A version of this article originally appeared on VICE Italy.
The second half of the 1960s represent a period of great turmoil throughout Europe. From Paris to Prague, students and young people who grew up in the post-war era rejected the rigid norms of their societies, expressing a desire to experiment with love, sex, art and different states of consciousness.
Books like Siddharta by Herman Hesse and On the Road by Jack Kerouac inspired a generation to explore alternative forms of spiritualism and travel to faraway places (faraway for them, that is). Literature also popularised a renewed fascination with Asia – particularly India, but all the countries along the Himalayas too. Inspired by these tales, many young people decided to travel to South Asia and China in journeys of spiritual and self-discovery.
Photographer, author and former hippie Italo Bertolasi documented much of this era in Italy and undertook a so-called “pilgrimage to the East” himself. In his early 20s, in 1968, he moved to a commune founded in central Milan in a large abandoned apartment where people with similar ideas circulated.
“In the 60s and 70s, if you were young and curious and you paid attention to politics and the arts, it was impossible to escape that climate of rebellion that was in the air,” Bertolasi tells VICE. “The world we had grown up in was terrible: frigid, sexophobic, patriarchal, and the church ruled over it all.”
The Brera district in Milan – now one of the poshest areas in the city – became a meeting point for artists, revolutionaries and dreamers, “a sort of airport lounge where young men and women would come from as far as Sicily, stop over for a couple of hours or weeks, and be welcomed into communes”, he explains.
Soon Bertolasi came across other travellers and decided to take his first trip to Pakistan in 1969, where he collaborated with others to set up an international commune. This experience encouraged him to pursue a lifetime of travel to places like Afghanistan, Kashmir, India, Indonesia, Japan and the US, snapping pictures along the way.
Now in his 70s, Bertolasi has long set his camera aside and dedicated himself mostly to bodywork and alternative therapy, including watsu – a type of massage – and yoga. But through it all, Bertolasi never forgot those precious years.
“Youth is stratospheric and full of dreams, then adulthood is when you do things that make sense, and finally old age is when everything degenerates,” he says. “During my journey, the imprint of that era of dreams, projects and utopias still remains.”
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