A project five years in the making is surfacing as a Murray State University faculty member prepares to release his collection of subterranean 3D photos, paying homage to the first images of its kind in America and the groundbreaking photographer who created them. William Gross Magee, Graphic Communications lecturer within the Department of Journalism and Mass Communications, decided to publish a book filled with re-photographed images of Mammoth Cave that were originally taken in 1866 by photographer Charles Waldack.
“That’s a really tough question. There’s no simple ‘why’,” said Magee. “I really fell in love with the collodion wet plate process that Waldack used to develop his images, but I think what drove me to pursue the actual book was the opportunity to promote historical Kentucky photography and within a natural Kentucky park.”
After being granted access to the cave in 2011, Waldack began a one-year process of shooting the 3D images. From July 2011 to July 2012, Magee would visit the national park approximately 150 miles away from Murray, a total of eight times, eventually amounting to 23 hours spent re-photographing Waldack’s historic images. The 43 photographs Magee worked to re-create showcase the cave’s key locations and the seemingly unchanged views of the more than 400 miles of Mammoth Cave.
“Cave time moves on a geological scale. The locations Waldack and I photographed will probably remain unaltered for thousands of years. It’s when man intervenes that things become subject to change.” explained Magee.
These same views, originally captured by Belgium-born Waldack in 1866, utilized burning magnesium ribbon to record the first known photographs taken under the Earth’s surface in the United States.
“My goal was to contrast and compare the changes in photography and in the cave in the last 150 years.” said Magee.
After capturing the images, Magee continued to edit and composite them alongside Waldack’s, while gathering research on Waldack included in the limited edition fine arts book. Mammoth Cave Photographic Company, Then & Now will be offered in two different formats, a printed and autographed version including electronic media, 3D stereo glasses and a free online e-book version.
Since the start of his creative project, Magee has gained support and notable respect from the campus community.
“This is a really exciting project. It’s the type of creative work that deserves a lot of credit from members of our faculty.” expressed Dr. Bob Lochte, Journalism and Mass Communications Department Chair. “What Gross is doing is every bit as important as major peer-reviewed publications, and we applaud him for his dedication to his work.”
Being made available on the same day Waldack photographed his first image in the cave, June 14, the book’s release also coincides with several anniversaries important to both Magee and the national park. The year 2016 marks the 200th anniversary of guided tours at Mammoth Cave, 150th anniversary of Charles Waldack’s capturing of the first subterranean image in America, 100th anniversary of the National Parks Service and the 75th anniversary of Mammoth Cave National Park.
Now that Magee’s work is complete and his book being published, he has no plans to cut ties with the cave or his fascination with it and Waldack.
“Honestly I feel a little sad that it’s all done,” said Magee, explaining that he plans to revisit his cave work in two or three years. “Work like this is like taking a photograph with a really long shutter speed; things tend to move and be blurry. As things inside of the cave change, I can’t imagine not being there to capture it.”
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