A Photographer Retraces the Underground Railroad’s Secret Routes

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Midwestern artist Jeanine Michna-Bales’ modern-day photograph series, Through Darkness to Light, is the end result of 14 years of research and 1,400 miles of travel alongside former routes of the Underground Railroad.

The subjects of Jeanine Michna-Bales’ ultra-modern collection of pix, Through Darkness to Light: Photographs Along the Underground Railroad, are hard to make out. The forests, homes, barns, rivers, and fields captured in those images are shrouded in darkness, lit simplest via the moon and stars. Presenting these topics obscured by night time may appear antithetical to the artist’s express aim in this mission, that’s to provide a visible account of the Underground Railroad, about which lots have been written, but little has been visually documented. Yet it’s miles exactly by using a manner of darkness that Michna-Bales invitations us to imagine the lived experiences of the estimated a hundred,000 enslaved folks who navigated the Underground Railroad’s network of secret routes and safe homes all through the mid-nineteenth century. By deploying darkness in every one of her photos, she tiers a reckoning with real and imagined Underground Railroad web sites whilst also calling attention to how critical Black geographies are frequently eclipsed from view.

A one-room showcase on the Philips Collection in Washington, DC capabilities 13 photos that recreate one direction of the break out from Louisiana to Ontario, Canada. Michna-Bales pieced together this direction the use of an assortment of historical statistics, slave narratives, instructional scholarship, and oral histories. This slim however hanging show represents handiest a quick glimpse into the more than a hundred images the artist shot as part of this photograph collection. During her youth, the Indiana local now not only found out about the Underground Railroad as part of her formal education, however additionally encountered routes that ran throughout backyards within the midwest.
The collection, a product of 14 years of research and over 1, four hundred-miles traversed by using Michna-Bales herself, represents an try to recollect the adventure of the Underground Railroad from the attitude of those who walked it for a threat at freedom. As such, none of the photos include people. Instead, the frames stand replete with dense, heavy atmospheres and various gradations of blackness that evoke the midnight conditions via which enslaved humans surpassed and the continuing risks they confronted.

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