THE TEMPLE: Life and Death with Peter Gordon

by Whatsblem the Pro

The Temple of Transition, Burning Man 2011 -- Photo by Peter Gordon

The Temple of Transition, Burning Man 2011 — Photo by Peter Gordon

Peter Gordon is an award-winning photographer based in Ireland, where he’s been working full-time as an art photographer for the last seven years. Gordon studied history and politics, but said goodbye to all that so that he could indulge the avid interest in photography he acquired from working with his father, photographer Ed Gordon. “I got hooked,” says Peter, “and there was no turning back.”

Inside the Temple -- Photo: Peter Gordon

Inside the Temple — Photo: Peter Gordon

Gordon has not just won awards for his Burning Man images, he has won the most prestigious photography awards in Europe for them, including European Photographer of the Year, and a European Reportage Golden Camera from the Federation of European Photographers. In 2013, Peter Gordon was named Irish Professional Photographer of the Year, Landscape Photographer of the Year, and Pictorial and Travel Photographer of the Year by the Irish Professional Photographers Association, while his work took Best Single Image in both the Landscape, and the Travel and Pictorial categories.

Peter Gordon’s latest project focuses on the Temple of Transition at Burning Man 2011, which has been widely regarded as the best Burning Man Temple to date. Mr. Gordon kindly agreed to tell me all about it.

Whatsblem the Pro: Peter, I understand you’ve got a book project in the works. Can you tell me about it, please?

Peter Gordon: That’s right. ‘Life and Death – The Temple‘ will be an exhibition and book of fine art photography of the Temple of Transition. It’s not just about the Temple of Transition as a structure; it’s about the Temple experience. It’s about capturing the essence of a poignant spiritual experience in the incredibly beautiful surroundings of the Black Rock Desert. The imagery shows that we’re all human beings; we all celebrate life, we all mourn death. We do it in different ways, but the project is saying: Look, here’s a way that people are dealing with very deep problems: loss and separation, death, and celebrating the most important elements of their lives as well, like marriage. And WOW is it working for them! When the project is released fully in late September, you will see these themes of Life and Death in people’s expressions and experiences at the Temple, in the building itself, and of course on the canvas of the Temple walls.

Photo: Peter Gordon

Photo: Peter Gordon

Whatsblem the Pro: Is this a solo project, or are there other people involved?

Peter Gordon: The IAM crew, especially James Diarmaid Horkan – aka ‘Irish’ — are the only other people directly involved with the project. They built the Temple that I’m telling the story through. I was an IAM crew member on the Temple build, so we’re bound together by friendship, common experience, and a set of (hopefully) iconic images.

Whatsblem the Pro: How did you find out about Burning Man?

Peter Gordon: In 2011 I was part of the fundraising drive to build the Temple of Transition. ‘Irish’ is an old friend of mine from the motherland here in Ireland, and when the IAM crew got the go-ahead to build the 2011 Temple, Irish asked me to get involved. I jumped at the chance to get back to the desert!

The idea was to give crowdfunding supporters of the Temple a chance to own a limited-edition fine art print of a photograph of the structure. The reward seemed to go down well with donators, so I got myself on a plane across the Atlantic from Ireland and hit Burning Man.

Whatsblem the Pro: What do you hope to achieve with ‘Life and Death – the Temple?’

Peter Gordon: Initially, my goal was simply to fulfill the fine art print reward through a series of drop-dead beautiful images of the Temple. As I spent more time at the Temple, the project began to evolve in my mind. I could see the real – and very positive – impact the Temple experience was having on the people taking part, and I was struck by the very serious process that so many people were going through. I had never seen the Temple story told fully through a documentary photography project, and just felt compelled to tell it. The process involved a fair amount of deep sadness, but also incredible joy and ultimately catharsis.

Photo: Peter Gordon

Photo: Peter Gordon

Whatsblem the Pro: I know what you mean. I’m not a person who cries easily or often, but the Temple of Transition at dawn, and all the things people had written on those walls, had me weeping openly.
What kind of support are you looking for to bring this project home?

Peter Gordon: I’m trying to get people involved with the project through the Kickstarter campaign, which I’m hoping will raise enough money to print a 112-page coffee table book, and pay for design services and a launch space in Dublin. I’m planning to bring the project to the US as well, so I’m actively seeking spaces where that can happen.

Whatsblem the Pro: Where can we get more information?

Peter Gordon: If people want a bit more info about the project and me, they should check out my website or my Facebook page.

Whatsblem the Pro: How can we donate or otherwise get involved?

Peter Gordon: People can get involved through my Kickstarter campaignWe have some really cool swag on offer as rewards, including Temple screen savers, the coffee table book, and fine art prints.

Whatsblem the Pro: Thanks, Peter, and good luck. I’m looking forward to showing that book off on my own coffee table!

Peter Gordon: Thank you.