Book Review: Through Darkness to Light by Jeanine Michna-Bales

Look for the Grey Barn Out Back. Underground Railroad Station with Tunnel Leading to Another Conductor’s House; Centerville, Indiana

They left during the middle of the night – oftentimes carrying little more than the knowledge that moss grows on the north side of trees. An estimated 100,000 slaves between 1830 and the end of The Civil War in 1865 chose to embark on this journey of untold hardships in search of freedom. They moved in constant fear of being killed outright or recaptured then returned and beaten as an example of what would happen to others who might choose to run. Under the cover of darkness, ‘fugitives’ traveled roughly 20 miles each night traversing rugged terrain while enduring all the hardships that Mother Nature could bring to bear. Occasionally, they were guided from one secret, safe location to the next by an ever-changing, clandestine group known as the Underground Railroad. Whether they were slaves trying to escape or free blacks and whites trying to help, both sides risked everything for the cause of freedom. From the cotton plantations just South of Natchitoches, Louisiana all the way north to the Canadian border, this series of photographs can help us imagine what the long road to freedom may have looked like as seen through the eyes of one of those who made this epic journey.

Moonrise over Northern Ripley County. Overlooking Southern Decatur County, Indiana

Much like fellow Hoosier Michna-Bales, I grew up hearing about how Indiana played a role in the Underground Railroad. I recently found myself travelling at night through some of the same towns listed in Michna-Bales’ photographic journey. Both Richmond and rural Centerville, Indiana appeared and disappeared in the headlights of my car while travelling recently on a clear, starry night. Driving these lonely country roads made me think about trying to navigate those same hills, valleys, and rivers with only the stars as a guide. As she mentions in her introduction, Michna-Bales’ experience of shooting her photos at night made her think about how she felt history surrounding her, and how strange and forbidding these remote places must have felt to the people making the journey. These words were on my mind as I travelled silently through the same countryside as so many had done before me.

Decision to Leave. Magnolia Plantation on the Cane River, Louisiana

Michna-Bales photographed numerous locations along a journey from Louisiana to Ontario, Canada. Her mysterious, haunting images of Underground Railroad locations are printed in the book on black paper stock, which intensifies that feeling of strangeness and uncertainty. The images emerge from the darkness and give even greater importance to the light captured during her long exposures. That same light was the guide and the hope that so many oppressed people were drawn by, and moved toward freedom.

Hidden Passageway. Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

Eagle Hollow from Hunter’s Bottom. Just across the Ohio River, Indiana, 2014

I was especially glad to be able to review this book during Black History Month, and bring attention to this project and Michna-Bales’ photography. The book includes text by Fergus M. Bordewich, Robert F. Darden, Eric R. Jackson, and Andrew J. Young. Young is a former congressman, diplomat, and member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference as a key strategist and negotiator in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. Through Darkness to Light is a wonderful collection of researched historic documents, engaging photographs and text that creates an insightful narrative to events that occurred over 170 years ago. When one considers how many people are still fleeing oppression and moving toward freedom around the world, the Underground Railroad is just as poignant today when seen through the lens of present day social injustice. The desire for freedom and the interracial assistance of others was, and is, an important lesson to be told and retold.

Freedom. Canadian soil, Ontario, 2014

Through Darkness to Light by Jeanine Michna-Bales
Hardcover: 192 pages
Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press (March 21, 2017)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1616895659
ISBN-13: 978-1616895655

Jeanine Michna-Bales is an award winning photographer based in Dallas, Texas. To see more work, visit her website at To purchase a copy of Through Darkness to Light, visit

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Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen @ L Parker Stephenson Photographs

Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen: STEP BY STEP
February 24 – April 29, 2017

“Step by Step is the second chapter in Konttinen’s 50 year career dedicated to celebrating the working class. The first, Byker – now on view at the Tate Modern Switch House – depicts a vibrant multi-generational neighborhood prior to the demolition of its estate housing. In Step by Step the community’s avocational activities and conversations are explored within the challenges of an industrial and post-industrial environment. The maternal bonding, self-expression and confidence provided by this joyful outlet nurture the girls and women when few other options for advancement or escape are available. ”

L Parker Stephenson Photographs
764 Madison Avenue between 65th and 66th streets

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Interview with photographer Natalie Fay Green

The Baby’s Hair is in Her Eyes

Cary Benbow (CB): What compels you to make the images you create?

