About The Project
Biography
The Hidden World of WWI

About The Project

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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.

Biography

portrait of Jeff Gusky
Photo credit: Marty Perlman

Jeff Gusky lives two lives, one as a rural emergency physician and the other as a fine-art photographer and explorer.

Dr. 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 twenty museum shows in America mark Jeff Gusky’s fine-art career. Jeff 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.

Jeff resides in rural East Texas and in Dallas.

Exhibitions

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 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 a 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.

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

Press Releases

1

Christmas Truces Bring Brief Peace for WWI Soldiers 100 Years Ago

Photo from The Hidden World of WWI Gives Poignant Reminder of Centenary DALLAS (Dec. 18, 2014) — Many contemporary holiday cards reflect peaceful tidings, but 100 years ago, peace meant something entirely different to the WWI soldiers who fought bloody… Continue reading  

2

Never-Before-Seen WWI Photos are Poignant Reminders of the Great War’s Centennial

In time for Veterans Day, carvings represent soldiers’ observance of three phases of the war and peace DALLAS (Nov. 9, 2014)—In honor of Veterans Day, Dr. Jeff Gusky reveals two special new photographs from The Hidden World of WWI collection.… Continue reading  

3

Evidence of MLB’s Biggest Rivalry Discovered Beneath the Trenches of WWI

100 years later, The Yankees Versus Red Sox Rivalry Lives On VIDEO: http://vimeo.com/100178683 DALLAS (August 26, 2014) — Hidden beneath the French countryside are miles of all but forgotten underground cities The Hidden World of WWI. And now, it’s revealed… Continue reading  

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Press Handout Images

Handout photos are available free of charge to press organizations for use alongside press articles and reports on Jeff Gusky and The Hidden World of World War I. All other uses are prohibited. Password: HIDDENWORLD.   See Images

Handout Images

TV Appearances

Jeff Gusky's interview on WFAA8 ABC Dallas. 12 November 2014
AFP: Underground art reveals WW1 soldiers' hopes and fears 25 September 2014
Video Press Release - The Hidden World of WWI Reveals Groundbreaking Discovery. Dallas Physician, Artist and Explorer Creates Powerful, Emotional and Inspiring Images - Never Seen Before 14 July 2014
What is one of the more moving inscriptions you discovered? 3 August 2014
Jeffrey Gusky on Fox 4 28 July 2014
Alsace20 4 May 2014
Power Players - Beneath the trenches: The secret world of the Great War revealed 11 November 2014

Radio

FAQ

  •   What did you discover about WWI?

    I found and photographed vast underground cities which are all but unknown along the Western Front in France. They were created in centuries-old rock quarries from which stone was mined for cathedrals, castles and fortresses. They lie under privately owned farm land, so while some people knew about some of them, no one knew about all of them. The spaces contain breathtaking graffiti, art, street signs and plaques in French, English, German, Chinese and a number of other languages. WWI brought together able-bodied men from every walk of life and from around the globe, including artists, poets, professors, brick-layers, laborers, cooks and every other conceivable profession. As a group, they possessed a tremendous range of talents. Some of them created masterful works of art, the likes of which have not been seen in our lifetime. For the past century, these underground cities adorned with beautiful carvings and emotionally-charged graffiti have remained hidden in complete darkness. They are a Hidden World of WWI and a direct human connection between then and now.

  •   Where are these underground spaces and how can people visit them?

    This is going to be hard for many people to hear, but most of the spaces are protected by land owners and historical associations and won’t be open to tourists. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, some are very dangerous. Live, unexploded ordinance still lies on the ground. In many cases, there’s risk that the ceilings will collapse, trapping or killing people who may be inside. Second, they are targets for serious vandalism or theft. Already, I have photographed priceless sculptures that have been defaced because whoever took the last photo of them wanted to have the only original version, and worse I’ve found evidence of outright theft. Finally, many of the locations are under working farms and other private land; the land owners want to protect their privacy and do not want to take on the extreme risk that non-professional visitors might occasion.

  •   How can I get involved in protecting the spaces?

    My team and I plan to create a forum where people from across the globe can become whistle blowers if they should see any of these priceless WWI carvings for sale on auction sites or in galleries or if they hear about or witness theft or vandalism of these WWI treasures. Please visit www.facebook.com/HiddenWWI for information.

  •   What do the photographs look like?

    The photographs are black-and-white images shot in total darkness. By raking a strong light source across the surface of the sculptures they seem to come alive. These photographs reveal a startling array of sophisticated carvings, many of which could be considered museum quality art.

  •   How did the discovery come about?

    I have photographed a number of other projects around the world through my personal quest to understand why modern mass destruction still exists and have developed a reputation for being highly sensitive to the subject matter and the people who introduce me to it. On a 2011 trip to France, I had a chance meeting with an official from the French Ministry of Defense who was in charge of planning the WWI Centennial. Upon learning of my interest in WWI, he and his staff introduced me to key local officials along the Western Front. Over time, I was fortunate to develop close personal friendships with local WWI enthusiasts who share my vision of leaving a photographic legacy of The Hidden World of WWI.

  •   Why is this discovery important?

    First, the amazing beauty of the sculptures and the emotional power of soldiers’ inscriptions, left for all of us by WWI soldiers, is astonishing. Second, these carvings have not been seen in one place… in one collection of photographs, ever. But most importantly, these were people who were just like us. They were modern. They loved baseball, lived in high-rise buildings, drove cars and watched movies. They went to plays and concerts. The everyday routine of their modern lives was suddenly turned upside down in a way that no one saw coming. They were the first witnesses to the dark side of modern progress, the first modern mass destruction, where the technologies that make modern life possible were used to destroy life on a scale that was, and still is, inconceivable. In the face of unspeakable violence, where the value of an individual human life seemed to evaporate, they defiantly expressed their humanity with eloquence and passion.

  •   What reaction do you hope people will have?

    I hope viewers will stop, really see the images and ponder the hard questions about modern life we have almost forgotten how to ask; question about how modern life affects our humanness. There is much to discover and learn about our lives from WWI. I also hope that families of WWI veterans and people interested in researching the personal histories of individual soldiers will get involved in sharing stories of the thousands of men whose names are inscribed on these quarry walls. Original family photos would be an incredible addition to the project. To participate by sharing stories, research or photos, please visit www.facebook.com/HiddenWWI.

  •   Why are you making the announcement now?

    With the anniversary of the start of WWI in early August, the timing is perfect.