I’LL NEVER FORGET my first time at Burning Man. To be honest, it was more memorable than my first sexual experience. I was a playa virgin in 2010, and when I returned home to London I realised how much the event had affected my life. My British reserve had been dissolved by insistent dust leaving me more open to strangers, even on the tube. Plus it had given me the urge to put a creative project into action, rather than just keep it as a thought starter in my notebook.
My photographer friend Coralie Thabot and I decided that at the next Burning Man we would do a project together — her photos, my words. The theme for 2011 was ‘Rites of Passage,’ so it seemed fitting that the subjects of our project should be Burning Man virgins, especially as we had recently lost our Burner virginity ourselves.
The beauty of the playa seems to provide what one wants most of the time, and before long we found that the people who were the most interesting subjects for photos were also virgins. These ranged from the expected topless young women, to the unexpected guy in his 60s who was accompanied by his son.
Scratching under the surface of the costumes, the banter and the nakedness, I discovered alarmingly honest people who wanted to share their anxieties just as much as their bravado. Hearing these personal journeys through this overwhelming rite of passage was surprisingly comforting, as their emotions struck a chord with mine, making me feel even more a part of this life-changing experience.