The Archive of Documentary Arts, a part of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University, is pleased to announce its recent acquisition of Renée Jacobs' archive of her project Slow Burn: A Photodocument of Centralia, Pennslyvania. Slow Burn, first published in 1986 by University of Pennsylvania Press, chronicles Centralia’s demise from an underground coal mine fire and depicts a singular epic event in Pennsylvania history, representing the confluence of environmental, scientific, bureaucratic, and emotional tragedies. As an award winning photojournalist, Jacobs moved into a house in Centralia’s impact zone in 1983 to document, in photographs and interviews, the end stages of the tiny anthracite coal town’s unsuccessful fight to resolve the intractable problems that began with the mine fire in 1962 and culminated in the razing of the town by the federal government.

Photographer Shelby Lee Adams has written of the project stating:

"Where once there was familiarity with open doors and trusting hearts, in a community that could be your home anywhere in America, an invisible cancer grew. It’s the unseen, slow-moving nature of this underground burning that took Centralia apart. The human spirit doesn’t want to believe, see, or hear what can destroy our sanctified special places in the world. Renée Jacobs faithfully and compassionately documents in pictures and words the confusion, uncertainty, and fighting spirit of Centralia’s residents—and the painful destruction and relocation of the residents of this little Pennsylvania town. Slow Burn is a compelling story about—and for—all of us.”

The archive consist of more than 200 rolls of 35mm black and white film, the accompanying contact sheets, more than 1,000 silver gelatin work prints, contemporaneous news articles, oral history interviews and vintage exhibition prints.  Additionally, the archives include maquettes for the original 1986 book and the 2010 re-issue, as well as prints with printer’s notations.

Jacobs' early photojournalism included assignments for The New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer and many other newspapers and magazines.  She received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Outstanding Coverage of the Disadvanatged and her work is in the permanent collection of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. Slow Burn was originally published in 1986 and re-issued in 2010 to favorable reviews in The New York Times Review of Books and photo-eye.  Renée Jacobs went on to study environmental law as a result of her work in Centralia. She practiced civil rights and constitutional law for fifteen years. In 2007 she returned to photography. Her work has been exhibited and published around the world, and has recieved the prestigious International Photography Award for Fine Art Nude among other honors.

Renée JacobsRenée JacobsRenée Jacobs

For more information contact:

Lisa McCarty, Curator of the Archive of Documentary Arts lisa.mccarty@duke.edu