Beneath the farm houses in the tranquil French countryside exists a forgotten city—rooms and passages of narrow and twisting quarries where the stone is soft enough to carve with basic tools. These spaces were battlefield refuge for First World War soldiers and became home to countless sculptures, carvings, and artifacts as well. Local landowners and historical associations have protected the remains for decades, fearing vandalism and dangerous visiting conditions, and few outsiders have been given access to the area.
A chance meeting with a French Ministry of Defence official landed Dr. Jeff Gusky and his camera among the lost artworks. Soldiers from the Commonwealth, France, Germany, America, and beyond possessed a wide range of talents—artists, poets, professors, labourers, cooks—and used this space beneath the trenches as a creative outlet, expressing their modern sensibilities and humanity in the face of war. For his project, The Hidden World of World War I, Gusky has captured nearly 2,000 black and white photographs of the wartime graffiti to be released over the next five years, leading up to the centenary of the war’s conclusion.
Photos ©2011-2014 Jeffrey Gusky. All Rights Reserved.
Originally published November 10, 2014.