Born in Vienna where you cannot find three Austrians because one of them is a 'produce of more than one country'. This is my case: Forebears Rumanian/Hungarian gypsies who had migrated westwards to Bratislava. Pure gypsy grandmother with surname that makes you blush (expletive for 'Dirty Swine' in unfussy Hungarian) appointed to Habsburg court administration as interpreter in seven languages, as a young woman, at the turn of century, a fiery, black-eyed beauty to boot!
Mother writer, poet, aesthete, musician, journalist - and general enthusiast. Father from village of Reisenberg near Hungarian border that provided the family name, as absurd as quaintly comical. He refused to participate in the execution of Jews and was killed in war. Evacuated and exiled to near Swiss border as approaching Russian troops engulfed Vienna and split up fleeing families. Idyllic backwood childhood amongst mountain flowers, though in desperate poverty. Playing with my first, inherited box camera. Beginning to take up my own, voluntary peregrinations.
Following brief, doomed spell in seminary, gravitating back to Vienna at 11, after four different schools. Dropping Alemannic dialect, yodelling instinct and skiing to school in exchange for re-learning colourful Viennese idiom, and absorbing bohemian, explosively intellectual Kaffeehauskultur, where opinions were expressed aplenty, yet friendships survived them.
Following brilliant classical school and university career in law and languages sponsored by State President scholarship, de-rigueur spell as Austro-Marxist like any self-respecting young intellectual at the time when communism was still a social value system rather than one of political control, and when Bob Dylan still mumbled protest songs.
Interspersed bucolic periods of creativity in the countryside when doing land-surveying work during every conceivable vacation to earn much needed money, walking and measuring the 'contour lines' in the countryside step by step, to be turned into motorways later. Like a slow-moving film, with every tree passing imprinting itself on memory - and often celluloid. Intense involvement in compositional photography, discovery of geometry of nature, above all inherent beauty in all things, the microcosm of meadows and the expansive generosity of open space with unbounded views in all weathers.
Much verbal sparring at home - and ad-hoc music-making, my mother laying into an execrable piano with sublime gusto, my brothers playing any other instruments to hand and me trying to keep time - most tenuous of tasks!
Appointed to job of curator and reorganiser of photographic media in Vienna's Museum of History, reaching the Jugendstil heart of Vienna by thundering Norton motorbike every morning. Absorbed the history of photography and archiving techniques at speed. Coming across unique glass plate of Hitler's 'painting' of Viennese church not seen by anyone before me, won battle against iconoclastic urge to avenge my father's death in the war in favour of the polite pursuit of historical record-keeping. With the department quickly reorganised and running well, straining to move on. My pension already in place, calculated to maturity and held out like a carrot by my civic employer, I gave it all up and moved on, breaking my mother's heart, like my brother before me, by leaving the confines of Vienna's prejudices and social polarity, to satisfy seriously burgeoning anglophilia at age 23.
Off to the wastelands of Watford in England, took a job as a mental nurse in 1966 on work permit limited to 3 months. Dropped Viennese accent for the English of the Irish, Jamaicans, Indians, Nigerians, Spaniards, Mauritians and Maltese and quickly understood everyone but the English. Became good at inappropriate swearing in excruciating accents. Loved the collision and collusion between different cultures, races, temperaments - and loved my forlorn patients who taught me a lot, even the Lord's Prayer when I woke them up at the wrong hour on the never-before-experienced time-change ritual. I thought time was absolute and tamper-proof!
Renewed intense period of involvement with photography, exclusively in black and white at that time, charting the Englishness of trees and parks, London planes in autumn, Northern shopping centres, stone walls in Yorkshire, moss banks in Cornwall, heaths and heather in Wales - and, of course, the youthful buzz of 'swinging London'. Started collecting ethnic music from around the world.
My work with mental patients uniquely qualifying me for teaching, I rejoined academia, first teaching German in secondary schools throughout the age range, then language and institutions as lecturer in adult education - in such vibrant places as London's Islington, the East End, Forest Hill and Edmonton. Dropped my soft Viennese for properly aspirated High German, exchanging a whole canon of colourful words, suddenly out of grace, for the 'standard way' of the language.
Cosmopolitan atmosphere of London's as yet unrefurbished, unreconstructed Islington serving as a wonderful backdrop to intensely creative period, both in photography and writing, punctuated by Bob Dylan album releases and bricks of racial conflict thrown through windows in the neighbourhood. Now the stomping ground of the British Prime Minister!
Having fallen in love and the family way, places and pursuits became quieter, jobs more pressing and prestigious. Technical translator by day, energy channelled into acquiring all necessary darkroom techniques by night. Periods of figure and portrait photography and satisfying carpentry. Progressed from simulation to assimilation of Englishness and became a foreigner in my own country of origin, and, increasingly, a linguistic stranger to my own family.
Many happy hours in bathroom darkrooms with toddlers either being pressed into service and admiration in the dark or kept waiting outside in the light desperate to go to the loo.
