National Geographic photographer tells story of Ancient Marks through images

Chris Rainier, world-traveling photographer for National Geographic, explored diverse cultures with only his camera, passion and a translator.

On Sunday, Sept. 22, Rainier presented “Cultures on the Edge: The Race Against Time to Help Empower Traditional Cultures,” as part of the McClung Museum’s 50th anniversary lecture series. His mission, he says, is to “put tribal and indigenous cultures on film.”

He wanted to use images to create social change by capturing the remaining natural wilderness and indigenous cultures from around the globe.

His global journey was shown through photographs to a captivated audience. The presentation was displayed movie reel-style as he the narrated about his experiences. One by one, country by country, Rainier introduced the audience to the mystery of the living beyond “where the green meets the blue” as he dug deeper into cultures not widely known.

Rainier documented his 30 year journey in his book “Ancient Marks,” which showcased markings of various tribes. The marks represent culture, individuality, family tradition and heritage. Black and white photos changed to color as the stories of those less broadcast are introduced on a larger scale. The book’s purpose is to shed a new light on unique cultures and to “peel away cliches while also getting rid of stereotypes of culture,” Rainier said.

In his early career, he learned to use photography as a social tool from his mentor and noted photographer Ansel Adams. Rainier decided to dedicate his career to using photos as a tool for change, documentation and empowerment for indigenous cultures.

He proudly promotes himself as a visual storyteller and agrees that others should have the same opportunity to tell their own story. “What would it be like if the people I am photographing had a camera themselves? “What if they were able to communicate this with countries beyond them?” are questions Rainier asked himself before starting the Last Mile Project, a program aimed to provide international children with cameras and basic photography skills. The project’s goal is to help kids capture and preserve their own culture through photos. The project has a YouTube page called Disappearing Language.

He ended his speech with a quote from his 1993 book, Keepers of the Spirit.

“If we would be citizens of the world, then we must do all we can to ensure the survival of that world.”

National Geographic Expeditions features many works by Rainier and other notable photographers.

The McClung Museum will host their next anniversary lecture on Tuesday, Oct. 15.

Edited by Nichole Stevens