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.