From the leafy luminosity of London's Blackheath, lung-filling open spaces and lung-killing pollution, it was just one more step to deepest Ruritania of Kent to give our children a whiff of sea-breeze and of my own magic childhood in the country and connection with nature. Now working freelance to capacity, and coming to terms with the imperative of changing meadows with wild flowers into lawns without daisies. Progressive insinuation of Englishness, felt acutely when abroad, culminating in voluntary full-scale naturalisation into upstanding Englishman of growing linguistic repute, in spite of foreign extraction and dubious ethnic origins.
Founded translation company in Canterbury, still headed by me today, 21 years later. Base in Kent since the 70s counterbalanced by now frequent forays to ever more exotic places: the rugged masculinity of the music and mountains of Crete, the fairy stacks and scented pine woods of Turkey, the browns and ochres of Marrakesh, the sensuousness of 'lady' Sahara, the sepia souks of Egypt, the snows of the High Atlas, the volcanoes of the Canaries, the shelving expanses of Northern Canada, the intricate Moorishness of Andalucia, the late-afternoon glow of Italian piazzas, the kaleidoscope of blues of Aegean islands, the glowering glare of Athens, the dusty haze of Istanbul's bustle, the sophistication of Dubrovnik's pavement cafes, the menacing massiveness of Maltese churches, the elegance of Mostar's bridge before its fall, the teeming evening 'volta' of Kosovo's Pristina, the dreamy pace of Prague, the frenzied energy of Budapest, the solid wealth of Munich, the scatty flea markets of Paris, and repeated returns to the fading glories of Vienna as it burst out into new and radical Hundertwasser-architecture, now perceived from the viewpoint of a passing tourist.
Always to hand my cameras everywhere, ever better ones. Many trips on my own, amongst them 16 trips to unknown Crete, still unknown and still fabulous. Getting involved with panegyri and midnight dances on mountain-tops in Crete, tribal praise singers from Kenya, lute virtuosos from Nubia, belly-dancers from Turkey, sing-your-heart-out choristers from Sardinia, civic evenings in Somali, Kurdish and Eritrean communities in London, taking pictures and recording sounds of Indian music and dance, and making friends across borders and cultures everywhere.
Between quick excursions to Amsterdam's canalside relaxations or Carcassonne's massive mediaevalness, unforgettable trips though the Yugoslav interior, later war-torn, past infinite tobacco fields in Macedonia's torrid heat, and on to feasting on the glowing bowls of burnt oats in Greece, and - most recently, three seminal trips, one to the two Yemens just reunited, one to Rajasthan, origin of gypsy migrations, and one to Cuba, barely alive economically, yet bursting with unsquashable exuberance.
The Yemen exciting in its first year of reunification between North and South, and in its thousandth year of mediaeval time-warp, the eye-browed chocolate tower houses and chaste minarets of Sanaa, the Manhattan mud skyscrapers of Shibam in South Yemen, shy Bedouins popping up from behind sand dunes and sly sidewinder tracks in the Empty Quarter of the Rhub-Al-Khali, the happy Arab-African melée of Red Sea market towns, the quiet of the forgotten birthplace of algebra, the windblown remnants of the coffee craze in Mocca, the haughty castles and pinnacles in the air in the lofty mountains cloaked in stratospheric sandstorms, and many fine, fierce and fabulous faces.
In 1998 Rajasthan - the ultimate destination for any seeker of beauty and spirituality, and, for me, a kind of homecoming in search of the origins of gypsy migrations and wanderings. Riot of colours, splendours of 'marzipan' architecture, unspeakable poise and grace of Indian ladies walking with heavy loads on their heads, the comical vitality and sheer theatre of itinerant Rajasthani music-making, the pink and orange glows of rural skies over lazy Indian lakes, the mayhem of meandering traffic, the sensuousness of stone sculptures caught in playful, spiritual ecstasy, the gut-wrenching poverty of shrivelled beggars at railway crossings, colourful ladies with huge nose rings standing in their ancient fields and holding their freshly washed saris out into the wind to dry, and the all-pervading spiritual dimension of Bishnoi life that embraces every form of life - like nowhere else.
Return visit planned to study and photograph the last nomadic Rabari and other tribes of Gujarat and the Kutch area and to explore the mud paintings of rural Orissa. Yearning to go to Kashmir when politically practicable. Still on the agenda the lily-bearing mountain meadows of Iran, the open highlands of Ethiopia, the sand dunes and house paintings of Mauritania, the lush poetry of the verdant Hunza valleys, the splendid isolation of the Tuaregs' Ahoggar mountains, the narrow alleyways of Tamanrasset, Mali's mud architecture, the flamenco feria of the Santa Semana in Seville. Aiming to spend all my time travelling, taking pictures and writing travelogues with a philosophical message germinating from the confrontation with other cultures, and learning yet more ways of seeing – far too much for one life at all.
Rainer died on 11 November 2002 with many plans
still twinkling in the mind's eye.