BIO
The Hidden World of WWI
portrait of Jeff Gusky
Photo credit: Marty Perlman

Jeff's mission as an explorer and artist is identical to his mission as an emergency physician: to help people face immediate danger and chart a path to safety. He urges people to ask questions we've forgotten how to ask about how the scale of modern life diminishes conscience and the very self-protective instincts that help keep us safe against terrorism. He believes we must restore a human scale to our busy lives by learning how to see and adapt to the new frontier of human nature on which we all now live.

Jeff's career as an explorer and artist began on a bleak December day in 1995 at the former Nazi concentration camp Plazow, just outside Cracow, Poland. Acting on a hunch while visiting a memorial near the camp's entrance, he climbed a nearby hill in knee deep snow. Approaching the top, a barbed wire fence came into view surrounding a Nazi-era compound: an abandoned building with prison-bar windows next to a set of ovens, ashes still present. In the dim light and silence, Jeff experienced a strong sense that unspeakable acts of barbarism had occurred here. Guided by intuition, he began photographing what he felt... the same method he uses today.

Since that day, he's been on a quest to understand why terrorism continues and where hope lies in a time of terror. Exploring sites across Poland, Belgium, France, Moldova, Ukraine, Transnistria and Romania where millions of innocents have been slaughtered in modern times, he's found a common thread that links mass murder during the Holocaust to terrorism today: the moral crisis caused by the dehumanizing scale of technology and the pace of life in modern cities.

The inhuman scale of modern life cuts us off from nature, from human nature and from each other. Scale confuses our moral compass and encourages us to question the very existence of our moral core. Scale blurs the line between what's human and what's not. We now face "A Human Emergency" that's right before our eyes yet difficult to see and nearly impossible to put into words. Learning to visualize how scale affects our lives helps keep us safe as we face challenging times ahead. Jeff's mission is to inspire belief in a future where we find hope in the human decency and courage of ordinary people and find safety in embracing human nature for what it is…permanently imperfect…with the potential for extraordinary goodness and unfathomable evil.

Jeff is a National Geographic photographer. His photography is now featured in "Artist Soldiers", (http://tiny.cc/2vw6jy) an 18 month exhibition at The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., the world's most visited museum. A concurrent solo photographic exhibition at the Museum of History and Art in Sainte-Menehould, France runs through November 26th, 2017.

The New York Times, The Washington Post, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, PBS, NPR, The BBC, USA Today, US News & World Report, Arte, The CBC, Associated Press, Reuters, AFP, The Daily Mail and the Huffington Post have all covered Jeff's discoveries and photographs.

Jeff is a TV host, producer and the author of three books. With his production partner Kirk Wolfinger (Lone Wolf Media), he produced his first documentary, 'Americans Underground: Secret City of WWI' which premiered on the Smithsonian Channel in March 2017.

Jeff graduated near the top of his class at one of America's top ten medical schools, The University of Washington School of Medicine. He is a member of Alpha Omega Alpha, the National Honor Medical Society and is a Fellow in the American College of Emergency Physicians. For over 25 years, he has taught trauma care as an instructor in the Advanced Trauma Life Support program administered by the American College of Surgeons.

Jeff is a proud member of The Photo Society (http://tiny.cc/k9lqky), an invitation only group of about 170 National Geographic Photographers. He is also an assignment photographer for the New York Times.

Exhibitions

April 6th, 2017 through November 11th, 2018, The Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C. The exhibit is a collaboration between the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum and National Museum of American History.
Gusky‘s photographs of Eastern Europe were featured in this Studio 54 Theatre production in 2011.
Ranked by Artnet Magazine (Spring, 2009) as one of the top 20 museum shows in America alongside shows at the Guggenheim, the Smithsonian and the Met, the exhibition opened at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in October, 2008 to record crowds and continued as a traveling exhibition. The presence of life in Vishniac’s photographs from the 1930’s side-by-side with the absence of life in Gusky’s contemporary photographs convey the incomprehensible loss of modern mass destruction. Genocide takes on new meaning as a risk that is with us still.
A 2003-2004 exhibition at the Meadows Museum in Dallas, paired 45 original Disasters of War etchings by Francisco de Goya with 45 of Gusky’s contemporary photographs.
2002 solo exhibition at the Robert Hull Fleming Museum of Art in Burlington, Vermont. Approximately 100 Gusky black-and-white photographs of the architectural ruins of the once thriving Jewish civilization and culture in Eastern Europe destroyed in World War II.
2001 solo exhibition at the University of Texas-Dallas of 145 Gusky black-and-white wintertime photographs of the architectural ruins of Eastern European Jewry. Holocaust Emotions: Photographs from the Present, Feelings of the Past 2000 solo exhibition of 105 Gusky Eastern European photographs at the University of Texas-Tyler.
A three year installation (2003 to 2006), of 14 Gusky photographs in the boardroom of the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University’s Bridwell Library.
Reimagining Dallas: An Intimate Walk on Turtle Creek, December 4, 2009 through Jan 3, 2010.
2003 solo exhibition of 18 Gusky photographs from a series on the Texas-Mexico border. The Desert Willow Cafe & Gallery, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Books

