Menu

Guide to the Renée Jacobs photographs, 1979-2015

Summary

Renée Jacobs is a documentary photographer and photojournalist whose project, "Slow Burn," documents the abandonment of Centralia, Pennsylvania due to an underground coal mine fire in the mid-1980s. Her archive includes negatives, contact sheets, gelatin silver work prints and exhibit prints, digital inkjet prints, and publication materials deriving from the project. There are also oral history interviews on audiocassette with residents of Centralia, as well as some correspondence, a 1979 federal government report on Centralia, and color photographs and negatives taken by another photographer who visited the town in 1987. Acquired as part of the Archive of Documentary Arts at Duke University.

Collection Details

Collection Number
RL.11117
Title
Renée Jacobs photographs
Date
1979-2015
Extent
15 Linear Feet, 16 boxes; 1 oversize folder
Repository
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Language
Materials in English

Collection Overview

This collection contains 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.

More Biographical / Historical Info

Using These Materials

A majority of collections are stored off site and must be requested at least 2 full business days in advance for retrieval. Contact Rubenstein Library staff before visiting. Read More »

warning Access to the Collection

Collection is open for research, but original audiovisual materials are closed to use. Please contact Research Services in advance of your visit to request the production of listening copies.

Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

All or portions of this collection may be housed off-site in Duke University's Library Service Center. The library may require up to 48 hours to retrieve these materials for research use.

Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to use this collection.

warning Use & Permissions

The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

More copyright and citation information

How to Cite

[Identification of item], Renée Jacobs Photographs, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Contents of the Collection

Bureau of Mines and Office of Surface Mining government report re: Centralia, 1979
Box 15
Original Negative Binders 1 and 2, 1983-1985
(5 folders)
Box 1
Negatives (miscellaneous), 1986 and undated
(2 folders)

Loose negatives, some with contact strips included. One set includes a caption re: Centralia Demolition.

Box 15
Contact sheets, 1986
(6 folders, 208 contact sheets)

Missing pages 40, 62, 101, 117-118, 135

Box 2
CD of contact sheet scans
Box 2
Data-cd RL-11117-OP-0001
Slides (Black & White, Color), 1986
(5 folders, 35mm slides, including slide presentation of book)
Box 3
Slides (Black & White, Color), 1986 and undated
(4 folders)
Box 15
Promotional event materials, 2010

Materials for book signings, readings, and other events promoting the publication of Slow Burn.

Oversize-folder 1
Booksigning negatives, 1986
Box 15
Portrait of Jacobs at a book signing event, undated
Box 12
Original (vintage) 59 prints and book graphics, 1986
(3 folders, 8" x 10")
Box 3
Archival Fiber silver gelatin exhibit prints, 1986
(7 folders, 44 Prints in Box 10; 38 Prints in Box 11, 11" x 14")
Box 10
Box 11
Printer proof pages for limited edition, 2010
Box 7
Original (vintage) book prints with printer markings, 1985-1986
(3 folders, 87 original book prints , 8" x 10")
Box 4
Original Xerox maquette for first edition, 1985
Box 4
Xerox maquette with revisions, 1986
Box 4
Original book work prints, 1986
(10 folders, 443 prints, 8" x 10")
Box 5
Box 6
Work prints, 1986
(4 folders, 38 prints, 16" x 20")
Box 12
Work prints, undated
(2 folders, 2 inkjet prints and 19 silver gelatin prints, 11" x 14" and assorted)
Box 12
Press clippings re: Centralia, Slow Burn, etc., 1986-1987 and undated
(2 folders)
Box 15
Archival Fiber silver gelatin exhibit prints, 1986
(3 folders, 16 prints, 11 prints 16" x 20"; 3 prints 11" x 14"; 2 prints 8" x 10")
Box 12
Exhibit captions, 1986
Box 7
Slow Burn reviews, press releases, and exhibit promotions, 1985-2010
(2 folders)
Box 7
Box 15
No Trespassing sign from Centralia Police Department, 1985
Box 7
Slow Burn working copy of published book, 1986
Box 7
Unbound printer proofs, 2010
(2 folders)
Box 8
Proof pages, 2010
Box 7
Oversize-folder 1
Unbound printer proofs, Sonny Mekosh portrait, 2010
Box 8
Maquette revision with corrections, 2010
Box 8
Slow Burn published book, softcover, 2010
Box 7
Binders (2) of digital guide prints for 2010 reissue, 2010
(2 folders)
Box 8
Slow Burn limited edition published book, 2010
Box 7
Mockup slipcover for 2010 reissue, 2010
Box 8
Digital work prints, 2010
(109 items, 109 prints, 8.5" x 11")
Box 9
Centralia oral history interviews, circa 1983-1986

Original audiovisual materials are closed to use. Please contact Research Services in advance of your visit to request the production of listening copies.

