First published: Fall 2018
Memories of Larry Harvey, the enigmatic co-founder of the Burning Man festival
I first met Larry Harvey in the late 1980s, at San Francisco Bay Area art-related events and parties like ArtCar Fest, Cacophony Society events and Defenestration. I had known about Burning Man and was invited by two of its organisers, John Law and Michael Mikel, in 1991 and 1992, but I didn’t attend until 1993. I brought my first art car, Oh My God! (1977–2018) – the first or second art car ever at Burning Man, depending on how one defines an art car (Michael Mikel’s 5:04 P.M. first appeared in the desert in 1991). I was introduced to Larry again and again as “Harrod Blank, the art car guy”, and Larry would say, “Oh, I know Harrod.” We both wore big hats – his a bit more regal and felt – and mine, working-class Mexican straw.
Oh My God! at Burning Man, 1995, photo: Harrod Blank with Dan Lohaus and Alexis Spottswood
One night in 1993, by some sort of a fire, Larry told me how Burning Man had first come to be. The story was about letting go of his old self after a divorce and starting a new version of himself. I became totally convinced that I should make a film about Burning Man. I did shoot Super 8 film in 1993, but the following year I brought 16 mm and my father, the documentary maker Les Blank, to help film. I also established one of the first and longest-running theme camps, “Art Car Camp”.
As soon as I could get Larry on camera for an in-depth interview, I think in 1998, the story of the “man” had changed, just as the event had changed. Larry became so busy doing media and working the event that for some years I wouldn’t be able to interview him at all. He never did allow me to just mic him up and follow him around, but he always seemed happy to see me and I looked forward to seeing him.
Over the next 25 years, I would make the annual pilgrimage to Burning Man to film, and every year I would pay a visit to First Camp where the organisers camped. It was as if the overall event of Burning Man was some sort of familiar, family gathering place, and I came to know the people and characters a little more each year. It wasn't really “coming home”, as many Burners like to say, but it was definitely a reunion of sorts. Larry was warm to me and always asked when I was “gonna” come out with the movie. At first it was “gonna” be five years, then it became 10, then 15, and finally I settled on 25 years of actual filming. My biggest regret is that Larry will never get to see whatever it is that I create. In 2015, I filmed him with three cameras at once. The wind was gently blowing behind him, moving the back drop, and it was a very mellow interview. It went on for over an hour, and afterwards Larry told me that it was the best interview anyone had ever done.
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #99