Rainbow Gathering: Community Of Unity Against Capitalism Since 1972

Insights Into The Annual Convention That Promotes Peace, Love And Respect

“I started getting interested in photography while I was participating in my first Rainbows. Little by little, they became the core of a photographic project that followed on from another series…”

Rainbow Gathering 2015, Lac à l'ile, Saint-anne-des-monts, Québec, 2015

It’s not often that we feature photojournalism here at The Plus. But take a peek at the culture findings of Benoit Paillé at the 2015 Quebec Rainbow Gathering; here the intimate experiences of a diverse crowd united by an active resistance to modern-day hyper-materialism slip scintillatingly into view. Images of alternative lifestyles where vibrant people gather together to revel in nature, collectivity and spiritual growth is handled delicately: his photographs extract the rarity, spontaneity and elation of the Rainbow community with the eye of a casual onlooker.


Yet something sets his images apart from any old happy-snapper. While the shots seem as the result of a natural impulse, a fresh, alluring, and magical element is thrown into the mixture. The brightness of the characters illuminated in the foreground, while the natural environment swirls around them. One woman with a dazzling smile almost levitates on her wooden canoe in the midst of a fusion of sky and sea. Another, wearing an oversized white cagoule, resembles a fluorescent E.T. emerging from the cosmos. Erasing any figments of pretence, Benoit takes us where a political micro-utopia meets festival fun.


He had this to say about his experience:

“Rainbows are places for art. Many artists go there. Art at Rainbows is often ephemeral. I took pictures of people creating costumes with bamboo and vines, who made themselves up. No one is judged, and this is what creates the potential for a pure art. And there’s music. I realized that if Rainbow has bothered me at some point because of my personal values, that sometimes I think it goes too far, I still go largely for the music. Jamming is so beautiful, deep and transcendent. You can’t find that anywhere else. This is pure creation, with no amplification, no filter.

As a photographer, however, I do not do ephemeral art. I bring something back. I do not know if it’s a documentary. It started from my Stranger Project, during which I met strangers and photographed them; Rainbow humanized this project. It became less cold, more respectful. Respect is fundamental to the Rainbow. There is a conception of magic and the sacred that is more important in Rainbow than in our society. And photographing or recording the magic means desecrating it. So I try to recreate the magic in my photos, to make photography sacred. This is done with great respect. Some people I photographed, well their Rainbow was a voyage, something that will not happen again in their lifetime. It is ephemeral and very valuable.


This being said, cameras are frowned upon. No photos in public, it’s a bit forbidden. As a photographer, if I see someone taking pictures in a public place, I will walk up to them and make them understand that they should ask people whether they agree to be photographed. It is a matter of respect. The fact is that if these images were to be presented out of context in the media, it would look like a festival of freaks, drug addicts with naked people and all that. This is far from the truth. But we are prejudiced. Anyway, I prefer to take people individually and it is in the series of photos that the tribe reforms itself, we can feel the unity between the people there.

What’s cool about the Rainbow is that it is hidden; it takes place in isolation in the woods, far away. You must drive and walk for a long time. At first glance, it’s like a tribe that is organized like a mini-city. Spaces are set up for a kitchen, a children area, a coffee shop, a music camp, etc… And a central circle with a big fire in the middle. It’s the sacred fire. This is where we eat; it is a place to share. Meals are completely vegan. Rainbows are provided for by local grocers who donate organic food, lentils, oats, etc… Other Rainbows organise “dumpster divings”: all the food comes from stuff wasted and thrown in the bins in cities.

L'homme fort du rainbow

We get up with the sun. I sleep in a tent, but many sleep under a simple cover. We completely lose track of time, it is a rare and valuable thing to happen in life. There is also a lot of music in the evening, with jam sessions and dancing.

Rainbows work with conventions that may vary. In Quebec, we discuss topics such as a political assembly, according to the principle of consensus. This is the method that was applied to Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Montreal, etc… It comes from the Rainbows, this process. These movements were supported by the same people who run the Rainbows, it is actually hyper-connected.


Everyone is welcome: gays, lesbians, Krishna followers, sectarians, conspiracy theorists, Raelian, Christians, punk… Like all the colours of the rainbow. We get together to heal ourselves and heal the planet. It’s a bit utopian, of course.

You return from a Rainbow with ideas, ideas for changing your life. Personally, I’ve never felt comfortable with the life I was living, and I questioned it. Vegan, nomad, green: we encounter people who have different lifestyles. We discover that it is possible to be happy living another way. I particularly realized the importance of taking care of my body, of eating better, of taking better care of the environment. Of being able to get rid of our addiction to technology and the Internet.


When you come back, you appreciate comfort again, but you quickly want to go back and to see again the people you’ve met, the people you love. Communities are created. After the Rainbow, a talking circle is often formed to create a community. In Guatemala, the site of the Rainbow was acquired to found a great eco-community. Coming back from the Rainbow means be have reconsidered yourself, you have been transformed, even purged, of technology among other things. And it is clear that you return, you judge much more severely the society you live in.

There you can experience a real micro-society. All views are gathered in a reduced space-time, within a smaller geography. We experience all these differences and confrontations, and experiment in matters of conflict management. We learn to talk, look, understand, to become more tolerant. All ideologies and beliefs coexist in harmony. At Rainbow, we often say “We are one.””

Rainbow Gathering Quèbec 2015
Claude, Rainbow gathering 2015, Québec13
Rainbow Gathering 2015, Lac à l'ile, Saint-anne-des-monts, Qué