Running around barefoot in a place of business might seem unconventional, but it’s all in a day’s work for photographer Rainy Chastine, owner of Images by Rainy.
The high octane blonde glows with heartfelt optimism as she talks at breakneck speed. You don’t want to miss a word because she is intensely passionate about life, her profession and people. In fact, it is that high energy that fuels her love for photography and the people in her pictures. But what many don’t know about the woman behind the camera is that she has worked tirelessly to build her profession, while giving to others at the same time.
“As soon as we moved into this house [photo studio], my goal was never to make a lot of money,” Rainy says emphatically. “I just made a resolution that if I ever made enough for myself that I would give to others.”
She proudly admits it took a lot of hard work, including cleaning houses and folding newspapers, to get to where she’s at, but it was all worth it. “I’ve always had a vision of this place,” she says with a broad smile. “I told people a long time ago, ‘I’m going to be a photographer.’ And they laughed. But I had a clear goal and I knew what I wanted.”
Some of her images of young children and teenagers can be seen hanging in the windows of her photo studio, a quaint green cottage that sits along Highway 54, just before Jeff Davis Drive in Fayetteville. The home, built in the late 1800s and part of Fayetteville’s historic Main Street district, is a photographer’s haven, chock-full of scenery, props and costumes for a variety of photographic needs. Walls are adorned with photos of all sizes—large, small, color and black and white.
There is also something that’s a little out of the ordinary for a photo studio. It’s what Rainy calls a “vision board” mounted on the wall as you first enter the studio. It’s a simple bulletin board bordered with a dark frame. But it’s the posted photos and phrases that help keep everyone on track about their goals. There’s a sticker that says “A Taste of Italy.” Another piece of paper that says “expect success” and another stating “thoughts become things.” There’s also a picture of a 90-plus-year-old woman that Rainy photographed a while back.
“I want to look like her when I’m that age,” Rainy says, pointing to the picture. “What I try to do is motivate others to realize their passion, dreams and goals, too.”
While Rainy is constantly busy with her business and helping others, reminders of her past are also evident. Her first camera, a Brownie, a gift from her father 40 years ago, is proudly displayed on the mantle by the front door. “When I picked up my very first set of pictures that I took with that camera, that was the moment I realized that I could catch things on film,” Rainy says. “I drove everybody crazy taking pictures of all kinds of things.”
Growing up as the child of a government employee who moved around from country to country, Rainy had the opportunity to capture photos of people and places in faraway lands including Guam, Samoa and Hawaii. “My camera was always in tow. I never left without it. Some kids had stuffed animals and I had my camera. If I didn’t understand something, I’d take a picture. And I didn’t understand a lot in those days.”
While in Hawaii, she attended Mid Pacific Institute, where her photographic studies got serious and a career was in the making. After graduating, Rainy took a job at a J.C. Penney’s department store in Hawaii as a portrait photographer and then transferred to a northern California location. While in California, she met Todd Chastine, who happened to be handing out Chick-fil-A coupons at a local mall where Rainy was working. Little did the two know they would eventually become husband and wife.
“At that time I was really working on my career with Chick-fil-A,” Todd chuckles. “I wasn’t thinking about a wife or girlfriend. But I have to admit, when I saw her she was cute and nice looking and we just really clicked.” Many dates and letters later, Todd, a Fayetteville native, and Rainy returned to Fayetteville and tied the knot in April of 1990.
Two sons later, Gray, now 14, and Colton, 11, Rainy continued her photography business out of a converted garage that Todd built on their property. But as word spread of her ability to capture spectacular images, Rainy realized the need for more space.
The search to find a permanent home for Images by Rainy happened one day while Rainy, Todd and their real estate agent were out scouting the area. That’s when they spotted it. It was an adorable, cozy little green house, in the perfect location, with the right amount of space. The decision to purchase it seven years ago happened nearly instantaneously.
“During our first look, my husband asked if I wanted to walk around and see more of the place and I just told him ‘no, this is it.’” Rainy jokes. “I’m one of those people who knows exactly what they want.” Todd knew his wife’s keen sense of what works would pay off. “Once we moved there, it really put Rainy’s name on the map.”
Todd, the more laid back of the two, describes his wife of 17 years with endearing words: “Spontaneous is her middle name,” Todd says. “But I have to say when she does something off the seat of her pants, she’s almost always correct.” And he’s right. Her tenacious style to make things work, along with help from her employees, has paid off. With a total of five cameras, Images by Rainy is the place where memories are made and preserved for many years to come.
Over the years, Rainy has photographed thousands of men, women and children. Some have well known names, including the late Sam Walton, the man who started Wal-mart. Others are children with terminal illness and foster children. It is these children Rainy holds very close to her heart.
