Italo Bertolasi, Italian Hippies – black and white photo of a group of naked people massaging each other's backs, smiling and laughing.
Massage circle at the Body and Nature festival in 1978, Apicella, Varazze. All photos courtesy of Italo Bertolasi

Nude and Free: Photos of 70s Hippie Counterculture

Italo Bertolasi photographed the clothing-optional life on the communes and the hippie trails after e.
Vincenzo Ligresti
Milan, IT

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.

Italo Bertolasi, Italian Hippies, Festival di Ballabio – black and white photo of a topless woman with long hair cutting the hair of a guy on a field. He has hair to the shoulders, bangs and is wearing a tanktop that reads 'legalise pot'

Two people getting ready to dance at the Ballabio music festival, an open-air event with free music and poetry performances. September 25-26, 1971.

“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.”

Scroll down to see more photos:

Italo Bertolasi, Italian Hippies – black and white photo of two hippies (man and woman) sitting on the street as a man in a suit walks by. The guy on the street is playing a flute.

"Us vs them inside the bubble of the Brera underground culture." Milan, Spring 1972.

Italo Bertolasi, Italian Hippies – black and white photos of two people sleeping outside, on the ground, on an internal balcony overlooking a court at a local comune.

The anarchist commune Il Fabbricone (the Big Factory) in Milan. Photo taken between 1975-1977

Italo Bertolasi, Italian Hippies – left: man wearing traditional garments kneeling in a cave, holding two strange objects. Right: man with large white beard in traditional garments sitting on the ground with his legs crossed and playing the flute.

Photos of two of the last shamans in Balochistan, a remote and desert region of Pakistan.

Italo Bertolasi, Italian Hippies – photos of a circle of women wearing traditional garments with colourful embroideries standing in the middle of a circle surrounded by people.

After Bertolasi's commune in Pakistan failed, he travelled to the Kafiri people of Afghanistan, who practice a polytheistic religion related to vedic religions and live in a few valleys in the region.

Italo Bertolasi, Italian Hippies – naked man sitting in a meditative pose underneath a waterfall

While in Japan, Bertolasi came across “Shinrin-yoku” or forest bathing. "Japan has long worshipped forests and trees," he said. "This describes the practice of meditative immersion in nature." Taki No Yu waterfall, August 1990.

Italo Bertolasi, Italian Hippies – black and white photo of naked people climbing up a river bed.

"Stream Dance" a movie by Italo Bertolasi documenting forest bathing in the Mello Valley in Italy.

Italo Bertolasi, Italian Hippies – black and white photo of naked people sitting on a rock in nature and giving each other a massage in a circle

A massage circle at the first Body and Nature Festival in Alpicella, Italy. June 1978.

Italo Bertolasi, Italian Hippies – black and white photo about 15-20 people holding each other in a big embrace inside a pool.

Water Shiatsu massage at the Montegrotto Springs, Italy. April 1992.

Italo Bertolasi, Italian Hippies – naked woman climbing up a tree and smiling.

Forest bathing in the Cansiglio woods, Italy.

Italo Bertolasi, Italian Hippies – black and white photo of a man in a pantomime-like outfit surrounded by hundreds of people sitting on the ground and lying in hammocks.

The Macondo community centre in Milan, a place for idealists and revolutionaries which welcomed artists like Allen Ginsberg and André Gluksmann. Photo taken between October, 1977 and February 1978.

Italo Bertolasi, Italian Hippies – left: monks wearing traditional garments walk in a procession amid tall trees. Right: a temple.

Pilgrimage to Yudono mountain, Yamagata, Japan. The Yamabushi monks hike up in a single file to the peak to celebrate Mazuri, the holy mountain's festival.

Italo Bertolasi, Italian Hippies – black and white photo of a naked woman sleeping in a big bed in inside a large room with sparse furnishings.

The anarchist commune Il Fabbricone. Photo taken between 1975/1977 in Milano.

Italo Bertolasi, Italian Hippies – naked woman in meditation pose on a rock facing the glaciar.

Forest bathing in the Monte Rosa mountain glacier, 1980.

Italo Bertolasi, Italian Hippies – left: naked man wrapped around branches absorbed in meditation. Right: naked man holding on to a big root of a massive tree.

Meditation mirroring the tree. Left: Ticino Park. Right Big Island, Hawaii, 2010.

Italo Bertolasi, Italian Hippies – group of people walking down a mountain. Foreground: a sacred statue. Background: thick blanket of clouds.

Pilgrimage to the Ontake San sacred vulcano in the heart of the Japanese Alps. August 1984.

Italo Bertolasi, Italian Hippies – black and white photo showing the silhouette of people in a tree pose in a field.

Naked King Festival in the Lambro Park. Milan, June 26, 1976.

Italo Bertolasi, Italian Hippies – Person in an elaborate and highly embroidered traditional garment performing a dance in a field surrounded by tall palm trees.

Traditional dance to give energy to the earth, water and rice fields. Bali, 1982.