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Powerful Decade-Long Photo Project Retraces the Underground Railroad at Night

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“Decision to Leave” Magnolia Plantation on the Cane River, Louisiana
“Decision to Leave” Magnolia Plantation on the Cane River, Louisiana

Photographer Jeanine Michna-Bales has dedicated the past decade of her life to researching and documenting the historical locations – both known and shrouded in mystery – that made up the historical Underground Railroad.

The resulting photographs make up her ongoing series Through Darkness to Light, and retrace the dark, unpaved path that thousands of slaves were forced to travel.

“Wading Prior to Blackness” Grant Parish, Louisiana
“Wading Prior to Blackness” Grant Parish, Louisiana

Finding these historical locations prove to be anything but simple. Along the way, she spent a great deal of time speaking with scholars from historical societies, listening to oral histories passed down through generations, and even reaching out to locals who were able to help her find many of the hidden landmarks that few had ever heard of, much less photographed.

Michna-Bales is almost always accompanied by family, friends, police officers and even her grandfather’s dog while she wanders out to the locations to settle down until dark. By waiting until dark, she more accurately captures what these locations looked like when the slaves were traveling through under the cover of night.

“Hiding Out Back” Slave Graveyard; Mount Locust Stand and Plantation; Jefferson County, Mississippi
“Hiding Out Back” Slave Graveyard; Mount Locust Stand and Plantation; Jefferson County, Mississippi
“Off the Beaten Path” Along the Yockanookany River, Mississippi
“Off the Beaten Path” Along the Yockanookany River, Mississippi
“Cypress Swamp” Middle Mississippi
“Cypress Swamp” Middle Mississippi
“Stopping for Directions” Meadow Woods Plantation; Oktibbeha, Mississippi
“Stopping for Directions” Meadow Woods Plantation; Oktibbeha, Mississippi
“Hidden Passageway” Mammoth Cave, Kentucky
“Hidden Passageway” Mammoth Cave, Kentucky
“Hunter’s Bottom” Just Across the Ohio River; Outside of Madison, Indiana
“Hunter’s Bottom” Just Across the Ohio River; Outside of Madison, Indiana
“On the Way to the Hicklin House Station” San Jacinto, Indiana
“On the Way to the Hicklin House Station” San Jacinto, Indiana
“Follow the Tracks to the First Creek” Railroad Trestle Bridge; Vernon, Indiana
“Follow the Tracks to the First Creek” Railroad Trestle Bridge; Vernon, Indiana
“Moonrise Over Northern Ripley County” Overlooking Southern Decatur County, Indiana
“Moonrise Over Northern Ripley County” Overlooking Southern Decatur County, Indiana
“Elias Conwell House” Lies Along Old Michigan Road; Major North South Artery Between Kentucky and Michigan; Napoleon, Indiana
“Elias Conwell House” Lies Along Old Michigan Road; Major North South Artery Between Kentucky and Michigan; Napoleon, Indiana
“Go to the House on the Hill” Possible Underground Railroad Station; Cambridge City, Indiana
“Go to the House on the Hill” Possible Underground Railroad Station; Cambridge City, Indiana
“Look for the Grey Barn Out Back” Station with a Tunnel Leading to Another Conductor’s House; Centerville, Indiana
“Look for the Grey Barn Out Back” Station with a Tunnel Leading to Another Conductor’s House; Centerville, Indiana
“Welcome to the Fugitive Captive” Waiting for the All Clear to Head to the Capt. John Lowry Station; Lodi Plains Cemetery; Nutting’s Corner, Michigan
“Welcome to the Fugitive Captive” Waiting for the All Clear to Head to the Capt. John Lowry Station; Lodi Plains Cemetery; Nutting’s Corner, Michigan
“Within Reach” Crossing the St. Clair River to Canada Just South of Port Huron, Michigan
“Within Reach” Crossing the St. Clair River to Canada Just South of Port Huron, Michigan
“Freedom” Canadian Soil; Sarnia, Ontario
“Freedom” Canadian Soil; Sarnia, Ontario

Her goal is to have this series finished up by the end of this year, but this is proving to be a challenge with 12 photographs still remaining of the 80 she hopes to include in a book and exhibition.

To keep up with Jeanine Michna-Bales and she completes this powerful project and embarks on others, give her website a visit by clicking here.

(via Feature Shoot)


Image credits: Photographs by Jeanine Michna-Bales and used with permission

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