“I remember years ago a girl who was on a ventilator in a wheelchair and very facially deformed,” Rainy recalls. “When I could make her laugh, that was when I realized I needed and wanted to give more.” And giving is something that comes naturally to Rainy.
Rainy’s employees, Rebecca Sargeant, Judy Weissinger and Kimberly Akins, know first-hand about her generous nature. “She gives unconditionally,” says Rebecca, the studio manager who has worked with Rainy for a year and a half. “I’ve seen her help many people who were in financial binds, donate money for services to organizations and photograph foster and adopted children at no charge. She just has a very generous and loving heart.”
Kimberly Akins, a photo assistant who has worked with Rainy for almost seven years, also admires her for her business smarts and her caring spirit. “Rainy is a real go-getter with a heart of gold. Over the years, I’ve seen her give to people personally and professionally. The average person might think she’s always had this success, but in fact she’s worked very hard for many years to get where she’s at.”
Rebecca estimates the business has donated over $125,000 in services to community charities, churches and different schools, including the Joseph Sams School, Sara Harp Minter Elementary, Brooks Elementary and the Coweta and Fayette County United Way.
“Support from our local business community is one of the reasons the Fayette County School System ranks at the top in the state,” Melinda Berry-Dreisbach, head of public relations for Fayette County Schools, said recently. ”Donations from business owners such as Rainy Chastine enable our schools to provide additional materials and equipment to help enhance classroom learning. We are grateful to Rainy for all that she has done to support our schools throughout the county.”
One person in particular who will be forever grateful to Rainy is Donna Blair. Donna’s daughter, Maggi, born a little over two years ago, was diagnosed with craniosynostosis, a deformity of the skull. “When she was first born I thought I had given birth to the elephant man. I cried buckets and buckets of tears,” Donna said. “Her eyelids looked like they had two golf balls sitting on top of each other.”
The actual diagnosis, which Donna received a month after her birth, was devastating. Maggi’s life would be filled with numerous surgeries and the world of the unknown. Her first operation was at four months at Scottish Rite Hospital, where surgeons reshaped her skull. As the surgeon explained the upcoming operation, Donna realized she needed another parent to talk to for support. The woman she found asked her if someone would photograph Maggi before the surgery.
While driving home, Donna contemplated the unusual idea and spotted Rainy’s photography business. Within seconds, she picked up her cell phone and left a message explaining her daughter’s upcoming surgery and inquiring about costs. By the time Donna arrived home, her husband was already talking to Rainy on the phone and setting up what would be the first of many free-of-charge photo sessions. The friendship and bond that has developed since that first session has been nearly indescribable, Donna says.
“Through the entire photo shoot, Rainy was so patient with Maggi, who was nearly comatose at that point and actually slept through most of the photo session. She was so gentle and saw the beauty in Maggi. And when we saw the slide show of Maggi, for the first time, my baby looked normal and I cried and cried. I kept saying, ‘that’s my baby, that’s my baby.’ I had never seen her on film before and she looked beautiful. Never before had anyone made me feel like Maggi was beautiful, but Rainy did. Rainy gave me hope.”
That relationship between Donna, Rainy and Maggi continues to this day. Rainy helps pay tuition costs for Maggi, who attends the Joseph Sams School in Fayetteville, and sends out prayer requests via e-mail when medical issues arise. The giving of time and money to people Rainy meets through her photography business is just part of the story. She also belongs to a non-profit organization called “Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep,” an international group of photographers who volunteer services to parents experiencing the death of a baby.
At her own studio, she also offers free services for the unimaginable task of photographing children facing their last months of life. “When I photograph a terminally ill child, I just keep saying ‘I’m not going to cry,’ over and over again. We are just there to play, laugh and have a good time and I’m there to capture that moment,” Rainy says.
Perhaps one of the biggest changes to the Chastine household was the addition of Summer, a four-year-old girl the family adopted from Russia a little over a year ago. In years past, Rainy and Todd had been foster parents, but they wanted a child that would be a part of their lives permanently. A simple set of numbers helped seal the plan.
“When I first thought about adopting, I wanted a nine-year-old girl,” Rainy explains. “But adoption officials in Russia showed me a picture of a two-year-old. When I saw her birthday, the same month and day as my son’s, who was born ten years earlier, I knew it was meant to be.”
Simply put, life is good for Rainy, who says she thrives on change, runs two miles a day to help focus on goals and looks at her vision board at work on a daily basis. She also attends Texas A&M University’s photography school to keep current on technology.
While she hops and flits from room to room in her studio, Rainy stops and takes a moment to reflect on her career and her life. “What I’d really like people to know about me is that I take my art very seriously and work hard on running a business with integrity. The secret to my success is being able to visualize down to the detail what I want and have a plan. And make sure to give back, because you don’t become successful by yourself.”