Burning Man

Burning Man 2001-2019

Like many who have visited Black Rock City and been touched by Burning Man culture, it was a life-affirming and profound influence from the first minute I stepped foot on the playa. I am grateful and humbled to have been part of something that has positively affected so many people, so deeply, and to have helped it grow into a global phenomenon. I am in awe of the vast community of creative, loving, hilarious, brilliant, resilient and hardworking humans who will be my Burner family forever. - CameraGirl

As one might expect, working for Burning Man for 19 years provided enough diverse experiences, challenges to overcome, and unique professional opportunities to fill a lifetime. It would be impossible to recount it all, but here are some highlights from Heather's roles supporting the event, the year-round infrastructure and initiatives, and as a visual storyteller and ambassador for the organization.

The Event in Black Rock City and Nevada Operations

  • Member of Event Operations and Senior Leadership teams for 17 years
  • One of first build crew members on event site for 19 years
  • Oversaw Black Rock City, Nevada operations, and year-round technology infrastructure providing IT, network, hardware, vendor and custom software solutions for 17 years
  • Hands on BRC Tech logistics 14 years
  • Member of Black Rock City Budget Committee
  • Volunteer on DPW Work Weekends and playa projects such as fence, signs, ranch, and more
  • BRC Gate operations volunteer 
  • Center Camp Cafe Management Team for 4 years
  • BRC photographer and visual storyteller for 7 years
  • Black Rock City Documentation Team manager for 10 years
"The CameraGirl Method" of placing shipping containers with shiny pom-poms (Photo: Pope Phabulous)

As part of the very early setup crews for 19 years, Heather worked and lived for a month each year in the harsh Black Rock Desert of Nevada, helping to build Black Rock City. Starting with a blank dusty playa, a handful of survey flags and some heavy equipment, she saw it emerge and explode each year into a lively, light and art-filled city, eventually over the years reaching a population of nearly 80,000 people. 

During her first few years, Heather was part of the management of the Center Camp Cafe. She contributed across functions in addition to photographing the build and operations of the central civic structure, and eventually other infrastructure of the temporary city and beyond. This is how she earned the name CameraGirl (or CG), which she is still known by today, and will be for the rest of her life. 

CameraGirl on the job in the Center Camp Cafe

In 2003, Heather took over responsibility for all of the technology infrastructure for Burning Man, from the event in Black Rock City, to year-round initiatives and offices in San Francisco and Nevada. She and her BRC IT & Network teams were some of the earliest onsite build crews, laying the logistics and technical infrastructure to grow and support a fully functioning city in a remote, challenging and unpredictable environment. 

Hidden underground and in the air above Black Rock City is a complex high-speed network enabling connectivity and a vast ecosystem of software for essential city operations

What began with two playa departmental customers and a technical staff of under a dozen, grew in quantity and complexity over time. Upon her departure, the technology teams for Black Rock City had grown to 50+ staff successfully building and supporting complex custom and SAS software, IT and network services for over 70 mission critical functions.

On the cart, on the radio, and on theme, CameraGirl making it happen in Black Rock City (Photo: SuperVav)

Burning Man Organization Year-Round and Cultural Initiatives 

  • Member of Executive, Budget, City Planning, Retreat Planning and Leadership Development Committees  
  • Founder and Chair of Technology Committee
  • Helped introduce technical product management, strategic planning, project management and design thinking to the organization
  • Championed infrastructure sustainability improvements and hosted ongoing community meetings as part of the 2007 Green Man theme
  • Gave talks, led stretches, hosted panels and/or curated tech-related content for 10 Global Leadership Conferences in the San Francisco Bay Area and European Leadership Summit in Denmark
  • Helped organize and run 10+ staff leadership retreats and half a dozen event operations summits and debriefs
  • Hosted monthly Tech Dinner Parties with a myriad of volunteers and expert community consultants over the course of 17 years, discussing topics from Blockchain to wikis, to authentication protocols and more
  • Ongoing engagement with up to 70 volunteers who provided integral functions or consulting expertise for the organization
  • Managed contacts and relationships with over 40+ vendors for software and IT services
Tech Team meeting in the Thunderdome conference room at BMHQ

For years, many people were surprised to learn that Burning Man had an organization behind it, let alone a growing core leadership and office staff in three locations, who were as busy the rest of the year as they were during the crunch times preparing for and operating Black Rock City. 

Zombie Brain Storm hosted around Halloween for gathering community input after tickets began to sell out

In addition to the constant growth, reflection, refinements, and ongoing agency and political challenges faced by the main Burning Man event annually, over the years the organization fostered several nonprofit spin-off organizations that supported civic arts programs, solar installation & education programs, and grass roots relief efforts.

While working for the main Burning Man organization producing Black Rock City and other year-round initiatives and events, Heather’s teams also supported these fledgling groups. The team proactively laid down the technology foundations and infrastructure necessary for the Burning Man Project to transition into a nonprofit in 2012 and supported the refactoring that took place as several of the fledgling entities were reabsorbed back into the organization for several years after the transition.

As part of the cross-functional executive leadership team for the organization, Heather was leading technology strategy, planning and operations, as well as discussing the cultural and business aspects of just about every organization evolution, new program and problem which came along.

The annual Artumnal fundraiser for the Black Rock Arts Foundation and later the Burning Man Project nonprofit

The organization produced a handful of smaller events and conferences in the Bay Area. As the culture from Black Rock City spread out beyond the event in the desert, the organization helped cultivate, educate, and connect a growing network of volunteer led Burner communities around the world. Annual Global Leadership Conferences were held in San Francisco, eventually reaching a capacity of over 700 participants. Additional leadership summits also took place regionally around the U.S and in Asia and Europe.

Heather Gallagher, Director of Technology, and Meghan Rutigliano, Regional Network Manager, saluting in front of the mini Man at BMHQ

Visual Storytelling

During the early days of digital photography (before smartphones, Facebook or Flickr), Heather lovingly built photojournalistic websites and shared the inspirational story of the amazing Burning Man event, culture and community. Because of her keen aesthetic eye, respectful use of imagery - including full credits and permissions of photographers and artists - she was entrusted as a visual storyteller for the organization. 

From 2001-2008, Heather was the Photo Editor for the Burning Man website, carefully curating, editing and preparing images for inclusion in the online gallery, editorial content and homepage features. From 2005-2015, Heather (with the help of her assistant in later years) coordinated the team of photographers tasked with capturing art, performances, camps, vehicles, infrastructure and moments in Black Rock City. In 2003, Heather was asked to produce the official Burning Man Calendar, which she did for the following 17 years.  

Heather AKA CameraGirl with photographer Tristan Savatier, celebrating his photo on the cover of the Burning Man Calendar

Heather represented the Burning Man organization and culture on stages large and small, at home and abroad, giving visually rich keynotes, participating in entertaining panels and interviews, and leading stretch breaks for large groups while moonlighting as the “Director of Stretchology.”

Heather Gallagher and Bear Kittay representing Burning Man at the Collision conference in New Orleans

You can learn more about Heather's contributions during her tenure at Burning Man in this post on the Burning Man journal. You can read some of the press covering her work here.

Pyrotechnics and The Man in 2007 (Photo: Heather Gallagher)

Top photo: Statistically enhanced Terra SARx Satellite image of Black Rock City, Stefan Buckreuss,