Swiss Photographer Writes Book About His Journey to America

24 06 2011

By Shannon Rasberry


A Swiss photographer famous for his depiction of nude women has written a book about his trip from Geneva to the United States during the late 1970s, a turbulent era of sexual liberation, drugs, and carefree living that captured his imagination and defined a generation. John Bernhard’s autobiographical book, America’s Call: The Rocky Road of the American Dream…A Travelogue of One Man’s Discovery, tells the story of an open, free, and curious American culture through the youthful spirit of Bernhard’s journal, which chronicled an odyssey lasting over a year and covering more than 28,000 miles.


America’s Call recounts Bernhard’s exploration of much of Canada and the United States with his best friend Alain from the early days of 1978 to the spring of 1979. The book is a matter-of-fact account of a bygone America by a young Old World pilgrim who backpacked his way across the New World fueled by childhood stories of cowboys and Indians, of John Wayne and James Dean.


When people ask about the unusually frank depiction of casual sex and drug use in his book, Bernhard always responds with a Cheshire grin, “But there was nothing unusual about any of that then.”


However, the America of the late 1970s bears little resemblance to the America of 2012. In fact, Bernhard says he decided to write his book, more than 30 years after the events in his journal, because of the changes that have taken place in America, his adopted home.


“For me, the trance of reliving the memories in my journal was bittersweet,” Bernhard said. “It was a magical time for America, and myself, in terms of opportunities for freedom and personal discovery. Sex and drugs were as easily found as coffee and cigarettes. Some people think that was a bad thing and are happy those days are gone.”


“But other things were equally common. Such as a sense of community and the hospitality towards strangers, the ability to trust someone you didn’t know to give you a ride in their car or a hot meal or a room to stay for the night without suspicion or concern. There was a freedom, a love, to the way people thought and behaved and interacted with one another that was personally and spiritually emancipating. And all of it, all of those things, are gone now, lost over the past three decades to the cultural isolation of conservatism, fear, and hate.”


John Bernhard was born in Switzerland and after his backpack adventure, the draw to the U.S. tugged at his mind until he returned and settled in Houston, Texas to pursue the American dream. For the past three decades he has chosen the medium of photography to explore the everyday world from new perspectives, breaking away into different pathways of artistic expression.  He is the author of seven monographs, including: Nudes Metamorphs, Nicaragua, John Bernhard, Drift, Diptych, China, and Body Work.



Renaissance Man Comes Full Circle in his Discovery and Love of America in the new book America’s Call.

6 04 2011

By K Pica Kahn

The Renaissance man took to the open road to discover America with a backpack and a dream.

Swiss photographer John Bernhard had long wanted to explore America by backpacking through the U.S. and Canada. He journals about this account in his new book, America’s Call.

The late 1970s made the dream possible as thousands of young men and women traveled in search of new adventures.

It was a different time when freedom of spirit was just beginning to reveal itself in this Age of Aquarius and Emancipation Generation.

Sex, drugs and rock and roll had been used to describe this newfound freedom after the Vietnam War, with the women’s movement in full swing making the generally known “weaker sex” as strong as their male counterparts.

It was the days when you could still pick up hitchhikers and not be afraid, and the open road meant more than just good scenery. It meant an open mind and an open heart, something long evident in Bernhard’s photography.

Although the author, who describes himself as Swiss by birth and Texan by choice, has already published several outstanding books of photography, this newly released autobiographical journal of discovery is a first.  The surprise comes in the fact that this visual photographer/painter/sculptor is also quite an eloquent writer painting words on the canvas of the mind.

Expressive phrases seemed so poignant for a writer whose first language is French.

“The lake was splendid, the sky was upside down, and the cumulus clouds floated over the limpid water.”

“The road empty of cars stretched lonely towards the opening of the sky.”

The book is a romp of romance, realizations and reverence for the sheer beauty of the U.S. and Canada.

Sensitive to both the details and the history of each location, the author’s intellect is evident, but not overdone, with such references as trying to improve his language skills while traveling, by reading War and Peace in English, having already read it in French.

The book’s chapters are divided by cities and in humorous detail follow his amorous adventures with subtle details appropriate for almost all readers.  The affairs he recalls are with the American people and the landscape of a time when America and Americans enjoyed a now-gone sense of innocence

Traveling both with and without his lifelong friend, Alain, the book has an authenticity about it in the conflicts that arise when sharing such an adventure.

But the two remain best friends today, and the book is in fact dedicated to his fellow traveler.

Although there are many books that detail traveling the country during that time, America’s Call, has the added advantage of seeing the country from a European perspective.  Laughing out loud, the book was hard to put down, both from wanting to follow the authors adventures, as well as wanting to escape to those reminiscent days, making it an easy read for those who lived it and those now at the age of exploring on their own.

His love of the U.S. is a contrast to what we often hear from those not American, and allows the reader to see the country almost through the innocent eyes of a discovering child.

“I found myself being welcomed everywhere, usually with hospitability that was overwhelming.”

His visual descriptions mirror his photographs in richness and texture, as he paints the tapestry of the U.S. as an artistic wordsmith.

Bernhard’s way of storytelling whether in photography or in writing, takes the audience on the ride of a lifetime with a mélange of experiences like a colorful ribbon in the sky.

Book signing sponsored by the Swiss American Society

3 04 2011
To the Members and Friends of the Swiss American Society:
Margrit Young-Zellweger, Honorary Consul of Switzerland is hosting a book signing by John Bernhard on April 21, 2011 at 7:00 pm at her residence at 11922 Taylorcrest, Houston, TX 77024.
As seating is limited, deadline to RSVP is April 20, 2010.  Please call Yvonne Bucheler at: 713.721.8915


14 07 2010

“I had dreamt of traveling to the New World for as long as I could remember. I had filled my imagination with the romance of exploration until it overflowed with wild curiosity. When I left Europe on my journey, I did so without a definite destination. I knew only that I wanted to discover as much of North America as I could, from Canada to the U.S., from Alberta’s Rockies to California’s beaches. I wanted to see it all.
When I think of America as it was 30 years ago, I conjure fond memories of a nation and a culture that no longer exists. My story is the recollection of a journey of personal discovery that took place at the end of a very special era. So much has changed in my adopted country since then. Although the American dreams that filled my youth are long gone, the affectionate memories remain. Like a photograph, this book is a snapshot of that time.”

The theme resonates with the book On the Road by Jack Kerouak published in 1957, the year I was born.  It differs in one single way; the humble intention of this book is only to share the journal of my journey, without claiming to be the voice of a generation as Kerouak did, and to make you yearn for traveling across a nostalgic time.
I think my timing is perfect for todays America ripped by the recession and the war. Jim Nelson, Editor-in-Chief at GQ magazine wrote that 2009 was the Year of Nostalgia, with people pining for the glories of Americas past, yearning for yesteryear. He believed that in the soul of this country, which, whenever it worries about its future, start anxiously looking backward.
S  Y N O P S I S

America’s Call is based on the journal that John Bernhard used to chronicle his trip to North America during the late 1970s. It is the story of two young friends on a New World walkabout, questing to discover their destinies and their souls during a quintessential time in U.S. history.


The beauty of America’s Call lies in Bernhard’s visual depictions of 1970s America, the various destinations that make up his journey, and the people he meets along the way. Bernhard offers a sense of adventure and curiosity reminiscent of the vanished era he describes, and introduces those of us who missed it to a bygone America that we can only hope will not be forgotten.

Book Trailer

13 10 2009