Jim Larkin / Jacki Chapman
Box 14
Audio-cassette Rl-11117-CS-0001
Mary McGinley
Box 14
Audio-cassette RL-11117-CS-0002
Toni & Low Girolow (?)
Box 14
Audio-cassette RL-11117-CS-0003
A: Todd Dembowski. B: Flo Dembowski, 12/13/84
Box 14
Audio-cassette RL-11117-CS-0004
Bishop ... (?)
Box 14
Audio-cassette RL-11117-CS-0005
A Side: Mary Tyson / Mary Gallagher. B Side: Mary Darrah (6/16)
Box 14
Audio-cassette RL-11117-CS-0006
A Side:Sheila Reemen / ... Kigert / Paige Mekesh. B Side: Mayor Wondo / Jerry Slavy
Box 14
Audio-cassette RL-11117-CS-0007
A: Toni & Low. B: Toni Grolanie
Box 14
Audio-cassette RL-11117-CS-0008
A: McGinley B: McGinley / Tory Maughan
Box 14
Audio-cassette RL-11117-CS-0009
N/A (no name)
Box 14
Audio-cassette RL-11117-CS-00010
Father McGinley
Box 14
Audio-cassette RL-11117-CS-00011
Colleen Russen
Box 14
Audio-cassette RL-11117-CS-00012
Eva + Joe Moran / Helen Womer
Box 14
Audio-cassette RL-11117-CS-00013
Side A: … / John Russen / Irish Caleyone (?) Irish. Side B: Caleyon (?) / Elizabeth Gillespie / Mayor John Wondo
Box 14
Audio-cassette RL-11117-CS-00014
Cruisers
Box 14
Audio-cassette RL-11117-CS-00015
Klink + Moran
Box 14
Audio-cassette RL-11117-CS-00016
Release letters, permission to publish, etc., 1985-1986
Box 4
Inkjet exhibit prints, 2015
(3 folders, 30 Prints , 17" x 22")
Box 13
P2 (cs. 190.17)

[town landscape and houses with smoke in front]

Box 13
P4 (cs. 76.23)

[Centralia Mine Fire Is Our Future sign with girl]

Box 13
P6 (cs 125.19)

[Smoke coming out of pipe with a chain fence around it and houses in background]

Box 13
P8 (cs 193.27)

[Woman smiling and hugging boy]

Box 13
P11 (cs 191.28)

[Two men with hardhats talk with white smoke in the background]

Box 13
P22 (cs 1.4)

[Five boys in baseball uniforms sit on the steps in front of a house]

Box 13
P27 (cs 26.18)

[Man sits eating an apple in an office]

Box 13
P31 (cs 133.25)

[Silhouettes of signs in the night with a light behind and snow on the ground]

Box 13
P34 (cs 146.19)

[Man leaving room in background with Giangarlo Scientific Co. box in foreground]

Box 13
P35 (cs 158.15)

[Pipe with chain fence around it emitting smoke with the sky and clouds in the background]

Box 13
P44 (cs 35.36)

[Elderly woman looking at photograph of two women]

Box 13
P47 (cs 15.5)

[Smiling baby in stroller with fence and sign in background]

Box 13
P52 (cs 134.28)

[Night picture of empty road with signs and smoke in the background]

Box 13
P53 (cs 146.5)

[Man in background watches as someone tests the sink with a device in a house]

Box 13
P55 (cs 106.14)

[Woman in white sweater points at elderly woman in foreground in a building with people talking in the background]

Box 13
P61 (cs 59.7)

[Man sitting in armchair with various portraits on the wall, a doll house, and an empty armchair]

Box 13
P63 (cs 98.31)

[Chevrolet car with license plate "We Dig Coal"]

Box 13
P67 (cs 149.13)

[Man in mirror testing a bedroom with device]

Box 13
P71 (cs 71.14)

[Woman lying in bed and woman holding a notebook look at man who's holding something in his left hand]

Box 13
P73 (cs 67.10)

[Mother holding child in front of couch, as man with device stands in the right background]

Box 13
P76 (cs 87.12)

[Bride walks in white with flowers in her hand past a wall. A sign reads "Appalachian Regional Development Act of 1965"]

Box 13
P103 (cs 49.13)

[Woman stands with arm raised wearing shirt saying "The Hottest Town in Penna."]

Box 13
P107 (cs 123.31)

[Girl in dress and hat eats a lollipop with dolls on the floor around her]

Box 13
P122 (cs 159.32)

[Man in suit measures length of room with two boys lying on the couch]

Box 13
P131 (cs 155.30)

[Woman sits on rug with a cardboard box in front of her and an inflatable crocodile in a trashbag]

Box 13
P132 (cs 153.36)

[Woman sits on rug in dark room staring out the window, with a reflection of her in the background]

Box 13
P135 (cs 156.4)

[Two houses; a person is entering the white house, the black house has a "Notice No Trespassing" sign on it]

Box 13
P139 (cs 156.4)

[Elderly woman sits on couch looking into camera as a man moves items of of the house]

Box 13
P145

[Bulldozer destroys house]

Box 13
P147 (cs 168.36)

[Two men stare down at the wreckage and debris of a home]

Box 13
Correspondence with University of Pennsylvania Press re: Slow Burn publication, 1985-1986
Box 15
Correspondence re: Slow Burn publication, 1986-1995, 2008
Box 15
Correspondence with Heather Liston re: her father, William T. Liston's visit to Centralia, 2015

Includes color prints and negatives from Liston's visit, circa 1987.

Box 15
T-shirt: Centralia: The Hottest Town in Penna, undated
Box 16
 

Historical Note

Renée 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.

Separated Material

Separated Materials

Three copies of Slow Burn (1986; 2010 hardback; 2010 paperback) have been removed from the archive for individual cataloging as print items.


Click to find related materials at Duke University Libraries.

Provenance

The Renee Jacobs Photographs were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library as a purchase in 2016.

Processing Information

Processed by Ben Saalfeld and Meghan Lyon, February 2016; updated by Meghan Lyon, 2016.

Accessions described in this collection guide: 2016-0004, 2016-0248, 2016-0257, 2016-0274