In 1986, photographer Joth Shakerley attended his very first Rainbow Gathering. It was an experience that would change the course of his life, and now, more than 36 years later, he is finally sharing the photos he’s captured of the people who make it so magical.
At just 20 years old, Joth was encouraged to go to his first Rainbow Gathering by a “beautiful hippy chick” at a Hare Krishna temple in Los Angeles where he often went to enjoy free food on a Sunday. After hearing about this free-thinking community, he and three friends cruised up the Pacific Coastal Highway towards the rugged mountains of Big Sur where the gathering took place, completely unaware of how transformative the event would be.
“It was an invitation that changed my life completely. As you arrive, everyone’s welcomed home, everybody hugs you and you’re offered anything you want to eat or drink.” While there aren’t any rules as such at Rainbow Gatherings, people are asked not bring drugs or alcohol as they can change the energy of what’s supposed to be a sacred, healing space.
People are also encouraged to leave their phones behind and immerse themselves in the here and now, the nature that surrounds them and the people who come together to reconnect. These month-long events give people the opportunity to lose the attachment we hold to urbanization and social media and return to a much simpler lifestyle where people cook on open fires, sing healing songs and learn new skills through the holistic workshops fellow rainbows run. These could include anything from drumming circles to yoga classes, breathwork exercises or even tantric practices.
I asked Joth if one particularly Gathering stood out to him over the last 36 years. “Every one is like my first one because it’s always in a different location, but I think the one last year in France was the most healing. I had just broken up with my girlfriend of three years and I was literally in tears in the forest for a month. That obviously affected my entire experience with the gathering but it really does depend on where you’re at in your life”.
2004 was the year of Joth’s favorite Gathering which took place six hours from Tel Aviv, Israel in the middle of the desert, miles away from civilization. Water was scarce and supplies limited yet more than 300 people gathered to create an incredible energy that had Joth crying tears of pure bliss.
He also recalls a Gathering where the relationship between life and death permeated through the community in an undeniable cycle. In the Dolomite mountains, a raging storm led to tragedy when a tree fell on a friend's tent, killing him instantly, but as is with the circle of life, just two hours later an Italian woman gave birth to a baby in an icy stream. “It’s as if everything was alive and one soul had passed on to another” Joth recalls.
It wasn’t until 1996 at a Rainbow Gathering in Portugal that Joth first brought a camera to the event. Cameras are generally not welcome and while there are no rules against it, Gatherings are meant to be a healing space where people can open their hearts and minds - without the worry of being documented.
“I had my little Nikon FM2 with me and I just started asking a few people if it was okay to take their photo. One guy called Arvinda said “yes yes please, follow your heart, take photos and make the story” and that was the start of it. I took about three or four really beautiful pictures that year and one was of this great guy on top of a hill called Coffee Mountain looking like a tribal warrior. I thought to myself wow, that could be the cover of a great book.”
Rainbow Gatherings have never really been photographed and for the last 25 years, Joth has been very protective of the photos he has created. Always respectful and mindful, Joth has spent days, weeks and months asking individuals for their consent to be photographed in a natural moment.
“I have to be completely conscious and present in the moment to know that it’s ok, that it's allowed and that I will not disturb the energy in any way. I go to Gatherings to heal, to connect, to be free, not to work. These images are not documenting a Rainbow Gathering. They are shared moments given with love.” Now however Joth feels like it’s the right time to share his life’s work, following the darkness brought about by the Covid 19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
“I feel that there's a level of consciousness that’s also rising and it was very apparent in the first three months of lockdown, you know when the skies turned blue and everyone began to reflect on their own lives. I think it’s a really important time for me to get this book out and it feels right to bring a little bit of light, love and freedom in nature into the wider world”.
Joth hopes to fund the self-published book Rainbow through a Kickstarter so that the entire process is a collaborative effort. He expects it is going to cost around £30,000 to print 2,000 copies and so far he has raised an impressive £23,000. The black and white photo book promises to deliver photographs that celebrate freedom, love and healing in the beauty of nature through the eyes of someone who has thrived in the Rainbow family
“I think we're all on our own journey and I'm still learning and growing and transforming and evolving every single day. Someone told me the other day that the only thing come in life is change, which is really beautiful because it's true. We’re all changing all the time.”
Through this powerful, transformative and transcending community, Joth has loved, lost, raised his daughter, discovered parts of himself that he didn't know existed and found himself on a path of openhearted learning. Rainbow Gatherings might not be for everyone, but if you have any burning desire to momentarily turn your back on the real world and realize what it is to be alive, you might just find there is a home for you there too.
To secure you copy of Rainbow, head to to the Kickstarter website where you can pledge money to help the project come to fruition.