They left in the middle of the night often carrying little more than the knowledge to follow the North Star. Between 1830 and the end of the Civil War in 1865, an estimated one hundred thousand slaves became passengers on the Underground Railroad, a journey of untold hardship, in search of freedom. In Through Darkness to Light: Photographs Along the Underground Railroad, Jeanine Michna-Bales presents a remarkable series of images following a route from the cotton plantations of central Louisiana, through the cypress swamps of Mississippi and the plains of Indiana, north to the Canadian border a path of nearly fourteen hundred miles. The culmination of a ten-year research quest, Through Darkness to Light imagines a journey along the Underground Railroad as it might have appeared to any freedom seeker. Framing the powerful visual narrative is an introduction by Michna-Bales; a foreword by noted politician, pastor, and civil rights activist Andrew J. Young; and essays by Fergus M. Bordewich, Robert F. Darden, and Eric R. Jackson.
In her book Through Darkness to Light, photographer Jeanine Michna-Bales draws from written and oral historical accounts to recreate a possible journey to freedom. The photos are dark and mysterious and feel quiet and intimate, allowing the reader to place themselves into the journey, into the Underground Railroad.
Michna-Bales's images explore the famous passageway in an unprecedented way. Her contemporary perspective stirs our senses, with the quiet environments inviting us to not only reflect on these covert, risk- filled voyages but to also imagine ourselves embarking on one of our own.
New York Times Lens Blog
Ms. Michna-Bales's quest has led to an evocative book, Through Darkness to Light: Photographs along the Underground Railroad. While much has been written about the subject, there has been little visual documentation, an absence that makes the book even more consequential, both from the standpoint of history and of our contemporary understanding of slavery in pre-Civil War America.
Photographer Jeanine Michna-Bales has painstakingly documented each step of the perilous journey many took through plantations, forests and swamps to sympathetic abolitionists and ultimately freedom. Her foreboding images printed together in her book highlight the dangers that both the fleeing slaves and those who helped them faced as they gave their lives in the quest of freedom and justice.
Dallas Morning News
The photographs are the subject of a beautiful book published by Princeton Architectural Press with an incredibly moving preface by no less a figure in African-American history than Andrew J. Young and fascinating essays by scholars who have already published extensively on the subject of the Underground Railroad.
CityLab from The Atlantic
The series of photographs flips from deserted plantations in Louisiana to empty railroad bridges in Indiana, with every image cloaked by dark light. The images, shot at night, emote vastness and strangeness you can feel how remote these places might have felt to travelers passing through.
To illuminate the historic journeys undertaken by passengers on the Underground Railroad, photographer Jeanine Michna-Bales traveled along some of the same routes, shooting images of some of the paths escaped slaves would have taken. Her photos'spanning 1400 miles from Louisiana to Ontario'show just a slice of the vast scenery that would have faced enslaved people as they made their way to freedom.
It's important, if not essential, to remember where we have been to understand both where we are and where we might go. Such insight into our past is what makes Jeanine Michna-Bales's work Through Darkness to Light so powerful. Michna-Bales's photographs take the reader on a haunting journey through the cotton plantations of Louisiana, the swamps of Mississippi, the flatness of Indiana, and on to the Canadian border. During a time in which borders are a central topic of conversation, Michna-Bales's work brings one of the perennial American quandaries into focus: who are we and what have we done?