a 25-, maybe 26-year-old woman. She was stunning. She had a great body. I mean, of course, it's fucking society. Society does such a number on you women. It had already been beaten into her that there were all sorts of things that were imperfect about her---things she hated about herself---even though she was young and beautiful. So I was talking to her, trying to put her a little more at ease, trying to get her to loosen up and enjoy the experience a little. She was wearing a revealing top, so I asked her if she wanted me to photograph her breasts---which were perfect, by the way---and she crossed her arms and said "God no!"
"Finally, she decided she'd let me photograph her ass. So she takes off her shorts and underwear and she's just got this perfect bubble of an ass, I mean---it's amazing on it's own, but I have a pose I like to use for women with a certain-shaped butt where I get them to cross their legs, and it just makes their ass look like a beautiful, ripe peach. And so I put her in that pose and I took the picture. And man, I'm not gonna lie, between her ass, the pose, and the my photography skills, it was a damn masterpiece shot. And before we put it on an ID card and laminate it and everything for you, I will let people look at the photo to make sure they approve of it.
"And I mean, I’d done a good job putting her into a flattering enough position, but it was HER ass, it was HER. SoI showed her the picture, and she said "That's not my ass! That's not my ass! That's me?? No! That's me? That's me! No way am I that beautiful!" And I said "Well you've been here the whole time! It's not like I Photoshopped it or anything! That's you! That's what you look like! See?! You're beautiful! I'm telling you, you ARE a beautiful person!"
"I mean, everyone is supposed to bring their gift to share at Burning Man, right? And I like to think my gift to people is showing people how others see them. Because we all stand in the mirror and the first thing our own eyes are drawn to is all of our flaws. So we stand there, slumped over, and just tear ourselves to bits. But I want my eyes---and my camera---to show people how beautiful they look to others.
"And she started crying. And I started crying. And it was just so meaningful to show this young woman that she was so lovely. And we were hugging and crying, and she told me she'd never felt this way about any part of herself. She just kept staring at the picture and smiling.
"Two days later she came back to my camp, and she was topless with her breasts painted. She said she couldn't believe she was out on the playa topless, but that the picture had been a transformative moment for her. She felt more free about herself and her body than ever before. And *I* helped facilitate that; I was a part of that moment with her. It was glorious and wonderful to be part of someone's liberating moment like that.
"So yeah, bliss for me is Burning Man. I'm that guy who always has the "331 days left until Burning Man" counter silently ticking off in my head. It restores my faith in people because moments like I just described are happening all over the playa for 10 days each year and it's magical."