Show Caves


Shenandoah Caverns Entrance, Va.


Shenandoah Caverns Disco Pool, Va.

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If you’ve ever been to a touristed cave, you might have noticed the human architecture that sometimes pops up in these unique and bizarre spots. The Morning News interviews photographer Austin Irving as she presents a new and idiosyncratic look at caves.

Via the Morning News interview:


Why caves?

Austin Irving:

The project came about very organically. In 2008 and again in 2009 I had an amazing opportunity to travel throughout Southeast Asia with my large format camera. I am extremely inspired by that part of the world: the architecture, the plant life, the tourist attractions. When I got back to the States and started scanning and organizing all my negatives, I realized that I had been attracted to and photographed a lot of caves. I then became interested in this idea of a “show cave.” These are natural caves managed by government or commercial organizations that have been modified to accommodate tourism.

Next I started to wonder how American show caves compared to the ones that I had visited and photographed in Viet Nam, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand. Since returning from Southeast Asia, I have been intentionally seeking out caves to shoot. The caves I focus on have been modified to accommodate tourism—if the hand of man is present, I will for sure have something to photograph.

What’s so awesome about American caves is that there are so many of them! Each state has at least three or four caves to visit; truck stops, information stations at motels, and camp sites all have pamphlets boasting about some incredible cave that you have to see. “Come see the Cave of Wonders!” “Don’t miss the Endless Caverns!” I’ve done a lot of research and have a long list of caves I still need to photograph. I’m thinking Kentucky is next on my list. I’ve heard that there is a really weird underground picnic area in Mammoth Cave that I’m really going to need to get.


Carlsbad Caverns Tee-Shirt Stand, N.M.


Dau Go Cave Interior With Penguin Trash Cans, Viet Nam.


Shenandoah Caverns Underground Phone, Va.


Carlsbad Elevator Room, N.M.


Carlsbad Caverns Rocks With Cone, N.M.