Chris Verene was born in 1969, near his family’s small community of Galesburg, Illinois. His parents met in Galesburg, where three generations of his family still live to this day. From the mid-1980s to the present, Verene has seriously documented his family and their community in the central Illinois with a medium-format camera. Verene’s parents are the only part of his father’s extended family to leave Galesburg. Verene attended high school, college and graduate school in Atlanta, Georgia. Throughout his youth and young adulthood, Verene made the trip to Galesburg every available week, summer, and holiday. For many years, Verene showed his photography only to family, friends, and teachers, amassing about twelve years worth of prints and stories before showing in a formal exhibition in New York City in 1997. Today Verene is an Assistant Professor of Photography at the College of Staten Island, in the City University of New York. Today we share his series, Camera Club.
In his series, Camera Club (1995-1997), Chris Verene employs his camera furtively, but without entirely concealing it from view. Verene infiltrated the world of “camera clubs,” groups of men who lure young women into modeling nude or seminude by placing classified ads in newspapers and pretending to be professional fashion photographers. He posed as a camera club photographer, joined the group and played the part, but then turned his camera on the photographers themselves. Later, Verene worked with a friend, a young woman who posed as an aspiring model, and deepened the investigation. By positioning himself behind the men and pretending to be tinkering with his camera – loading his film, testing his flash – Verene could easily release his shutter without arousing the suspicion of his already distracted colleagues.
The resulting pictures telescope the usual photographer’s gaze and emphasize the predatory nature of photography. Verene’s compositions mirror the power dynamics of the situation: the men’s backs, hairy legs, and balding heads dominate the picture plane and their lurching posture reveals their avidity. In contrast, the women in the background are small in scale; Verene protects their identities by keeping them generally out of focus.
To see more of Chris’s work, please visit his website.