Rainbow Gatherings are community meetings in a natural setting where people come together to share the ideals of peace, harmony and respect. The first Rainbow took place in 1972 in a US National Park and has been held annually ever since. Other Rainbow regional communities gather throughout the year all over the world. For my part, I attended seven Rainbow meetings in Quebec, two in Mexico, one in the Canary Islands and one in Guatemala.

Going to your first Rainbow can really change you as a person: you discover something so deeply alternative, it is hard to believe such a thing actually exists. But for people who live like that, focused on personal growth, living from their crafts, practicing yoga, they are perfectly natural.

Perhaps because of this purity, Rainbow meetings are hidden. They always take place in isolation, in the woods, far away. At first glance, it is like a tribe that has organized into a mini-city. Spaces are set up for a kitchen, a children’s area, a coffee shop, a music camp, etc. And always 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 dives”: all the food comes from what people carelessly throw into bins in nearby cities.

At 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 are also places for art. Many artists go there. Art at Rainbows is often ephemeral. For example, I took pictures of people creating costumes with bamboo and vines, who made themselves up. No one is judged, which creates the potential and space for pure art.

As a photographer, however, I do not make ephemeral art. I bring something back. I do not know if it’s a documentary but it’s more permanent, somehow. This causes a tension: at Rainbow, there is a conception of magic and the sacred that is important and more strongly felt than in everyday society. Photographing or recording the magic means desecrating it. So I try to recreate the magic in my photos—to make my photography sacred.

This being said, cameras are frowned upon. 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, naked people and all that. This is far from the truth.

After every Rainbow, I return with ideas—ideas for changing my life. Vegan, nomad, green: I encounter people living very different lifestyles. I discover that it is possible to be happy living another way. I personally realized the importance of taking care of my body; of eating better; of taking better care of the environment. Also, of trying my best to rid myself of an addiction to technology and the Internet.

Coming back from a Rainbow means be have reconsidered yourself. You find that you have been transformed, even purged. When I came back, I appreciated comfort again, but I quickly wanted to go back and see again the people I’ve met, the people I love. At Rainbow, real communities are created. After each Rainbow, a talking circle is often formed to signify the community that has been made.

—Benoit Paillé, interview by Sébastien Dulude

Editors’ Note: This interview has been edited. You can see the full, original version in Paillé’s profile.