Silent Places book cover

Silent Places: Landscapes of Jewish Life & Loss in Eastern Europe

by Jeff Gusky (Author, Photographer), Judith Miller (Introduction), Hardcover, 180 pages, Overlook-Duckworth (New York, London), October 2003, ISBN: 1585673161. A December 17th, 2003 Roger Rosenblatt essay on the book aired on PBS' The Newshour with Jim Lehrer.

Silent Places book cover

Bordertown: The Odyssey of an American Place

Published in September, 2008 by Yale University Press (New Haven). Bordertown is the story of a once powerful yet now impoverished locale on the Texas-Mexico border which has been a full participant in American life since it became American soil in 1848. It’s a story of power, patriotism and self-determination by early Mexican-Americans. The book was the recipient of the Popular Culture/American Culture Association’s Ray and Pat Browne Award for the Best Reference/Primary Source Work in Popular and American Culture in 2008. Co-authored with SMU Professor Ben Johnson. ISBN: 0300139284.

Medical Student Ward Survival Manual

Published in 1983, this orientation manual for third-year medical students sold 16,000 copies in two printings and was widely distributed throughout the US and Canada. ISBN: 0910015007.

The Hidden World of WWI

Hidden beneath the beautiful French countryside lie hundreds of underground rock quarries which were already centuries old before WWI began. Armies on both sides rapidly converted these vast spaces into modern underground cities with electric power, lights, telephones, rail transportation, living quarters, hospitals, food systems, offices, chapels and theaters. One underground city Jeff photographed has over 25 miles of contiguous passageways and resembles a subway station with high ceilings. Some underground cities have street signs still posted on the walls which helped soldiers from getting lost. Jeff is nearly 6’4” tall and can walk about freely in most of these places without hitting his head.

Tens of thousands of soldiers lived underground at any given time. A single underground system beneath Arras, France housed 24,000 British Commonwealth soldiers at its peak. It was outfitted with a 700 bed hospital.

WWI was the first modern mass destruction. The weapons were so powerful that there was no place on the earth’s surface which was safe from sudden death. But underground there was safety. The powerful weapons could not wreak havoc beneath the earth’s surface.

The safety of the underground allowed soldiers to feel human. And here, they reconstituted a human world. When the surface of the earth became an apocalypse where human life was devoured by machines…machines whose power exceeded human comprehension… beneath the surface soldiers expressed their hopes, fears and prayers on stone by carving museum-quality art and inscriptions now cloaked in total darkness. They wrote their names, addresses and notes to loved ones as messages to the future, not knowing if anyone would ever see them.

Now we can see them, touch them and feel the human emotions of modern young men who were alive a century ago. Time has stood still. The passage of one hundred years feels like a single day.

Press Coverage

What Experts Are Saying

It was as if the soldiers had just left the caves days or weeks before. I was struck by the indelible legacy of their carvings. I feel a kinship to the soldiers of the 26th "Yankee" division who preceded me. It is as if I can reach out to them thru Jeff's photos.
Brigadier General Leonid Kondratiuk, Former Chief Historian, National Guard Bureau
I've been in the room as Jeff showed his work to historians of World War I, so I can tell you exactly how they react: with curiosity about the world he uncovered, with amazement at the images themselves, and with a slow realization that the histories we write with words haven't yet captured the world the way that Jeff has with his camera.
Dr. Christopher Capozzola, Associate Professor of History, MIT
These fascinating photographs reveal a hidden, subterranean world that puts a new face on the "troglodyte" world of the trenches that Paul Fussell and others so eloquently described.
Dr. Michael S. Neiberg, Author of Dance of the Furies: Europe and the Outbreak of World War I
The photos are significant because I know of nothing comparable. We have letters and journals and interviews and trench art but nothing exactly like this. Whether they engraved their initials or created a complete sculpture, they were expressing their identities and emotions. It is impossible not to connect with them.
Dr. Paul H. Herbert, Executive Director, First Division Museum at Cantigny, Wheaton, IL

Selected Interviews

Video From Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum Exhibition of Jeff’s Work. 14 March 2017
ABC News POWER PLAYERS: Beneath the Trenches The Secret World of the Great War Revealed 26 April 2017
Jeff Gusky's interview on WFAA8 ABC Dallas. 12 November 2014
Jeff Gusky Hidden Worlds of WWI 14 March 2016

Radio

25 July 2014
18 July 2014