Thursday, June 21, 2012

About the Rainbow Gathering and its relevance to The Photo Palace Bus.

I thought I'd indulge those who have been following this blog with a little information about the Rainbow Family and its Gatherings, which have been a big part of my life for the past 15 years.

Rainbow Gatherings have been held around the world since 1972 and vary in attendance from 40 to 40,000 people.  There are Regional and National US and International Gatherings and at any time of the year you can count on there being at least one of them going on in one part of the world or another.  There are very few rules and even less enforcement of those rules (though at times I do wish that some were more diligently followed by the attendants).  For a more in-depth look at the history and traditions of these Gatherings You may find a plethora of information on both wikipedia and

My first exposure to this cultural movement came in the spring of 1997 when Melinda, my classmate at Palomar College, took me to the desert east of San Diego to a Regional Gathering.  There I saw a group of about 3,000 people camping under the stars, sharing food and drink, making art and new friends and having a peaceful co-existence based on mutual respect and love.  I knew that I was in a different kind of environment when, after parking in a large open space among other dusty vehicles, Melinda jumped out of her open-top Jeep without taking off the faceplate of her CD player (remember those?).  I alerted her to that fact, thinking that she had simply forgotten to do so, to which she simply said that "you don't have to worry about those things in this place".  After setting up our tents in a soft sandy wash we walked to a makeshift kitchen built of twigs.  There we were greeted with hugs from strangers and kind words that made me feel like I have found a place I belong - "Welcome Home!".  We waited for the food to be prepared and then joined hands in a big circle before sharing the bounty of a good hearty meal.  At night we drummed and danced around a heart-shaped fire pit about 20ft in length, walked around the desert assisted by the light of the full moon, talked to people from all over the country and the world, learned songs around small campfires and meditated on the beauty of our surroundings.  The days were filled with learning crafts,  helping the new arrivals with their gear, trading goods (there is no monetary exchange at The Rainbow) and being genuinely happy and carefree.  We spent a week and a half surrounded by beautiful people, who did not pass judgement based on who came from there or what they did for a living.  After leaving the desert I was a changed man (boy really, as I was only 19 at the time) and knew that I wanted to be a part of this movement of free-thinkers for the rest of my life.

This experience also convinced me that I should follow my dream of becoming a photographer and when I returned to San Diego I decided to switch my major from chemistry to photography.

When the summer came around Melinda bought three bus tickets for herself, her boyfriend Ryan and me to northern California.  From there we hitchhiked around the west coast for about a month while waiting for the National Gathering, which that year was held in central Oregon.  The fun we had and the unplanned circumstances that led to me hitchhiking by myself are best left for a memoir as they would take too long to recollect and go into details.  Let's just say that in mid-June I found myself at The Rainbow in a place called Bus Village.  There was a large number of RVs and buses there including some extraordinary contraptions like buses with cars, other buses, boats and airplanes mounted on top of them.  One bus parked close to where I was camping next to happened to have a glass-blowing studio built in and THAT is when I got infected with the idea of building myself a bus with a darkroom in it in order to satisfy my new-found love of traveling with my old love for photography.

Every year since then I have made pilgrimages to the National and Regional Gathering in US, and even was lucky enough to make it to one Regional International Gathering in Baja California in 2008.  Every year I learn more and more about the inner workings of the Gatherings, problems that plague it and the people who make it as beautiful as it really is.  Truth be told that everyone may and will carry out their own unique experience after attending these events - you reap what you sow and so negativity will find those who thrive upon it and beauty will follow all who unconditionally carry it within their hearts.  The people I met there became some of my best friends (even if, unfortunately, I may only see them once a year) and I truly look forward to seeing them again in a few days.

The Photo-Bus idea was going in and out of my main focus in life for about a decade.  In the meantime I kept collecting darkroom equipment, cameras and knowledge.  In 2006, after completing my studies at San Jose State University, I met a freshman by the name of Ryan Kalem while being in the darkroom and pouring over my negatives brought back from that years National Gathering in Colorado (National Gatherings are held in a different state every year).  He was intrigued and I promised to someday take him to a Gathering.  That had to wait until 2009 New Mexico Gathering.  On our way back I shared my idea of a mobile darkroom with Ryan.  He got very enthused about it and we decided to build the Dream-Bus after he graduated from SJSU.  I started saving funds as I knew that this project will take more money than I have ever had in my life.  I got a job as a photographer at Carvin Guitar Corp. and opened a darkroom in San Diego where I rented work space and taught traditional photography in one-on-one setting.  Meanwhile Ryan was looking at various buses for sale on the web and finally found our Gilli in August 2011.  Luckily, by that time I had saved up just enough to be confident that I can see this project through and with no second-guessing decided to plunge head-first into this venture and here we are now - on the road and loving it!

That, my Dear Reader, is how an alternative counter-culture of free-thinking radicals that call themselves Rainbow Family inspired the building of the only full-size traveling darkroom currently in existence.  This is also the reason that I feel that by making the first prints AT and ABOUT the Gathering would be a perfect continuum.

I can not wait to walk into the woods of Tennessee and see familiar smiling faces, feel the hugs and say "Welcome Home" to the elders and newcomers alike.  All are welcomed there as long as they show respect for themselves, others and nature.

The Image below was created on 4th of July 2009 in New Mexico after one of the most beautiful rain storms I have ever seen.

  Anton Orlov

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