About The Project

Dr. Jeff Gusky, American doctor, fine-art photographer and explorer, has pursued a twenty year quest to discover the origins of modern mass destruction and terrorism. On a trip to Poland in the dead of winter in 1995, he spent time alone in a basement torture chamber at a Nazi concentration camp. Despite the passage of fifty years, the torture chamber still felt evil and oppressive. Ascending the stairs into the bleak winter light, he glanced at a nearby guard tower and was struck with the realization that the threat of mass destruction and genocide is with us still. He wanted to know why.

Gusky spent months on the ground in France, Belgium, Moldova, Romania, the Ukraine and Israel. On return from these journeys, with critical input and guidance from his friend and collaborator, Dallas lawyer and scholar Reid Heller, Gusky and Heller analyzed source materials that traced modern mass destruction to its origins in the late 19th century.

Gusky said, “Since the birth of the modern city in the 1870’s, millions and millions of people have moved from the human scale of rural life with its attendant natural human rhythms and touch points to the inhuman scale of massive, impersonal modern cities. Enthralled by the power, exhilaration and conveniences of city life, the inhuman scale of the city gets inside us and makes us numb and cut off from the things in life that sustain our humanity. When we lose touch with human reference points and replace them with blind faith in modern technology we become dehumanized and vulnerable to the dark side of modern progress.

About one hundred and twenty years ago, blind faith in progress and public opinion, amplified as never before by the brand new technology of mass media, led to a gradual, almost imperceptible relaxation of judgment and conscience. The spectacular achievements of progress allowed people to lose touch with the fragility of their civilization… and their own self-protective instincts. It took less than thirty years for the new democracies, intoxicated by progress, to march enthusiastically into a meat grinder… the first modern mass destruction: WWI.

The Hidden World of WWI gives us a glimpse into the individual humanity of soldiers that refused to be silenced in the face of modern mass destruction. Men from both sides defied the inhuman scale of modern life and declared themselves as human beings, who could think, and feel, and express and create and who remind us today that they were here, and that they once existed as living, breathing human beings” Gusky said.

Gusky has recently announced that he will publish a series of almost two thousand images documenting The Hidden World of WWI. The photographs explore an all but forgotten soldier’s world in the underground cities beneath the trenches of the Western Front in France.

See the photographs

The Hidden World of WWI

Hidden under the former battlefields of WWI lie hundreds of forgotten rock quarries that were transformed into underground cities beneath the trenches, sheltering armies on both sides of the Great War from mass destruction. Cloaked in darkness under private land in the beautiful French countryside, these underground cities are bristling with artifacts, sculptures and emotionally charged “graffiti” created by WWI soldiers a century ago. Frozen-in-time, these cities beneath the trenches form a direct human connection to men who lived a century ago. They make hundred years ago seem like yesterday. They are a Hidden World of WWI that is all but unknown, even to the French.

American medical doctor, fine art photographer and explorer Jeffery Gusky was introduced to these underground cities by landowners and dedicated volunteers and their families who fiercely guard the secrets of these spaces with loving care to prevent them from being vandalized and to preserve them for the future. Dr. Gusky found it hard to believe that he was the first outsider privileged to systematically explore this Hidden World and that almost nothing about them can be found on the internet. Caretakers shared their precious secrets with Gusky and honored him with exclusive access to create a photographic legacy of this Hidden World, but with the proviso that he would work closely with them to protect these cultural treasures from harm.

Dr. Gusky has created thousands of images that document the lives, loves, and longings of these modern young men who were the soldiers of WWI. The stone walls of the quarries are soft enough to be carved with simple tools. The men spent long hours recording indelible expressions of their humanity that are as fresh and powerful today as they were a century ago. The images are sometimes poignant and sometimes sad but always deeply moving reminders that these men were not strange doughboys from old movies but modern people who were coping with the dehumanizing horrors of war in the same way that we would cope if faced with these horrors today.

These cities now exist in total darkness. All equipment must be carried underground by hand, often snaking over, under and around shifting debris, frozen mud and fallen rock. Despite this inaccessibility, the underground spaces gave up their wonders under the artist’s visionary approach. Raking light over the carvings to make them stand out clearly, Dr. Gusky has succeeded in creating strikingly beautiful images that cause the viewer to stop and look... really look. The first impression of many viewers is stunned surprise and the second is a desire to linger, discuss and ask questions.

Dr. Gusky’s published work focuses on pieces of the past, hidden in plain sight, that can help us discover who we are and inspire us to ask questions about the vulnerabilities of modern life that we have forgotten how to ask. The Hidden World of WWI is his third major project.