A black and white photo of an impressive stone building.
Petra in Jordan

In Pursuit of the Sacred

A photographic journey through sacred sites and landscapes around the world

For the past forty years, I have traveled the world as a photographer in search of sacred sites and landscapes. In that pursuit, I have always asked myself what sacredness really means in a world filled with different religions, unique identities, myriad cultural pursuits, consumption, consumerism, and ever increasing, overwhelming materialism The world as I have discovered it in all the years of my travels is not monolithic. Rather, all cultures are born of multiple ways of being, of thinking, of seeing, and of defining what is sacred. I have journeyed and explored to try to understand these different ways of looking at our remarkable world and to discover what is sacred to me.


A series of staggered rocks rise out of a misty sea. In the background, the cloudy sky is a steely gray.

The Giant’s Causeway in County Atrim, Northern Ireland

As a photographer, I look at the world with a particular lens: the lens of the visual medium. My life has unfolded in the focused pursuit of celebrating and exploring the wonders of the world—both natural and man-made. I experience equal joy in being awestruck by the sheer immensity of the Grand Canyon in the American Southwest as in standing before the ancient ruins of AlUla in the Saudi Arabian desert. All things natural and man-made are connected by a sacred, primordial thread that entwines to make up the complex, beautiful whole that is our planet earth.


A brown stone building rises into a pink, purple, and blue sky at twilight.

AlUla in Saudi Arabia

My life has been and remains committed to recording and celebrating these wonders on film as reminders of the past to future generations still unborn—as postcards to the future. With the pressure of the tsunami of modernity sweeping across the planet and our human presence and impact growing ever greater, I feel an urgent need to document and to help save the fragile ecosystems that have survived for thousands of generations and that are now under such duress. We are changing the planet rapidly and beyond recognition—and if we are not careful, it may be to our own demise.


A beatiful white, round, tiered building. In it's center it has a spire that points in the middle of a blue sky rippled with white clouds.

A Burma Monastery in Myanmar

My career began with the teachings and tutelage of the noted landscape photographer Ansel Adams. As his last assistant, he taught me the importance of using photography as a social tool for good. His photographs in all of their artistic beauty are testimonies to the urgent need to preserve and protect the last areas of true wilderness in the North American landscape. I took his wisdom and his dedication to heart, and I have tried to apply them to my mission in life. The world’s human population has almost doubled since I worked with Ansel in the 1980s, and it has become all too clear that there are very few untouched and unchanged places on the planet left. My mission will always be to photograph the last “wild,” the truly sacred places that remain.


Gray, weather-worn whale bones poke out from gray-ish green grass on the edge of an ocean. The sky is gray and cloudy.

Inuit whale bones

A photograph builds bridges across cultures. A photograph shares important issues of the day. A photograph conveys complex and important messages of humanity. A photograph can change you and me and can change the world.


GA reddish-brown rock wall. A white snake is painted upon it.

A painting on a rock wall in the Southwestern Desert

A photograph can surely show us something truly sacred. In this book, which began as a journey for me forty years ago, I hope to share what is sacred to me and also what is or might be sacred to other cultures around the world—all of us pursuing what it means to be human and all of us seeking a sense of sacredness in our lives.


You can find Chris Rainier’s book, Sacred, here.

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Chris Rainier is a documentary photographer, National Geographic Fellow, and fellow at the Royal Geographical Society in London. Find more of his work at chrisrainier.org. This excerpt was taken from Sacred, published by Earth Aware Editions.