Natalie Fay Green (NFG): I see the world differently when I’m using my camera. It slows me down, and I really observe my surroundings. I’m a mother of three small kids (ages 7, 5, and 2), and sometimes life flies by without me actually processing what’s happening. I feel like I miss days on end doing nothing but getting everyone fed and dressed and delivered to where they need to be. But when I have my camera, I don’t miss the big events or even the little details—in fact, they become tremendously important. I feel more in tune with life and my world. And when I don’t shoot—when I get caught up in the lather, rinse, repeat of daily life—I tend to become very frustrated.  

When I first started learning photography, I took pictures of everything, literally everything. Over time, though, I’ve become much more selective. I love images that tell a story, and those are the ones that compel me to pick up my camera and shoot. At this point in my life, with these little children everywhere, the majority of my work tends to revolve around my family. In that work, however, I’m not looking to be sentimental; instead, I’m looking to capture some facet of childhood that I find compelling or that speaks to my own memories of being young. Ideally, I like to impart some of my own experiences into the image. I don’t limit my work to my family, though—I make efforts to shoot other subjects, and those images are very satisfying for me.

90 and 1

CB: Why did you become a photographer? What was your start into photography?

NFG: I used to be a writer—well actually, I used to be a practicing tax attorney. Then I became a stay at home mom, and I started writing to keep my sanity. I realized one day that, while I had these rich memoir-style stories of my children, I had no pictures, no actual images of what they looked like. I had described the crazy hair and the smile on the swings, but I didn’t have a physical record. It felt like I was missing something hugely important, so I picked up a old camera and started learning to use it. I became obsessed, almost immediately. I got a new camera and threw myself into learning as much as I could. After a while, I got to the point where I was proud of some of my images, and I started exhibiting my work.

Hanging On

CB: Please explain the idea behind your portfolio images in the Love exhibition.

NFG: Each of the images that I submitted focuses on the strength of emotional connections, whether between the individuals in the photographs or between an individual in the photograph and me. These connections sometimes span several lifetimes: two of the images involve my daughters with their great grandmother. I think many of us can remember the feeling of an older family member or friend touching our face or brushing our hair, a perceived-giant sharing a meal or a gentle touch. Through the years, I’ve focused on the power of connections—emotions, shared experiences, memories—and tried to showcase the meaning of those in my work.

CB: What do you feel makes a successful photograph?

NFG: I think a good photograph catches the viewer and draws her into the story. It invites the viewer to bring her own experiences to bear on the image or evokes the memory of senses—smell, touch, sound. It may be gritty and complicated. I like images that challenge expectations or present something authentic yet unexpected.

Tourists at Marina di Praia

CB: Where does your inspiration come from?

NFG: I get most of my ideas from observing the activity around me or my own memories of my past experiences. I think we all have certain recollections from our lives—the feeling of being pushed on a tricycle, of getting our hands dirty while fishing, of laying on the bricks and watching the clouds. These memories are things we share in our collective consciousness, and I love to explore them. I don’t like “perfect” images; I like ones that show life as it is. A lot of my images have messed up hair, clutter in the background, and kids acting like kids. I don’t want to sugarcoat life—fact is always more compelling than fiction to me. I love to use framing, contrast, movement, perspective, and other design elements to help tell my story and encourage the viewer to bring her own experiences to the image. That being said, I have no aversion to cleaning up an image to assist the viewer in reading an image or using techniques to help guide a viewer’s eye through the frame.  

Into the Maze

CB: Is this influenced by any of your personal photography inspirations?

NFG: I’m primarily a black and white photographer, and I love the great straight photographers who explored moment and stories: people like Dorothea Lange, Robert Doisneau, Elliott Erwitt, Imogen Cunningham. I’m also inspired by some of the documentary and editorial work I see in major publications and Instagram these days. I love Instagram—it’s fun to have a library of amazing work to discover any time of day or night. I’m always looking for photographers who see the world in unique ways or tell stories that are particularly compelling. I also love movies with dramatic lighting. I’ll watch a movie and be distracted by the quality and color of the light and way the scene is framed.

CB: How would you describe your work to someone viewing it for the first time?

NFG: I think I would say layered. I love to incorporate elements from the past and the present and the future. I like to use juxtaposition to tell a complex story in a stand-alone photograph. And I want to freeze that story in a single timeless frame that will endure and that resonates with the viewer’s own experiences.  


CB: What work are you currently working on? Any new projects?

NFG: Obviously my family work is ongoing and will be for quite some time. But I’ve also been focusing more on broader social commentary—images that speak to certain facets of modern American life. It’s something that I’ve been dabbling in for several years, but I’m feeling really drawn to it now. I hope to continue to grow that aspect of my work. Living in Washington, DC, I have a lot of opportunities to explore this kind of work.

