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Through Darkness to Light: Photographs Along the Underground Railroad

Jeanine Michna-Bales
Decision to Leave. Magnolia Plantation on the Cane River, Louisiana, 2013.
Photographer Jeanine Michna-Bales wanted to document the Underground Railroad, the circuitous trail that stretched more than 1,400 miles from Louisiana to Canada. Perhaps 100,000 black men and women followed that course to freedom in the early part of the nineteenth century to escape slavery. Rather than photograph the safe houses and hiding places in natural daylight, Michna-Bales sought to recreate the trail as the hopeful people who made the crossing would have seen it: in the dead of night, with no human beings in sight. Her photographs capture the stillness and solitude of the American wilderness. A river crossing takes place in almost total darkness, the trees on the other bank nigh invisible in the night. In some of Michna-Bales' images, traces of light from the setting sun give the trees rising up out of the bayou the menacing shape of people. It took Michna-Bales ten years to research and photograph the passage, but it was time well spent. The resulting exhibition, Through Darkness to Light: Photographs Along the Underground Railroad, is an emotional as well as visual record of a harrowing journey. Michna-Bales discusses her photographs at 5:30 p.m. Friday, June 23, at the Griot Museum of Black History (2505 St. Louis Avenue; www.thegriotmuseum.com). Her images will remain on display through Friday, August 11, and the museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. An accompanying monograph, which pairs the images with passages written both by people who made the journey and noted abolitionists, will be available for purchase during the show. Admission is $3.75 to $7.50.

— Paul Friswold

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