Copyright 1986, 2010 Renee Jacobs published by The Pennsylvania State University Press
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.
By Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook