ISLAND HISTORY: Historical Photographs by John Wehrheim of Kauai

ByDavid M. Conte

Aug 22, 2021

Photographer, filmmaker, and author John Wehrheim (b.1947) arrived in Kaua’i in 1969 to write and photograph “Paradise Lost”, a three-part series for the Sierra Club, which focused on rapid and painless extinction. Hawai’i’s precedent for unique flora and fauna, as well as increasing water pollution, traffic jams, and sprawl in Hawaii’s beach resorts.

Two years later, in 1971, John moved into an A-frame cabin behind the family home of Howard Taylor (1929-2020) in Makua, Ha’ena, and began photographing Taylor Camp, a community of huts in trees across Maniniholo Bay founded by Taylor, an artist -oceanographer and brother of actress Elizabeth Taylor.

In 1975 Wehrheim became a professor of photography at Kaua’i Community College, the same year the Kaua’i Historical Society hired him to create the book “The Kaua’i Album”, a visual masterpiece that contains photos of nearly 100 historic structures in Kaua’i. , some dating from the early 1800s, few of which exist today.

It was also around this time that he began to seriously document Taylor Camp, seeing it both as a refugee community and what he described as the “ultimate hippie surfer fantasy.”

“I try to select subjects that tell a story,” Wehrheim explains.

“The first question I ask is: ‘Will this subject be more interesting, more valuable, more informative in a hundred years? Two hundred years? ‘

His prints have been exhibited in Asia, Europe and America, collected by Stanford University, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Hawai’i State Foundation for Culture and the Arts.

They include “Taylor Camp” at LA Art – the nation’s largest art exhibit.

Excerpts and reviews of his work have been published in seven languages, and his books and films are in 136 libraries around the world.

The most recent project of his broad interests explores King David Kalakaua’s hydroelectric power station, built in 1888 after he met inventor Thomas Edison in New York City.

Wehrheim photographed the power station ruins hidden deep in the jungle of Nu’uanu, O’ahu and wrote an article about it for the November-December 2021 issue of “Hana Hou”, the Hawaiian Airlines magazine .

John Wehrheim and his wife, the former mayor of Kaua’i, JoAnn Yukimura, have two children: Maile and Kanani.


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