After a long and successful career as a photojournalist and member of the famous Momentum Collective, Travis Thompson suffered a deep creative crisis, which he described as a weariness for reality.
His career came to a halt throughout the 1990s, and didn't reignite until 1999, when his sister-in-law, historian Maya Graciani, offered him a position documenting the newly discovered Catacombs of Xgħajra on the coast of Malta. After seeing the first images of the archaeological site, he accepted.
I finally found it. A place where unreality is reality.
- Travis Thompson
Travis Thompson moved to Xgħajra in May of 2000. His relationship with the rest of the team soon became strained, when they found out the photographer made unsupervised visits to the catacombs almost every night, completely disregarding the site's safety rules.
That summer, Thompson fully immersed himself in his work, taking hundreds of photos of the catacombs, of which he then selected 10—all of them part of the Ravensfield Collection, exhibited in rotation.
What makes these photographs unique, besides Thompson's masterful eye for capturing the place's mysticism, is that they all depict unexplored parts of the catacombs no other person had ever been able to find.
Even Thompson himself assures not one of his solo explorations took him to the same room twice, and he could never pinpoint the way back to the archeological team, no matter how hard he tried.
The project ended after the photographer disappeared inside the catacombs for three days in one of his unauthorized escapades. When he finally returned, he instantly fainted and was taken to the hospital in Valetta.
Fortunately, his camera was intact and held the last photograph that would complete his series (below).
After this incident, Travis Thompson was forbidden to enter the catacombs again, but he was permitted to exhibit the photographs he had taken so far, which he did in 2002 under the name The Lens and the Labyrinth.
As a fun fact, various of the exhibit's visitors shared a strange experience after watching Thompson's photographs—they found themselves unable to find their way back home until several hours later.
About the Catacombs of Xgħajra themselves, they're still being documented today, although under strict rules. According to the current head of the archeological team, only less than 5% of the total length of the site has been explored so far.