“Richard considers the Fire Media Machine a “rolling piece of art” and a “photographic platform” where the fire is the primary source of illumination”
Nothing like an obsession to light the fire within.
For two years now, Richard Gilmore, well-known London photographer and Pizza Hut delivery man by trade, has been working on his Fire Media Machine. He drove it all the way to the Burning Man Festival which took place in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert August 28 through September 4. Even though the converted 1983 postal van is covered in graffiti and shoots flames twenty feet into the sky, he was successful in getting it across the border.
The Fire Media Machine has inauspicious beginnings: Gilmore acquired it for one dollar, purchased from a Toronto friend who didn’t want the expense of repairing and storing it. Gilmore spent $1000 to safety it, $600 to tow it to London, and another $1400 to repair the transmission. He put together his own fire-dispensing “poofer” out of pipes. It accumulates charges of propane from a 100 lb. tank and blasts them heavenward. Gilmore is often photographed standing on the top of the truck, a red-headed demon dancing in the glow of self-generated fire.
What exactly is the concept of the Fire Media Machine? Richard considers it a “rolling piece of art” and a “photographic platform” where the fire is the primary source of illumination. He has attended ten previous Burning Mans where he has worked as a photographer for the site’s daily paper The Black Rock Beacon. The truck will have four screens that display his daily photos. He’s even thinking of using the desert floor as a projection screen.
The Burning Man Festival started in 1986 when Larry Harvey of San Francisco burnt an improvised wooden figure at Baker Beach, in part to mark the Summer Solstice and in part to exorcise a recent romantic breakup. A crowd of about fifty gathered and Harvey decided to make the anthropomorphic incineration an annual event. The police shut down the annual gathering when it grew too large and Harvey decided to take it out to the solitude of the Nevada desert. The Burning Man takes place about 120 miles north of Reno on land rented from the United States Bureau of Land Management. The nearest towns are Empire and Gerlach with populations of around 200 people each. Each citizen is given a complimentary ticket, but, by all accounts, they aren’t exactly pleased with the annual influx of eccentric, artistic pyromaniacs. The local gypsum mine closed down long ago, unemployment is rife, and Burning Man attendees tend to stock up on supplies in nearby Reno.
Burning Man operates as a “no money economy.” The only items available for sale are coffee and ice, with all proceeds donated to charity. The Man itself is at the centre of an overall concentric arrangement and, of course, he does not survive the week, being burnt up on the last night. There is also a policy of “no spectators:” everyone is expected to participate and serve a communal function. Famous attendees is the past have included Susan Sarandon and Katy Perry. The policy of “Leave no trace” means that clean-up and environmental stewardship are high priorities. Most people sleep in tents and RVs. It costs $390 to attend.
Gilmore says he has not witnessed any real mayhem or destruction in the past (there have been rumours of people displaying aberrant behavior up to and including running screaming into the Burning Man itself) and says that the communal spirit of the Festival tends to bring out the best in everyone. He has had difficulty sleeping on site in the past due to the “24-hour noise” and the fact that the excessive heat makes daytime napping problematic.
Water – that most pressing of human needs – also becomes an issue. About 50% of the cargo brought in by an individual attendee will consist of their potable water requirements, to the tune of 2 gallons per person per day.
Gilmore recently launched a successful gofundme campaign to buy himself sufficient propane to keep the fires burning. In only a few days, donations surpassed the $1300 requested. Gilmore said he was “stunned” at the success and that the generosity shown “really helped to temper my contempt.”
So, after two years of non-stop tinkering and “a million things going wrong,” the Fire Media Machine has commenced its journey. Graffiti artist Brad Biederman has painted the truck with a “Lava Man” motif and Gilmore is currently installing 600 LED lights as a bit of an aesthetic afterthought.
He has already had a play (my one man show Badger Bites Bear) performed inside the truck (for an audience of about six) and is thinking of installing a bar and a PA system. There is definitely a quixotic single-mindedness in Gilmore’s all-consuming hobby, but he believes it has helped get him through some difficult times. These are the benefits that can be derived from tilting at a windmill.
Gilmore fully expected to be gawked at with awe and even pulled over as he headed to the Black Rock Desert. Fire Media Machine had already crossed the border once before, to attend the Lakes of Fire Festival in Western Michigan. “Getting across wasn’t the problem. The fact that the truck runs on propane and it wasn’t available for sale was the problem.” He had to turn around and head back. Gilmore is currently working on converting the truck to gasoline.
What are his plans for his fire-breathing Hell-on-wheels after the Burning Man? Gilmore is eager to acquire a sponsor and take the truck on tour. He thinks the Red Bull energy beverage company might be an appropriate choice. His two year labour of love just needs a little corporate attention to send it permanently on the road.
Richard Gilmore is a fiery ginger and a very innovative fellow. He has won Halloween costume contests for the sheer ingenuity of his designs. I have seen him swing around chains of fire with a grin on his face worthy of Prometheus himself. At home with this most dangerous of elements, Richard Gilmore is indeed on his own Quest for Fire.
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