Kentucky monument

One of Charles Swedlund’s photographs of the Kentucky Monument in Mammoth Cave. (photo provided).

January 30, 2019

Local photographer brings 35 years of cave photography to light at SIU’s University Museum

CARBONDALE, Ill. — After spending over 35 years absorbed in cave photography, Charles Swedlund has quite the perspective on the subterranean world of Mammoth Cave, Carlsbad Caverns, Mystery Cave and other similar natural sites. His detailed body of work featuring hundreds of photographs will be on display beginning this week at Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s University Museum.

Swedlund’s years of photographs will be on display until July 20. An opening reception and a short artist talk is set for Friday from 5-7 p.m. at the museum.

Photographing national parks and wild caves

Starting in 1982, Swedlund’s focus has centered on the various aspects of caves and caverns. At first, his attention centered on the stunning natural forms found in the longest cave systems known in the world, Mammoth Cave. He took multiple tourist trips with an altered 4x5 camera and captured the massive rock formations and unusual landscapes. This turned into an official project to document all the historic and prehistoric inscriptions in the cave and to create a database of names and dates. The effort was aimed toward cultural preservation and reclamation.

After dozens of trips through the historic national park and years of taking photographs, Swedlund turned his attention to wild caves, the areas not normally accessible to the public. He joined a local grotto, Little Egyptian Grotto, and established a regular routine of weekend expeditions. For Swedlund, caving quickly turned into a passion.

“I find a great feeling of tranquility being in a cave,” Swedlund said. “The darkness is not foreboding, but rather a welcome cloak.”

In his 35 years of caving, Swedlund visited 56 caves, including national parks, tourist caved and wild caves. He also served for 12 years as one of the principal researchers at an Earthwatch Expedition in Mammoth Cave.

Work featured around the world

In addition to his years of caving, Swedlund taught aesthetics, techniques, methods, and history of photography in SIU’s cinema and photography department for 29 years. He also spent time teaching at Harvard University, The Institute of Design in Chicago, The Art Institute in Chicago and State University College at Buffalo.

He has won numerous awards and grants, and his work is in several permanent collections, including:

  • The Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
  • The Art Institute of Chicago.
  • Paul J. Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California.
  • Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, France.
  • The National Museum of Art in Kyoto, Japan
  • Bauhaus-Archive Museum fur Gestaltung in Berlin, Germany

Free and open to the public

The opening reception and artist talk on Friday are free and open to the public.

The University Museum is located at 1000 Faner Dr., Faner Hall, Door #12. Gallery admission is free and open to the public Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday 1 to 4 p.m.  Public metered parking is available across from the Student Center and beside Woody Hall.

For more information, contact Wes Stoerger, or visit