Natalie Fay Green is a fine art and documentary photographer based in Washington, DC. To see more sample of her work, please visit her website at or Instagram @nataliefaygreen

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Guillaume Martial@ GalerieEstherWoerdehoff

© Guillaume Martial,

Guillaume Martial: Footlights
04.04 – 06.05.2017

opening reception Tuesday, April 4, from 18h to 21h

36 rue Falguière
75015 Paris – France

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Thomas Kellner @ Theatergalerie Gummersbach

VG Bildkunst Bonn & Thomas Kellner: 82#20 Pervouralsk New Pipe Plant, 2013

Thomas Kellner: genius loci – Two German Gentlemen in the land of the Tsars
March 26 – June 10, 2017

Opening Sunday, March 26 2017, 11:30 am

“The same as his countryman and predecessor in the Urals, Georg Wilhelm Henning, Kellner reconstructs the customary world so that it stays in movement and continually delivers new perspectives today and in the future as well.” (Irina Chmyrewa)

This project deals in an artistic-photographical manner with two important industrial areas in Germany and Russia, which are liked to each other through the common history of industrial culture. I’m talking of my hometown Siegen and two of the biggest cities of Russia, Yekaterinburg and Perm.

Theatergalerie Gummersbach
Moltkestraße 50 / Reininghauser Straße

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Marco Scozzaro @ Baxter St at the Camera Club of NY

Marco Scozzaro: Digital Deli
February 23, 2016 – March 25, 2017

Opening Reception: Wednesday, February 22 , 2017 | 6 – 8pm

“In his exhibition, Scozzaro employs a photographic fiction-making process as obliquely autobiographical, fabricating, inventing, and constructing images that straddle both criticism and confession. Subverting a tantalizing advertising style of rich colors and textures with staged images that disorient, Scozzaro questions the representability of certain ideas that recur in mass media. Not merely a criticism of oversimplification in visual culture today, his images are also documents of a purposely mis-directed self-representation. In some of Scozzaro’s work there is a clear tension between the naturally mechanical aspect of photography where the camera plagiarizes nature versus the corruption of that verisimilitude with a variety of techniques. The corruptions and contradictions appear as variations of the very notions they reference in a kind of object-oriented ontology that ultimately revokes a hierarchy of signification.”

Baxter St at the Camera Club of NY, 126 Baxter Street, New York, NY 10013

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MAY 20 — JULY 12, 2017


Estate sales have become a common way for people to dispose of their parents’ possessions after they die or move to assisted living. Over the course of a year, Norm Diamond visited countless estate sales in Dallas, Texas, photographing objects that evoke sadness, humor, and ironic commentary on American cultural history.

2613B Fairmount Street, Dallas Texas, 75201

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February 14-July 2, 2017

“In striking images of the Normandy coast, the Sealander series bares graphic witness to the toll that time has taken on these powerful symbols of German dominance over most of Europe. Originally thought impenetrable, these fortifications are now slowly crumbling into the sea,” says Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “There is a powerful poignancy in the picturesque decay of these structures that were created in such a frenzy of human activity and are now gradually being returned to nature’s benign embrace.”

1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles, California.

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Sam Haskins, Kishin Shinoyama and Francis Giacobetti @ Steven Kasher Gallery

Sam Haskins
Untitled (from Cowboy Kate series), 1960-1964

Sam Haskins, Kishin Shinoyama and Francis Giacobetti
February 23rd – April 15th

Opening Reception: Thursday, February 23rd, 6 – 8 PM

“Haskins, Giacobetti and Shinoyama produced the most influential 1960s erotic photography in their respective countries. They created a revolution in artistic nude photography by rejecting the Playboy clichés, by eschewing the statuesque models and stereotypical poses to be found in the publications of the era. To quote Sam Haskins, “These were real live girls and they were having fun.” By rejecting the distinctions between art and what was then considered pornography, these artists helped usher in a new erotic world order. In addition to reawakening interest in the flowering of 60s sexual revolutions and its visual correlatives, this exhibition sheds light on contemporary anxieties surrounding feminists and feminism.”

Steven Kasher Gallery
515 W. 26th St., New York, NY 10001

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Angela SAIRAF @ TOBE Gallery

Angela SAIRAF: The Secret Life of the Tapuicacas – Budapest Photo Festival
March 1 – April 7

TOBE Gallery – 1136 Budapest, Herzen utca 6.

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