To mark the August anniversary of the beginning of WWI, the world is invited to view – for the first time ever – an exclusive collection of WWI artwork nearly 100 years old buried beneath French fields and farmland.
When photographer Jeffrey Gusky, M.D., FACEP, was given exclusive access to record all but forgotten underground cities of World War I lying beneath private farms in France, he had no idea what to expect or the impact it would have on others. Now captured in thousands of striking images, Gusky has titled the collection The Hidden World of WWI. The beautiful art and emotionally charged inscriptions, carved in stone by WWI soldiers, have been virtually untouched for almost 100 years. They are a direct human connection between then and now.
Gusky, a Dallas emergency physician, fine-art photographer and explorer, is believed to be the first person ever to bring to light the large number of underground cities beneath the trenches of WWI. The Hidden World of WWI reveals the artifacts, sculptures and evocative graffiti left behind by soldiers on both sides of the conflict. Landowners determined to preserve the past have zealously protected these underground treasures for decades.
“Seeing these subterranean cities for the first time was one of the most moving experiences of my life,” Gusky says. “Finding hundreds and hundreds of messages to the future, written by soldiers in their own hand, made time seem to stand still. I feel a tremendous responsibility to the people who trusted me enough to share their secrets about these places. It was also amazing to realize that while some people knew about some of these spaces, no one knew about all of them.”
While visiting France to photograph another project, Gusky had a chance meeting with a French official – which resulted in his first meetings with local WWI enthusiasts and several land owners along the Western Front. Gusky’s passion for the story and his commitment to protecting these hidden treasures earned their trust and eventually led to encounters with many more people who helped him find and photograph dozens of underground cities.
“To witness the inner thoughts and feelings of the soldiers, carved in stone, was more than inspiring; it was almost spiritual,” Gusky explains. “My goal was to capture this outpouring of human emotion and help make World War I real and relevant to people today.” One of the first soldier’s carvings the Dallas photographer saw was a perfectly executed, museum-quality relief sculpture of a classic woman’s face chiseled into the wall of an obscure underground quarry. At that moment he knew he had stumbled onto an important story that could touch people around the world during the 100-year anniversary of WWI.
He spent a total of six months exploring miles and miles of these underground spaces. The often treacherous work was performed in complete darkness and sometimes required him to crawl on hands and knees through tight spaces, over jagged rocks, and to lean down over ledges, balancing his camera in one hand. Additional perils in the form of unexploded hand grenades and live artillery shells were common.
Gusky found thousands of works of art, graffiti and inscriptions by German, French, British, American, Canadian, Polish, Hungarian, Australian, New Zealand, Chinese, African and even New Zealand Maori soldiers, among others. In at least one instance, it was clear that three different armies had occupied the same underground city over the course of the war. While they left their mark in different languages, their graffiti and artwork was less about war and politics and more about home and loved ones.
Gusky is strongly committed to preserve and protect these treasures in France. “I’m a man on a mission. I hope these images will change the way we think about WWI and that they will be protected for future generations. The Hidden World of WWI gives us a glimpse into the humanity of individual soldiers who refused to be silenced in the face of modern warfare. Men from both sides declared themselves as human beings who could think, feel, express and create, and who remind us today that they were here, that they once existed as living, breathing human beings.”
About the Artist Jeffrey Gusky
Jeffrey Gusky, M.D., FACEP, lives two lives – one as a rural emergency physician and the other as a fine-art photographer and explorer. Gusky’s first year of medical school at the University of Washington was spent in Alaska as part of the WAMI Program, created to inspire students to become country doctors. Gusky graduated high in his class and was inducted into Alpha Omega Alpha, the National Honor Medical Society. He combined his love of flying and rural medicine and used his plane to reach remote hospital emergency rooms on short notice throughout Texas and Oklahoma. Since 1991, he has taught trauma skills to other physicians as an instructor in the Advanced Trauma Life Support program and is a fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians.
Two books of black-and-white photography, multiple national exhibitions including the pairing of his work with the Spanish master Francisco de Goya and the legendary early 20th Century photographer Roman Vishniac, inclusion in a Broadway play and the honor of a Gusky traveling exhibition being ranked by Artnet Magazine on its 2009 list of the top 20 museum shows in America mark Gusky’s fine-art career. He explores the world – photographing pieces of the past that can help us discover who we are and which inspire us to ask questions about the vulnerabilities of modern life that we have forgotten how to ask.
Watch the Video Press Release: https://vimeo.com/100174215 where ER physician and artist Jeff Gusky talks about the discovery and what he found in these underground cities.
Gusky’s discoveries and photographs are featured in the August 2014 issue of National Geographic, The Hidden World of the Great War.
Video press release available at: https://vimeo.com/100174215