Darkroom in the Dust

 "a huddle of people gather wrapped around both sides of the silver pod.  Onlookers and art cars stand frozen in the buzz of the playa. "

STORY BY Jessica Giacobbe                                                                  COVER PHOTO BY Andrew Burns                                    


For those who have traveled to Black Rock City, Nevada, this project may take the immaculate cake of love and dust. Traveling to this year’s Burning Man, San Franciscan artist Brian Sullivan brought his handmade wet plate camera and darkroom out onto the playa for it’s final time.

On the surface, his structure looked more like a time machine than a photographic phenomenon. The dual lens camera and darkroom were elegantly concealed within a petite metal cocoon on wheels, and was often pulled by an art car that looked curiously like a firefly.

Inside the pod hosted a light sensitive chamber that was also a self-sustainable darkroom.  One of our rotating volunteer team members inside the room would coat, capture, and develop these tintypes.  All while many beautiful creatures gathered, dust blew and a soft bmp of at least 120 thumped in the background embracing the rhythm of the playa.

As you approach the project in action, you would most likely see a huddle of people wrapped around both sides of this silver pod.  Onlookers and art cars stand frozen in the buzz of the playa.  A few moments later, the crowd bellows, “One one thousand, two one thousand!” as the manual shutter of the custom built camera opens.

When asked about the project, Sullivan would modestly describe the intricate and seemingly unpredictable process as if it were second nature. The process is careful and considered, contrasting with an environment that is anything but. His dedication to his machine and it’s process was apparent, as he could be found soldering electrical wires into the wee hours, just to get those last lights for the Firefly in place.

Sullivan prepped for months not just to build this marvel. Travel into the desert with it, and capture beautiful moments. He modified this camera to create larger dual plates that create two images allowing him to keep one for his archives and then gift the other away to his guests. The gratitude spurred the project on. Families, friends, and even strangers were able to have an exceptionally special moment captured using one of the oldest methods of photography. Then were able to watch their photo develop, dry and be lacquered all within this dusty utopia.  


Jessica Giacobbe is an artist/filmmaker originally from northeastern Pennsylvania.  From coast to coast she finds most inspiration through travel and tactile experiences.  Working heavily from intuition and finding that utilizing instinctual feelings of risk, trust, and reliance can create magic. For more from Jessica, visit www.jessicajgiacobbe.com