For more than twenty-five years, I have been documenting the same people in Galesburg, Illinois, where three generations of my family have lived. Each person in these photographs has been in my life for a long time. I have followed their lives through good times and bad times and will do so in the future. This is my life’s work. I make pictures that show stories anyone can understand. These are natural images, not posed by the photographer. But sometimes those in the photographs will pose themselves, emphasizing for me who they are. They know they will appear in my gallery shows and books. I am present in the pictures in my handwriting on them. This is how I make my documentary photography.
Since my first book was published, a great deal has happened with my people. Candi and Craig, whose wedding was on the cover of the first book, are now divorced. Many people have died: all of my grandparents, my great aunt Doris, my great uncle Richard, Mabe and Marion, Rozie’s mother Alice, Rozie’s friend Alice from The Majestic Lady, Travis’s mother Tina Joseph Foutch, all of Travis’s pets and our dog Honey Child. Many were born: my cousin moved back to Galesburg and had a boy and a girl, Amber had Mercedes and Lexus (now named Jayden), Barchetta is now pregnant, Sonya had a baby, and Travis has a new kitten. The joyful and the sorrowful are found together.
One afternoon last summer, without warning, a tornado ripped through Galesburg. The destruction was everywhere. A tree branch went through the windshield of my car. I hurried to Candi’s house to see if they were okay. A tree had been driven through the roof into Caity’s upstairs bedroom, but her older brother Cody had pulled her to safety, and no one was injured. I had heard that earlier in the day Candi had received the house in the divorce settlement. We all gathered in the yard, including Craig, and pitched in to help, and for a while it seemed like the family was coming together instead of tearing apart.
Not all storms are the products of nature. Some are the results of the human condition in difficult times. The stories of these pictures show the realities of divorce, loss of income, mental imbalance, old age, nursing homes, and loneliness. These realities are not only in the past, captured in the images; they will come again in the future. But these images forecast a greater good—the power of the human being to survive as human. I see in my heart that we can be a guiding light to others through sharing the simple stories that bind us together.
CHRIS VERENE has been photographing three generations of his family, since 1984, in Galesburg, Illinois, a small town in the Midwest. He has been called a natural storyteller, focusing on the whole intimate truth of human narratives.
Verene’s work is in numerous major museum collections, and in 2001, was the first photographer to receive a Pollock-Krasner Fellowship. He has been published in several books, including his 2000 self-titled monograph by Twin Palms Press, and a Phaidon photography history entitled, Theater of the Face, Portrait Photography Since 1900. ARTFORUM praised Verene as “depicting people with a combination of respect and clarity.” Last year Verene’s work was exhibited at The Tate Modern, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and The Walker Art Center.
His new photography book, Family, will accompany a traveling solo exhibition throughout the United States from 2010-2013. Verene lives and works in New York City and is also a filmmaker and musician. He is represented by Postmasters Gallery in New York City and is currently working on stills and a feature documentary motion picture entitled, The Self-Esteem Salon.