Documenting A Colorful Time On Kaua’i

Johnny and Denise Tangalin

A Kaua’i photographer releases a book and movie about the infamous Taylor Camp, as well as a film on Bhutan and a book on Afghanistan

When hippies thrived at divine Ke’e Beach on Kaua’i’s North Shore – building treehouses and shacks and living in the buff – producer, cinematographer, photographer and writer John Wehrheim was visiting the area and began snapping away. Thirty years later, he’s produced a book and film titled Taylor Camp, and the final cut is making the island circuit, due to arrive on Kaua’i in mid- to late June.

Taylor Camp was born in the spring of 1969, when artist/oceanographer Howard Taylor, brother of actress Elizabeth Taylor, bailed out of the Kaua’i jail some young Mainlanders arrested for vagrancy. He invited them to live on his land at Ke’e and soon more arrived from the Mainland, flocking to the North Shore nirvana.

It wasn’t just haoles who sought the laid-back lifestyle – there were several Hawaiians who lived there as well. Wehrheim, staying in the Taylors’guesthouse, was an observer of it all, and though he may have itched to join in, he says, “I couldn’t stop working, couldn’t give myself permission to have that much freedom and time.”

‘Kung Fu Bill’ Malapit at Taylor Camp

Instead, he turned his camera lens on the subject. Taylor Camp thrived from 1969 to 1977, with Wehrheim starting his Taylor Camp photo series in 1971. Since then, he’s created and plowed through some 60 to 80 hours of interviews and hundreds of photographs, refining them into the movie and book project.

Having put the project aside these many years, Wehrheim says, “The work aged well, a true test of art, and I decided about three and a half years ago to make the film and complete the book with the transcripts.”

At the time, he was in the midst of working with teammates Tom Vendetti and Bob Stone on another project, the film Bhutan – Taking The Middle Path To Happiness. In midMay 2010, the Bhutan film – it’s aired on PBS – garnered two Emmy Awards. It also has been published in book form.

“I started photographing in Bhutan in 1991,” says Wehrheim, whose skills as a hydropower engineer took him there but whose creativity kept him returning. “It was 15 years later that I started to put the film and book together.

John Wehrheim with a Bhutanese woman

“I watched Bhutan transition from an almost unknown traditional Buddhist kingdom with no TV or Internet and very few vehicles to a democracy with 43 TV channels, traffic problems and all the social ills of modern consumer cultures.”

Despite the changes he witnessed, Wehrheim says this was the same nation that went on to create the world brand of Gross National Happiness, and at that point, he says, “I knew I had something.”

Taylor campers left behind an America in crisis over the Vietnam War, seeking happiness and simpler solutions to life. For the Bhutanese, this understanding is inbred – going to a place doesn’t make one happy.

“If you don’t do the work inside, no matter what your outer circumstances are, you’re going to be miserable. That’s the connection between not only these two projects but everything I do – it’s all the same,” says Wehrheim.

Next up for this Lihue resident is another book and film project in Bhutan, working with monks on Masters of the Hidden Lands, the great Lamas, Yogis and Hermits – a working title. He plans to spend a great deal of time in remote hermitages and caves.

“Like all my other work it’s just a vehicle, a rationale to hang out with people and in places that I find fascinating and beautiful,” says Wehrheim. “I always have a very strong tantric attraction – a heart connection – with my subjects, and it must go both ways for it to work, to show up with beauty and power in the images.”

Wehrheim also has done a dramatic film treatment based on a story from Taylor Camp and is working on a script. Plus, he’s got another book in the works called Trout Fishing in Afghanistan that focuses on the time he spent in an Afghan prison in the early ’70s.

“I work on projects until they’re done,” says Wehrheim. “When I no longer feel driven, when the intensity is over, when they’re no longer fun, then they’re done and I move on. But I always have several projects going at one time – two or three books ideas and a couple of films.

“There’s a big overlap and a lot of multitasking,” he continues. “Creating these works is sheer pleasure and much easier for me than promoting and selling them.”

View screenings of Taylor Camp on the following dates/locations:

Friday, June 18, Kaua’i Community College Performing Arts Center
Saturday, June 19, Princeville Clubhouse
June 25-26, Waimea Theatre
For more detailed information on screenings, log on to

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