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HomeContentsThemes > Subterranean photography


769.01   Nadar: Catacombs and subterranean Paris (1860s)
769.02   Charles Waldack: Mammoth Cave, Kentucky (1866)
769.03   Mandeville Thum: Mammoth Cave, Kentucky (1877)
769.04   Ben Hains: Views of Mammoth Cave and vicinity (1889)
769.05   J.C. Burrow: Mongst Mines and Miners; or Underground scenes by flash-light (1893)
This theme includes example sections and will be revised and added to as we proceed. Suggestions for additions, improvements and the correction of factual errors are always appreciated.
769.01    Nadar: Catacombs and subterranean Paris (1860s) 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
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Millions of skeletons were preserved in the vast catacombs under Paris[1] when well-known Parisian photographer Nadar photographed the subterranean world in 1861.[2] In 1862 Gustav Flaubert and the inseparable Goncourt brothers[3] visited the morbid location and wrote:
Bones so tidily stacked that they call to mind the wine cellars of Bercy. There is an administrative orderliness that removes all the drama from this library of skulls. What's worse, one must put up with all those Parisian jokers who go underground on veritable pleasure parties and amuse themselves by hurling taunts into the mouth of Nothingness; it makes one cringe.[4]
Nadar wrote in his memoirs:
You need to take only a few steps through these subterranean passages to satisfy your curiosity. It's one of those places that everybody wants to see and no one wants to see again.[5]
Nadar was right that no number of photographs or the way they were captured with electric light could get over the prosaic nature of the fact they are just large piles of bones at times artfully arranged and at other times in vast piles. There is a shock factor of the first image but beyond that it is more of the same.[6] 
769.02    Charles Waldack: Mammoth Cave, Kentucky (1866) 
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In 1866 Charles Waldack (1828-1882) took the first subterranean photographs in America at Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. A series of 42 stereo photographs "Magnesium Light Views in Mammoth Cave" was published by E. & H.T. Anthony & Co..[7] A brief account of the work of Charles Waldack was published in The Photographic News on 30 November 1866:
We have been favoured by Mr. Charles Waldack, of Cincinnati, with a series of stereographs of very rare interest. Photography, regarded until recently as essentially an art depending on daylight, and its products as sun-pictures, has, within the last year or two, pushed its triumphs into regions where daylight never penetrated, and upon which the sun never shone. Professor Piazzi Smyth has recently ransacked the secrets of the Great Pyramid, bringing away with him photographic records by which he verities his theory concerning what he has phrased "Our Inheritance the Great Pyramid." Mr. Waldack has, in like manner,[used?] stored sunlight in the shape of magnesium, brought to light the secrets of one of the greatest natural wonders of the world.
The Mammoth Cave of Kentucky is literally one of the greatest marvels in a country where nature seems to have done everything on a gigantic scale,— an immense cave, the extent of which is unknown, as its extremest recesses remain unexplored. How far the knowledge of its topography may have been increased of late years we are uncertain; but a few years ago it had been explored for a distance of eighteen miles from the entrance, and that extent was regarded as but the vestibule to this gigantic temple of mystery. Not less than 226 avenues, 47 domes, 23 pits, and many rivers in which there were 8 cataracts, had been recorded. Grand stalactites, forming Gothic arches; natural bridges, natural huts, and mimic palaces, with roofs in which the lime formations hang like grapes and sparkle like diamonds, are some of the features which add to the beauty as well as increase the wonder of this city of darkness. The temptation to photograph such a place was as great as the difficulty of succeeding. Mr. Waldack has made the attempt on a grand scale, and has succeeded far beyond legitimate expectation.
On another page we give Mr. Waldack's account* of the operations, of which the photographs he sends us are the result. Apart from the value and interests of these pictures in affording aid to thousands to visit the cave in fancy, and catch glimpses of the dismal gloom of the "Bottomless Pit" in one part of it, of the beauties of "Martha's Vineyard" in another, and of the stately stalactites which support the "Gothic Chapel" and "Gothic Avenue" in another, these pictures have an especial interest, in a photographic point of view, as illustrating the possibilities of the art. As a whole, these are incomparably the best photographs of this kind, taken by this agency, that we have seen. More difficult to secure, because of the extent and varied nature of the objects, many of these strike us as more perfect than the photographs which we have seen of those secured of the interior of tho Pyramid. Of course, the difficulties are manifest in the picture: in using any artificial light proceeding from a point or small source, there must be the difficulty of even diffusion and the rapid decrease in illumination upon all objects far removed from the source of light. Yet in many of these pictures we obtain a good idea of the vastness, the position, and character of the scenery. Where a single object is to be illuminated with such a light, the difficulty is trifling; but here the whole value of the results depends upon the