Go to just about any museum in the world and you’ll find a collection of ceremonial masks from an array of tribes around the globe, used in a variety of rituals or festivals allowing the performers and their audience to create a powerful relationship to a meaningful sense of the sacred. Sitting on shelves in the museums, though, these masks are trinkets to be adored, dusted and never truly made contact with. They’re sealed off in a florescent world far removed from the person viewing them, often separated from their context and meaning.
Using his camera Chris Rainier’s mission has been to bring these masks back to life. The powerful images in his new book MASK bring out their deep spiritual meaning and each of the masks is shown in the world in which it is worshiped and understood. They are profoundly alive and intensely powerful. Chris’ images truly reveal how the masks still dance.
For over thirty years, and across six continents, Rainier has been in search of the meaning of the mask. What began as a thorough visual documentation of the traditional mask rituals of New Guinea developed into a voyage of discovery that took him around the globe photographing traditional mask traditions.
From the steppes of Mongolia to the jungles of South America, from the deserts of West Africa to the continent of India and the high Himalayan mountain monasteries of Tibet and Bhutan, from Day of the Dead Festivals in Mexico to the lands of the First Nation tribes of North America and from Sri Lanka to modern Europe, Chris has documented hundreds of different rituals of the tradition of the mask, both on still film and video.
MASK (a square coffee table book, sized at 12″X12″) explores the origins of the mask with over 130 images as well as text by both Chris Rainier and Pico Iyer, the highly respected travel writer of Video Nights in Kathmandu and The Art of Stillness.
In addition, and lending a sense of credibility to the pure “prettiness” of the work, is the fact that the images are complemented by deeply researched anthropological captions that shed light on why the masks are worn. This is authored by cultural anthropologist Dr. Robert Welsch.
Chris Rainier is a National Geographic Society Explorer and documentary photographer/filmmaker, highly respected for his documentation of endangered cultures and traditional languages around the globe. This is his 6th book.