A glimpse at my sophomore Burning Man year: 1996. [Yes, there were guns.]

Rusty Blazenhoff 1996 at Burning Man
Yup. That’s me, at TTITD in 1996. I’m holding a shot-up toaster.

You may have heard that Burning Man used to be cooler. Were there fewer rules? Yes. Was it better? Hard to say. But, I can say this, the early ones were major game changers for me.

I started going to Burning Man in 1995 when I was 24 years old. At that time it was still relatively small and underground, as the Internet hadn’t gone super mainstream by that point. There weren’t more than a few thousand people attending and tickets were just $25 each. I had heard about it from my friend Rich Littlejohn, just a few weeks before it started. He asked if I was interested in going on a “desert camping trip.” I said “yes” not knowing what I was getting myself into, not knowing that my life was about to take a major shift.

From 1995 to 1996, I had met my tribe, a budding community of early Burning Man goers (we did NOT call ourselves “burners,” that name came much later) and Cacophonists that had sprung up in San Francisco’s art scene. We started our own email list, which still exists today (though under a different name). If I had to guess, I’d say that I still know about 90-95% of the people I met my first and second years at Burning Man. Several of them worked (including myself) or still work on putting the big show together in the desert.

So, by 1996, I was more than ready for my sophomore year at Burning Man. The group I was part of, a satirical zine-producing organization called Bigrig Industries, was invited to join Bwana Dick’s Safari Camp that year. It was an honor to be invited –as it was the amazing folks that had put together the popular Tiki Camp the previous year– and we dressed the part, from pith helmets to khaki shirts spray-painted with our logo.

Luckily, I have been an avid photographer since forever and have lots of photos to share with you.

Here’s an afternoon Safari Camp. You might recognize that lady in braids:

Safari Camp 1996

This is (a different) Rusty and his wife, Michelle. That year, for Safari Camp, they made a giant giraffe bicycle using long carpet rolls:

Rusty and Michelle at Burning Man 1996

Here are some well-dressed friends, posing at the tusked entrance of our camp, getting ready to attend the Cacophony Society Cocktail Hour:

Safari Camp cacophony cocktail hour 1996

At Center Camp, we posted one of our Bigrig Industries stickers on the bulletin board (that’s a jackalope in the line of sight):


Little known fact: 1996 was the ONLY year that you could sell things. I sold postcards with a photo of the Man that I had shot in 1995. Also notice the book of matches with Drinkie the Drunk Guy, our own anthropomorphic icon, on it. We handed those out freely and encouraged people to”burn the Man early.” We were joking, of course, and had no idea that someday someone WOULD burn the man early:

Burning Man postcards 1996

I remember being asked to have my photo taken next to this sign. I was amused by the “boy and small monkey” needing a ride:

Rusty Blazenhoff at Burning Man 1996

Ok, guns at Burning Man. Yes, there were guns. The culture was different then and the event was much, much smaller.

This is the Disgruntled Postal Workers, a well-armed group from Portland, Oregon, on top of Max the Amazing Daredevil Finmobile.

Portland disgruntled postal workers

At some point during the event, we drove (!) off to the edge of the mountains to shoot toasters:

Max and a gun

Shooting guns at Burning Man

Shooting guns at Burning Man in 1996

The ladies 1996

Toasters were a “thing” that year. This is Dennis Borawski catapulting one of our toasters across the playa:

Dennis Borowski catapulting a toaster at Burning Man 1996

I’m really excited to have this photo! This is my friend Veek’s Toast Central camp and it was the year we first met. I brought her over some toasters to add to her collection. Veek is, to this day, a great friend and, through the years, has made a deep and positive impact in my life:

Veektoastia's camp of toasters in 1996

Here, past the table of toasters, you can see the opening to her brother Chris’ Pyramid of the Camera Obscura:

Chris DeMonterey's camera obscura camp 1996

This is a rare shot. This is Laughing Squid’s founder, Scott Beale, standing with my then-boyfriend Brody Culpepper and our camp’s big rig piñata (which, of course, we later burned!). What we didn’t know then is that, many years later, I would spend over two years working with Scott on his popular blog, which didn’t exist in 1996!:

Scott Beale, Brody Culpepper, and a big rig pinata at Burning Man 1996

I love this one too. This is my dear friend Maggie Duval, who has also gone on to do deeply influential work in the world. I met Maggie on the first day I arrived to California in 1994 and she was one of my campmates in 1995. In 1996, she was working for Media Mecca.

Maggie Duval and Rusty Blazenhoff at Burning Man 1996

Talk about a #tbt, eh?!

photos property of Rusty Blazenhoff