About John Wehrheim
John Wehrheim is an award-winning American photographer, writer and filmmaker best known for his arresting portraiture and documentation of unique subjects such as the Hawai‘i hippie community “Taylor Camp” and the country of Bhutan. He currently lives on the island of Kaua‘i with his family.
John was born in 1947 in Chicago, Illinois. At an early age, he began to regularly visit the Art Institute of Chicago, where he was captivated by portraiture and fine art photography. John graduated in 1969 from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in English.
First traveling to Hawai‘i on assignment for the Sierra Club Bulletin in 1969, John shot and wrote a series of articles entitled “Paradise Lost.” He subsequently worked in a number of different capacities, including: studio advertising photographer, high-school teacher, part-time college lecturer, diver and farmer. Farming drew Wehrheim into agricultural development and engineering – specifically designing and developing irrigation systems after the closure of Hawai‘i’s sugar and pineapple plantations led to a boom in diversified agriculture. In the early 1980s, John was a pioneer in banana and papaya farming on Kaua‘i and eventually became a hydropower and utility design consultant throughout the Pacific and Asia. Throughout his varied career, John has always been a prolific photographer.
Kaua‘i and Taylor Camp
After traveling overland from Europe to India to document Tibetan refugees and traditional villagers, John returned to Kaua‘i in 1975. He began working for the Kaua‘i Historical Society and Hawai‘i State Foundation on Culture and Arts, photographing plantation-era architecture, scenes and people, part of which was published as The Kaua‘i Album, a book of historic architecture by the Kaua‘i Historical Society.
John also began to seriously document Taylor Camp, viewing it through the anthropological and cultural lens informed by his travels. Although Taylor Camp was closed in 1977, John’s photos are the most comprehensive documentation of this short-lived utopian community. They were later curated into the hardcover photography book, “Taylor Camp” (Serindia Press, 2009), followed by the documentary film, “The Edge of Paradise” (2018).
In 1991, John traveled to the remote Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan as a hydropower consultant. He began to document the Bhutanese people and landscapes in his signature black-and-white style, and continued to do so on subsequent trips for the next sixteen years. In 2002 a collection of these photographs was exhibited at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawai‘i. The success of this exhibit led to the publication of the hardcover photography book “Bhutan: Hidden Land of Happiness” (Serindia Press, 2008).
Because of the exhibit, John was contacted by an independent filmmaker who pitched a documentary film idea about the country. “Bhutan: Taking the Middle Path to Happiness” was released in 2007 to critical acclaim. In 2010, the film won two Northern California Area Emmy® Awards for Best History/Culture and Best Music.
In over 30 years of regular travel to Bhutan, John has taken more than 20,000 photographs of a country in transition from a traditional agrarian kingdom to a modern constitutional monarchy that is integrated with the rest of the world while striving to preserve its unique culture and spiritual traditions.
John’s photography has been featured in solo exhibits in Hawai‘i, Prague, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Bangkok, and Thimphu. His work has appeared in numerous publications around the world, including the Sierra Club Bulletin, Geo, MARE, Der Spiegel, The Tibet Journal (India), MAGNUS (Czech Republic), FORBES Czech, the Smithsonian Magazine, Honolulu Magazine, Hana Hou Magazine, Huffington Post, London Daily Mail, Slate, Buzz Feed, Trip, The Sun, SF Gate, Honolulu Civil Beat, and The Surfer’s Journal, and others.