Survey of Photography at Kiwiburn 2021

Apr 26, 2021 | Uncategorized


The survey was answered by 161 respondents, 37% of whom did not take any photos at this Burn and the rest largely followed the principles of consent. Nearly all were private people (one official photographer responded) and those taking photos mostly used cell phones.

Over 90% rated their experience of photography at the Burn and online afterwards as OK or better. Negative comments were around witnessed incidents of photography without consent – Drones, GoPros, filming of crowds with problematic consent. On the positive side, people enjoy good “official” photos (including drone photos!) which they can share with friends and family, and many said that actually there were no particular problems around photography this year.

When asked more about their views on specific kinds of devices, 90% were happy with traditional cameras being allowed, and 70% with cell phones. Video cameras and drones were less popular at around 40% thinking they should be allowed. Only 7% wanted to ban photography altogether. A separate question about drone policy showed that 61% support “official Kiwiburn drones” being allowed, while 20% would rather ban all drones. Of course these views are not necessarily representative of all Burners – just the sample that elected to fill in the survey!

There are a large number of ideas for the future in section 5 of the report. Some highlights are:

–          Our current approach is not bad, and maybe this issue is overblown.

–          Official photographers could be approved or hired by ExCom, educated, clearly marked with vests/wristbands, and provide de-identified, beautiful photos of the Burn, making personal photography less essential. Their role and permissions would need to be clearly communicated.

–          Kiwiburn should draft clear guidelines for photography, using principles such as Immediacy and Radical Self-Expression as motivations.

–          Wristbands for people who want to be photographed might be a way to clarify consent without impacting immediacy.

–          A concept like MOOP would be a great way to create awareness about photography consent. Camera Out Of Place?

–         A pre-Burn education campaign could pick up the new guidelines and COOP. A quiz on sign up could also work.

–          A briefing at entry is essential.

–          Signage around the event completes the communication strategy.

–          A number of bans/hard limits were proposed, particularly around drones and GoPros, but also around the Effigy Burn and the Naked Run in particular.


161 respondents answered the survey. Some questions related to the respondent’s own practice of photography at the Burn, some to their experience of photography at the Burn. We also asked what devices should be permitted, and what our policies should be in the future.

1.      Respondents’ own photography practice at the Burn

1.1. We asked the respondents how they behaved with respect to photography during the Burn:

Those who took pics, focussed mostly on things that were clearly ok:

–          Friends

–          Art

–          Their camp/theme camp

–          General Paddock

1.2. Virtually all respondents who took photos were doing so in their private capacity. One person was a KB official photographer, and one was a walrus.

1.3. Of those 115 who took photos, 74% used their cellphone, and 25% used a camera (multiple options were possible so responses sum to more than 100%).

2.      Experiences of Photography

2.1. The vast majority (>90%) had an OK or better experience, both at the Burn and online afterwards.

2.2. The main negative issues raised were:

–          Consent:

o   Photographs taken without consent

o   Official photographer taking photos without consent

o   Particularly filming the effigy burn using a GoPro

o   Also photography of fire spinners without consent

o   Apparently there was a consent sign in for a naked night time dance that was filmed – the problem with that is that it creates a connect to real world identity

o  A camp filming their event and telling people that consent was given by participating 

o   Posting of photos online without consent

o   Consent being asked after a picture was taken, not before

–          KB processes:

o   KB official photographer taking photos without consent, with permission from KB

o   KB not responding to inappropriate postings / complaints

–          Drones being intrusive and irritating, and not consensual

–          On the other hand, photographers also complained of feeling harassed:

o   when posting what they thought were not recognisable pics

o   when taking landscape pics etc., for not seeking consent

–          There were some comments on the culture being negatively affected by photography:

o   Photography conflicts with the principle of Immediacy

o   More phones and people being on their phones.

2.3. The main good things raised:

–          It is really nice to have good photos of the Burn online:

o   Taken by a good photographer

o   Providing different angles and views

o   Obtained with consent

o   Screened for any identifiable people

o   People like being able to share their own, and others’, photographs of the event with family and friends.

–          Drones:

o   Aerial official drone photos are lovely!

o   Drone pics are less identifiable because it’s from above.

–          It was actually not that bad:

o   Most people did not notice much photography or change from prior years

o   Consent was sought by most people, many positive comments about that

o   Most people did not see many KB photos appearing online at all.

3.      Permitted devices

3.1. We asked which devices should be permitted for taking photos on the Paddock:

90% were happy with traditional cameras and 70% were happy with cell phones.

Video cameras and drones were less popular at around 40%.

Only 7% want to ban photography altogether.

4.      Drones

4.1. The vast majority (61%) of respondents thought that drone photography should be allowed, but only for Kiwiburn sanctioned drones. 20% did not want any drones at all.

5.      Suggestions for the future

5.1. There were a huge number of suggestions, which are summarised below. Some comments were made by a lot of people and some are unique!

