The life and death of Taylor Camp
May 12, 2010
Serindia Contemporary, 2009
258 pages, $65
Taylor Camp is a ripple in the water of our lives still reverberating
with what we found there. It was a wild serendipity experience and
we're still here, 35 years later. It was a constant barrage of
experience and none of it was TV. It was all real. Cherry Hamilton,
Taylor Camp resident.
John Wehrheim first photographed Taylor Camp in 1969 after being
hired by the Sierra Club to write a series of articles titled
Paradise Lost. His assignment soon ended, but Wehrheim never returned
to North America.
Taylor Camp, a collection of striking black-and-white photographs and
evocative first-person interviews, artfully documents a moment in
Hawaii's history, a sometimes soaring, sometimes heartbreaking
odyssey in which a clothing-optional, pot-friendly nirvana becomes a
crucible of environmental and civil rights struggles. While waiting
for a supposed great awakening in American consciousness, Taylor
Camp's residents hung out on Kauai's North Shore from 1969 until the
devastating burning of the camp in 1977. Through photos, interviews,
news clippings and maps, Wehrheim's story reveals an experiment in
benevolent lawlessness where a community of young people from across
America tried to live by the unwritten and unrealized ideals of the 1960s.
In the spring of 1969, Howard Taylor, brother to actress Elizabeth,
bailed 13 young hippies out of jail after learning of the State's
plan to condemn his recently purchased ocean front property. His
impulsive yet compassionate decision led to a nearly 10-year battle
between local Kauai residents and those living at Taylor Camp.
Wehrheim illustrates the waves of hippies, surfers and troubled
Vietnam vets who found refuge in the tree house villages by exposing
the camp's vulnerability, nakedness, innocence and allegorical intoxication.
Taylor Camp's hippie ideals rejected consumerism and modernism and
looked for resolution through the power of nature. While some
considered this a front for free love, free sex and free living (many
were living off of government food stamps, reselling their goods in a
community co-op), the residents of the camp seemed to be searching
for an idealistic way of life.
Wehrheim's photographs expose shanty-like houses built among the
trees, made from materials more often seen in third world
countriesbamboo, scrap material, salvaged metal and wood. In a
Never-Never Land clash of cultures, Wehrheim lays bare many of Taylor
Camp's contradictionsnaked women nursing babies while stoned men
play guitars and drums; stray cats in kitchens filled with jars of
dried herbs and shelves filled with images of Krishna, Buddha,
Christ, marijuana and coffee. Their youthful, anti-war illusions fill
the pages as a breathing space between the engine of a plantation
economy and a real estate bonanza.
The genius of Taylor Camp lies less in Wehrheim's collection of
artful photography or his adeptness in collecting a riveting
oral-history than in his brilliant ability to capture a close-up
glimpse of a fleeting moment, now distant, and never to return.
Wehrheim's Taylor Camp screens at Hawaii Theatre, Sun 5/30, 2pm, $12
advance, $17 day of show. [hawaiitheatre.com], 528-0506