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photo-eye Book Reviews: Slow Burn

Slow Burn, Photographs by Renee Jacobs. 
Published by Pennsylvania State University Press, 2010.
Slow Burn

Reviewed by Tom Leininger
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Renee Jacobs - Slow Burn
Photographs by Renee Jacobs.
Pennsylvania State University Press, 2010. Softcover. 151 pp., 94 black & white illustrations 2 maps, 9x8-3/4".

A coal fire started underneath Centralia, Pennsylvania in 1962. It was still burning when Renée Jacobs arrived to document life in the town in 1983. A handful of residents remain today, but the town is essentially gone.

Jacobs' book, Slow Burn: a Photodocument of Centralia, Pennsylvania was first published in 1986 by the University of Pennsylvania Press, has been republished this year by The Pennsylvania State University Press. The book is a look back to a town and time that was. Jacobs' contrasty wide-angle black and white images fit the time and the project.

Slow Burn, by Renee Jacobs. Published by Pennsylvania State University Press, 2010.
 The straightforward pictures tell the story of life in a town dealing with an unseen, but dangerous environmental catastrophe. Smoke pours out of vents in the ground and people go on. We see the carbon monoxide readings being taken. We see the people who were trying to do something about their town. We see the faces of those coping with the fire and government.

Slow Burn, by Renee Jacobs. Published by Pennsylvania State University Press, 2010.
Jacobs' focus on the life of the town yields lighter moments, but overall, it is a heavy book. It is a story of an environmental problem and the government moves slowly to help. Families and the town suffer. Eventually they move out. One of the book's strongest series of images is at the end. Joan Girolami sits in an empty living room looking out the window. She feels very small in the image, looking to the light out the window, she is surrounded by darkness in her house. Images like this are the strength of the book, and there are a number of images in the book on this level.

Slow Burn, by Renee Jacobs. Published by Pennsylvania State University Press, 2010.
Jacobs' strong storytelling ability makes this book worthwhile. The work tells of yet another environmental disaster, except this is harder to see, outside of the smoke belching vents. It is the pain and anguish on the faces of the residents of Centralia that tells the story.—Tom Leininger






Tom Leininger is a photographer and educator based in Denton, Texas. He received his MFA in photography from the University of North Texas. Prior to that he was a newspaper photographer in Indiana. His work can be found at http://tomleininger.net.

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