Renee Jacobs – Slow Burn



Copyright 1986, 2010 Renee Jacobs published by The Pennsylvania State University Press (Stiff cover)


Limited Edition hard cover book with print (Sonny Mekosh)

Renee Jacobs first photobook is subtitled A Photodocument of Centralia, Pennsylvania and investigates a city and region of Pennsylvania that is slowly being eroded away by an underground coal fire that has been burning since 1962. This book constitutes an environmental portrait and snapshot of the conditions in the mid-1980’s, an area that is today almost devoid of all inhabitants.

Jacobs focuses her narrative on the human element of this natural/man-made disaster. The gritty black and white photographs provide a tense undercurrent to her photographs, intensifying the discomfort of the reader and symbolic of the difficulties of her subjects. She captures attempts at obtaining normalcy and while failing to ignore all of the ominous warning signs and pending changes that will obviate their presence and thus their history and eventually their memories of this place.

She provides a face, hence a voice, to this slowly evolving environmental disaster, a problem that will not easily go away and that over many years slowly displaces every person in this town and surrounding area. As a reader of this narrative, I find myself hoping that we have learned a valuable lesson from this sad situation, but regretfully, I am not sure.

And this underground fire still burns today, slowly clawing its way under the skin of this terrain.

The book object; I am reviewing the 2010 edition of this book, which is published as a stiff cover, while the 1986 first edition is a cloth bound hard cover photobook. The introductory text is provided by Margaret O. Kirk and the book contains maps, captions and supporting text for most of the photographic plates.

Update: I have since acquired the 2010 hardcover Limited Edition book and accompanying print. The Limited Edition hardcover has a tipped-in photograph on the black case bound book.

By Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook







14 thoughts on “Renee Jacobs – Slow Burn

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  1. The link or the Renee Jacobs you provided is the same as the author of the book? Call my attention that she put nothing about this work in her website, only nudes. Maybe is another photographer with similar name?

  2. Yes, the link is to the same photographer, as her “Slow Burn” project in PA predates her current interest in photographing the erotic nude. I provided a slight hint by selecting a photograph from the book of a man holding a photograph of a reclining nude woman. You may also be surprised that Renee was a civil rights lawyer.

  3. I met and interviewed Rene in 1990 for a multi-media slide show I created for women. I still have that written interview. What I found so fascinating about her book was that the people on one side of the town couldn’t or wouldn’t see the truth about the underground fires (denial) despite the protests and fear coming from those who were experiencing the devastation first hand. It illustrates what is common in the human condition. If we don’t see it, feel it, and/or hear it, it doesn’t exist. Very sad that we are not able to walk in the shoes of “other.”

  4. Douglas, I had a nice time last evening looking over some of your past reviews that I had missed. I thought you’d enjoy this: I’m about 50 miles from Centralia, PA, and every semester I have a few intro photo students who make their way there to make pictures. After the fact, I always tell them about the Jacobs book, but your review reminded me it’d be a great one to add to my collection so that I can actually show them her treatment. Really enjoy your site — it’s one that I assign every semester that I teach my photobook class which I’ll be doing again this fall. All the best, Dan Talley

    1. Dan, that’s pretty cool.

      Btw, Renee is looking for an archive for all of the photographic material she complied to create “Slow Burn”. Do you know of any local institutions that might want to acquire this?

      1. Thanks for the info, Douglas. I’ll put the word out to some institutions that could potentially be interested. Best…

  5. Has anyone actually seen a hardcover copy of Renee Jacob’s 1986 book? I’ve searched everywhere and can only find softcover versions . . .

    1. I have a hardcopy version, it came with the 2010 Limited Edition series (with a print). This edition also states that the First Edition issued by University of Pennsylvania Press in 1986 was clothbound (hardbound). The Editor.

      1. Hello Doug – Thank you for your answer. Just to clarify: The actual book in your 2010 ltd ed series is a hardbound copy, copyright 1986? Or copyright 2010? If the latter, have you ever actually seen a 1986 hardbound copy? I haven’t. Thanks again, Michael

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