Less is more

There were some comments that essentially said KB is doing fine, and we could even loosen up:

–          We should generally allow photography but with guidelines – the majority actually have no problem with the current approach

–          More photos in the public domain would be nice, people enjoy showing good photos to friends and family

–          We could allow a lot more than currently – look at other Burns where photography is much more prevalent

–          Consent asking is becoming more and more complicated! With other things like hugging it is polite to ask, but the answer is usually YES. With photography, consent seems to be equating to NO – it feels like it is being used to shut photography down.

–          Maybe we need to loosen up on this privacy concern – are we taking our self-image too seriously?

Official photographers

There were a lot of suggestions to have official photographers, either as the only photographers, or in addition to private people.

–          There should be an application to be a photographer, with agreements, education about appropriate behaviour, and potentially oversight

–          The role of official photographers to be clearly communicated to participants – people need to know what official photographers can and can’t do, and how pics will be used.

–          Or Kiwiburn could hire professional photographers (and ban all others?). This gives ExCom control over the images produced

–          Official photographers to be clearly marked – lanyards, wristbands, vests were suggested.

–          Official photographers need to be polite and positive, and know how to interact with participants.

Principles to practice

There were some suggestions on which Principles (Burn and otherwise) might be useful in formulating policy and education around this topic:

–          The principle of Immediacy – if you’re taking a picture, you’re not in the moment

–          Photography limits Radical Self-expression

–          Use the concept of Consent

–          Introduce Each One Teach One as a way to get community to change their behaviour

–          The concept of dignity and respect, Maanakitanga, was mentioned as a way to support consent

Policy and Innovation

These are suggestions about what Kiwiburn could do to make photography work better:

–          Clear guidelines on photography to be published and communicated

o   Particularly guidelines for drones

o   Continue with current consent guidelines regarding recognisable people

–          Research on what other Burns are doing

o   For example how about a Kiwiburn press room, like Media Mecca at Burning Man

–          Wristbands for participants who:

o   Don’t want to be photographed

o   Or alternatively for those who do!

–          Create areas which are photo spots, decorated and encouraging photography, and ban photos elsewhere

Information and education

A subset of policy, but worth its own section, is education. This was one of the most common suggestions with some great ideas:

–          Create a catch phrase like MOOP (POOP? Nooooooo! COOP? “Camera Out Of Place”?) and incorporate it in the culture in the same way as we do with MOOP

–          Pre-burn information campaign:

o   On social media

o   A quiz on sign up testing understanding

–          Include photography as a briefing at entry

o   Either at Gate

o   Or at Greeters (which would only catch newbies)

–          Have a discussion about policy and make community feel included

Nuances of consent

A number of people drew attention to the fact that some of the issues around consent are complex and need to be clearly set out, as they are not necessarily obvious:

–          Educate people about the nuances of consent – publishing, photos of children, what is recognisable.

–          Is photographing art allowed or does it require artist’s consent?

–          Clear guidelines on how to ask for consent – do you need to say what the picture is for and how it will be used? Can you ask AFTER the pic was taken, and delete if no consent?


Another very popular suggestion, with one respondent writing 11 signs for us (in italic below!)

–          Create signage around Kiwiburn to remind people of guidelines

–          Camps could be encouraged to put up their own “no photography” signs

–          Signage ideas:

o   This is not a festival, this is an experimental community. We are not here to be Instragrammed, we are here to be EXPERIENCED.

o   Please put down your phone and enjoy the experience!

o   Leave your phone in the car, you can tell your mum all about it when you get home.

o   Disconnect from your phone so you can reconnect with the people around you.

o   The best memories don’t require photos.

o   We are participants, not actors. Please put down your phone and join in!

o   Freedom of self expression gets squashed when you start taking photos.

o   We want to enjoy ourselves in the moment, not worry about where your photos might end up.

o   The best memories have no proof they ever existed…

o   Sign on or around the effigy:

§  On the night the effigy burns, some of us like to get primal and run around the bonfire naked once the perimeter is dropped. This is an exhilarating thing to experience!

§  Please note that all cameras and phones are to be put away before the perimeter drops, and anyone caught filming or taking photos of the naked run may be immediately removed from the event and/or banned from future events. Thank you!

Hard limits

There were a lot of suggestions on things that we could ban or limit:

–          Complete ban during Burns

o   Or at least the Effigy Burn

o   Or at least the Effigy Burn Naked Run – suggestion that perimeter is not lowered until all cameras have been put away

–          Ban drones

–          Ban GoPros

–          No photography in private spaces like other people’s camps

–          Photos only allowed in your own camp

–          No naked people photography

–          Ban all photography completely

Crime and punishment

There were some suggestions for enforcement and punishment:

–          There should be consequences for those breaking the rules – warnings, blacklisting

–          We could have volunteers to enforce policy

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