Chris Verene: unvarnished moments in family history

My Cousin Heidi In Her Renaissance Fair Dress, 2006
[VIDEO] ChelseaGallerista meets Chris Verene at Postmasters Gallery, 2010

All photos from except where noted

IF you live in a Manhattan studio, one thing you can't collect too much of is books - especially the giant, panoramic, coffee table kind (unless you plan to use them as a coffee table). But I do own a handful: one fifth Milton Glaser, one fifth a Picasso catalog from the Paris leg of my Damien Hirst Spot Challenge, one fifth Jan Kempenaers' Spomenik (because you just have to). And two-fifths American documentary photographer, Chris Verene.

Chris signing my treasured copies of  "Chris Verene" (2000) and "Family" (2010),  beautifully produced by Twin Palms Publishers. Photo by a friendly bystander. 
I met Chris at his show at Postmasters Gallery on the auspicious date of 10/10/10. I already owned two of his books: Chris Verene (2000) and Family (2010). On opening the covers, you are catapulted  to the very front doorsteps, rusting cars and blow up swimming pools of his extended family in Galesburg, Illinois.

Travis's House, 2006.

Stepping through a rickety back door with flywire flapping, you are shuffled through living rooms, bedrooms, passageways, kitchens and out into the backyard where his siblings, relatives and friends are lounging, playing, eating, staring into space, getting married, getting divorced, and largely toughing it out in an economically declining town in the deep Midwest.

Chris' work echoes the that of fellow documenter of life, Michael Moore, in particular,  his filmic portrait of economically depressed Flint, Michigan. 

 "With all the reality TV going on, where things get twisted, there's a need for documenting real life," says Verene, who teaches his craft to students. 
The extended family extended.  

Aunt Doris And Grandma Eleanor In The Garden, 1992. The two women were teachers at a local one-room school, where first graders sat up front, followed by second graders behind them, all the way back to the 6th graders. The older students were meant to help the younger students." 

A friend remarked, isn't this stuff depressing? Moreover, is  it ingenuous of us city slickers to gaze upon these images as "art" while nibbling sushi and sipping chateau cardboard in a gallery when clearly, Verene's subjects are barely making ends (not) meet? I'm reminded of the big Urban Outfitters store o 6th ave where you can on the signature "homeless chic" aesthetic for size. 

Voyeuristic or otherwise, Chris's images serve a more instructive purpose, bridging the the gap between the haves and the have nots so we can better know and appreciate our fellow citizens living far from "coastal" privilege. 

Nico And Mercedes, 2012
Farm Cats, 2012. "How many cats can you see? There are at least 4." 

Chris recently spoke at the SVA to students of the Master of Professional Studies in Digital Photography. I sat there amidst a smattering of students earning credit and some fans like myself who own his books. Ironically, he doesn't shoot his "serious" work with a digital camera - he uses a Hasselblad medium format film camera then scans the images into Photoshop only for adding captions: "No cheating."

Verene addressing SVA students in New York, December, 2016. 

Many of Chris' images communicate an unshakeable bond between subjects, the will to survive and simple joy of being alive and knowing what matters to you. We can learn a lot about connection, resource and gratitude from these precious moments with Chris' family.  

Steve and the hubcaps, 1993. 

Max is a bachelor, 2004

Sabbath, 2004 
Travis made pigs in blankets, 2008

Chris Verene website


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