rendering, and consequently the illumining of a vast extent of space and objects; and this has been effected with much more success than might have been anticipated. Where groups, &c, have been attempted, or specific objects, the result is often excellent. The "Orchestra" in the "Gothic Chapel " is admirable. A group of five persons, appropriately engaged, seated in -what is called the " Grand Relief," in enjoying luncheon, is good. An instantaneous group, obtained by burning three-quarters of an ounce of magnesium (chiefly in powder), is very good. One of the chief difficulties experienced arises from the white cloud quickly formed by the magnesium smoke, which is rendered in one picture with the especial view of illustrating the effect produced, and showing that the dense white cloud reflects the greatest amount of light, and becomes the most prominent object in a picture in all other respects excellent. Mr. Solomon has recently introduced an improved lamp with a chimney like an argand burner, the current of air rushing up which, carries off the smoke. But in photographing in a cave we fear that something else would be required, as the smoke carried up the chimney, although carried out of the way, must finally escape into the cave; and thus the difficulty, although diminished, would not be entirely removed. We believe that Mr. Hart has a plan by which the smoke is condensed, and does not escape at all ; but the cost and uncertainty of patent laws keeps the project in abeyance until some remunerative outlet is found for it. Such a plan is pre-eminently needed in an undertaking like this, which Mr. Waldack has with so much enterprize undertaken, and which, although he has met with considerable success already, we believe he contemplates attempting again.
* We are indebted to the courtesy of our friend Mr Wilson, the esteemed Editor of the ' Philadelphia Photographer,' for an early proof of Mr. Waldack's article, which will appear in the' Photographer' for December.[8]
769.03    Mandeville Thum: Mammoth Cave, Kentucky (1877) 
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769.04    Ben Hains: Views of Mammoth Cave and vicinity (1889) 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
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Ben Hains was a cave photographer based in New Albany, Indiana. He is noted for his series of stereocards "Views of Mammoth Cave and vicinity". His photographs were included in the guidebooks on Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, authored by Horace Carter Hovey.[9]
In one of his books Horace Carter Hovey, a pioneer of American cave exploration, wrote of how he commemorated two notable photographers of Mammoth Cave Charles Waldack, whom he misspelt as "Waldach", and Ben Hains by naming geological features within the cave after them:
Resuming our way from St. Catherine City, we presently come to two very beautiful domes, whose floors are covered with fine sand, and whose smooth walls arise symmetrically to an oval ceiling. As their former names were meaningless and inappropriate, we obtained permission to rename them. The first we christened Waldach's Dome, in honor of the late Charles Waldach, of Cincinnati, the pioneer in the work of subterranean photography, and who, as he told the writer, consumed five hundred dollars' worth of magnesium in taking some fifty views by the old-fashioned "wet process." The other dome we named Hains' Dome, in honor of our friend, Mr. Ben Hains, of New Albany, Indiana, who carried to perfection the task Mr. Waldach began under certain disadvantages, and whose explorations have also added materially to our knowledge of the mazes of Mammoth Cave.[10]
769.05    J.C. Burrow: Mongst Mines and Miners; or Underground scenes by flash-light (1893) 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
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  1. Λ Les Catacombes - Histoire de Paris
    (Accessed: 13 February 2014) 
  2. Λ Felix Nadar, 1982, Le Paris Souterrain de Félix Nadar 1861, (Caisse nationale des monuments historiques et des sites) [catalogue conçu par Philippe Néagu et Jean-Jacques Poulet-Allamagny ; présentation conçue par Jean Barrou avec la collaboration de Jean-Jacques Poulet-Allamagny]. 
  3. Λ Edmond de Goncourt (1822–96) and Jules de Goncourt (1830–70), French authors and diarists. See: Edmond de Goncourt & Jules de Goncourt, 2006,Pages from the Goncourt Journals , (New York Review Books Classics). Versions of their journals are available online. 
  4. Λ Goncourt brothers quoted in - Françoise Heilbrun; Philippe Néagu & Paul Neagu, Nadar, (Metropolitan Museum of Art), p. 99 
  5. Λ Quoted in - Françoise Heilbrun; Philippe Néagu & Paul Neagu, Nadar, (Metropolitan Museum of Art), p. 100 
  6. Λ The same applies to the photographs of the ash-covered corpses from Pompeii and the catacombs of Palermo. A few examples are sufficient to get a sense of the whole. 
  7. Λ E. & H.T. Anthony & Co., American and Foreign Stereoscopic Emporium, 501 Broadway, New York. 
  8. Λ 20 November 1866, "Photography in the Mammoth Cave at Kentucky", The Photographic News, vol. 10, no. 430, pp. 565-566 
  9. Λ Horace Carter Hovey (1833-1914) authored books including - Horace Carter Hovey, 1882, Celebrated American Caverns, Especially Mammoth, Wyandot, and Luray: Together with Historical, Scientific, and Descriptive Notices of Caves and Grottoes in Other Lands, (R. Clarke & Company); Horace Carter Hovey, 1912, Mammoth Cave of Kentucky: With an Account of Colossal Cavern, (Louisville: John P. Morton & Company) 
  10. Λ Horace Carter Hovey, 1912, Mammoth Cave of Kentucky: With an Account of Colossal Cavern, (Louisville: John P. Morton & Company), p. 67


HomeContents > Further research

General reading 
Burrow, J.C. & Thomas, William, 1893, Mongst Mines and Miners; or Underground scenes by flash-light: a series of photographs, with explanatory letterpress, illustrating methods of working in Cornish mines, (London: Simpkin, Hawitter, Kent and Co) [Part I.-An account of the photographic experiences, by J. C. Burrow, Part II.-A description of the subjects photographed, by William Thomas. Reprinted by D.B. Barton, 1965] [Δ
Howes, Chris, 1989, To Photograph Darkness. The history of underground and flash photography, (Gloucester: Alan Sutton) isbn-13: 978-0862996499 [Δ
Readings on, or by, individual photographers 
Francis Benjamin Johnston 
Johnston, Francis Benjamin, 1893, Mammoth Cave By Flash-Light, (Washington, D.C.: Gibson Bros., Printers) [Δ
Nadar, Félix, 1982, Le Paris Souterrain de Félix Nadar 1861, (Caisse nationale des monuments historiques et des sites) isbn-10: 2858220557 isbn-13: 9782858220557 [Δ
Charles Waldack 
1866, 30 November, ‘Photography in the Mammoth Cave at Kentucky‘, The Photographic News, vol. 10, no. 430, pp. 565-566 [Δ
Waldeck, Charles, 1866, 30 November, ‘Photography in the Mammoth Cave‘, The Photographic News, vol. 10, no. 430, pp. 567-569 [Δ
If you feel this list is missing a significant book or article please let me know - Alan - 

HomeContentsPhotographers > Photographers worth investigating

Alfred Brothers  (1826-1912) • J.C. Burrow • Ben Hains • Francis Benjamin Johnston  (1864-1952) • Francis Benjamin Johnston  (1864-1952) • Nadar  (check) • Charles Piazzi Smyth  (1819-1900) • Charles Waldack  (1828-1882)
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ThumbnailBen Hains: Views of Mammoth Cave and vicinity 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailCharles Waldack: Mammoth Cave, Kentucky 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailCharles Waldack: Mammoth Cave, Kentucky - No. 12. Wandering Willie's Spring 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailCharles Waldack: Mammoth Cave, Kentucky - No. 27. Scotchman's Trap 
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ThumbnailCharles Waldack: Mammoth Cave, Kentucky - No. 30. Bandit Hall 
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ThumbnailCharles Waldack: Mammoth Cave, Kentucky - No. 4. Out for the Last Time 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailJ.C. Burrow: Mongst Mines and Miners; or Underground scenes by flash-light (1893) 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
ThumbnailMandeville Thum: Mammoth Cave, Kenucky (1877) 
ThumbnailNadar: Catacombs and subterranean Paris 
About this photographer | Photographs by this photographer 
   Equipment and supplies 
ThumbnailMagnesium light 
   Still thinking about these... 
ThumbnailSubterranean and underground photography, caves, mines, tunnels and catacombs 
ThumbnailViews of Mammoth Cave and vicinity 
Refreshed: 19 March 2014, 13:23
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