Photo: Chris Verene
Family by Chris Verene is an intriguing and contemporary body of work. Intriguing because it examines its subject matter with the eye of a long time native, and not from the mythic lore of iconic mid America. Contemporary, not because it breaks with any particular aesthetic boundaries, but because he uses his own extended family and acquaintances to emphasize and explore a region very much struggling in today's highly troubled economic times.
Chris hand writes his own narrative on the borders of his photographs, and it works nicely to hold them together while providing a modicum of insight- the landscape is familiar, but even the natives seem a trifle alien and uncomfortable in their surroundings now that hard times affect both urban and rural enclaves alike.
Ironically, a very visible sign of contemporary America's austere landscape is the high prevalence of obesity. As more and more areas lack nominally priced, nutritional items and are instead inundated with cheap, high fat and unhealthy food, more and more of us can now only afford to choose one from a long list of necessities, be it: housing, health, education, etc. Family shows some of the everyday consequences inherent in what is increasingly becoming a necessary survival strategy.
Paging through the book, Arbus came to mind with her often stark portraits of the seemingly unfamiliar within the ordinary, as well as Jim Goldberg's hand written Rich and Poor narrative. Verene's photographs cover a vast array of familial situations, some everyday trivial, others, situations that portray significant lifestyle changes, consequences and celebrations. And although I sometimes question the omnidirectional style of his lighting, many of his photographs are simply beautiful. And like life most anywhere, that beauty is often lost, unrecognized and only rarely acknowledged.