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Chris Verene on his work with The Rock*A*Teens

July 6, 2016

 

Before receiving international acclaim for his Galesburg, Illinois documentary series, fans of Atlanta's music scene knew photographer Chris Verene as the dynamic drummer for an eclectic mix of local acts, such as DQE, Bach on a Hook and The Rock*A*Teens.

 

Formed in 1994 and hailing from the rundown former mill neighborhood of Cabbagetown, The Rock*A*Teens triumphantly arose from a series of tragedies that plagued the local music community in the early part of the decade. Helmed by the unparalleled talents of songwriter and frontman Chris Lopez, over the course of eight years and five albums, The Rock*A*Teens built a catalog of clamorous, reverb-soaked anthems that chronicled distinctly Southern-flavored tales of love, heartbreak, and despair. After reforming for a reunion tour in 2014 to celebrate the vinyl reissue of their fifth album, Sweet Bird of Youth (Merge Records, 2000), a flood of online praise followed - most writers unanimously citing The Rock*A*Teens as one of the best bands of the nineties.

 

Prior to joining up with the band, Verene had been documenting his family and friends in the declining mid-western town of Galesburg, Illinois since the mid-eighties. Through these intimate photographs, Verene brings you into the routine lives of his subjects, who share moments of sadness, desperation, ambivalence and celebration in the face of personal and economic hardships.

 

My first exposure to Verene's Galesburg work was the cover of The Rock*A*Teen's 1996 self-titled debut. The photo features two teenagers on the stoop of a red clapboard house that could have been mistaken for one of the simple shotguns in my Cabbagetown neighborhood. Like Galesburg, Cabbagetown was an area that had all but collapsed after the closing of its economic anchor, The Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill, in the late seventies. Verene's photographs convey the same sense of drama you experience within that kind of ordinary, but somewhat devastated, environment. Just as Cabbagetown played a part in inspiring some of Lopez's lyrical journeys, it makes sense that the band chose to use the Galesburg images as a visual representation of their musical output.

 

Around 1999, Verene left the band - and Atlanta - for New York to pursue his primary artistic vocation.  Over the last twenty years, two Galesburg monographs, Chris Verene (Twin Palms, 2000) and Family (Twin Palms, 2010) have been published; his 1998 photography series, Camera Club, and performance installation piece, The Self-Esteem Salon, were both included in the 2000 Whitney Biennial; and his work has been exhibited in numerous galleries worldwide. Verene continues to focus on his ongoing Galesburg series, but has augmented the photography work with short documentary films on the same subjects, which he calls Home Movies.

 

Verene makes a visit to Atlanta as the current lineup of The Rock*A*Teens, featuring Chris Lopez, founding guitarist Justin Hughes, keyboardist K. Michelle DuBois, drummer Ballard Lesemann, and bassist Will Joiner, plays The Earl's 17th Anniversary show this Saturday, July 9th. He will likely join the band on a few numbers. In addition, Verene will appear with Bach on a Hook at Criminal Records the following Saturday, July 16th.

LK:  You began photographing your family in Galesburg, Illinois several years before joining the Rock*A*Teens in the mid-90's. Can you tell me how you came to photography and began this project? 

 

CV:  I was in high school in Atlanta and really interested in photography. I had my mom's camera, and then later I borrowed a camera. I decided early on that the subject that really mattered to me was family. It was the most appropriate thing for me. Even in my first year of college, when I got more serious and got a real camera, it seemed like that was what I was supposed to take pictures of. I was looking at documentary photographers like Ansel Adams, but photography for me is so personal that I couldn't imagine trying to photograph landscapes or something like those Japanese internment camps that were really important social and political documentaries. So a lot of the things that people traditionally do with cameras seemed like the wrong thing, because it didn't feel like it belonged to me.  

 

My cousins and parents agreed to let me do it. I'd come over with the camera and take hundreds of pictures of them, their lives, and their day-to-day experiences. It didn’t seem like it was going be important in terms of it being art. I didn't have a vision of that early on, but I did accumulate all of this work. Mostly black and white pictures and 35 mm pictures in the first years. None of those early photos look like what you see in my books or on the Rock*A*Teens CDs, but were still the foundation of it. That's how it started. I thought, "This belongs to me in some way."

 

LK:  How did your family members and the other subjects of your photos react to your work becoming widely known and exhibited? Your first book, Chris Verene, was published in 2000.

 

CV:  Overall it wasn't nearly as a big deal in rural Illinois as it has been in Atlanta, the national press, or in international galleries or museums. The art and photography world to itself seems like an enormous, heavy-duty thing. But it's not if you're not in that world. When I was waiting for the first book to come out, I was concerned that some of the people in the work would be really put off by it. They had all seen their own pictures, but they hadn’t seen them as a group. I thought maybe this will spoil it and they wouldn't want to do it anymore. A local Galesburg newspaper did a huge story when the first book came out, and I worried maybe people would be sort of disheartened by it, or they wouldn't think they looked flattering enough or something. But that didn't happen.  

 

My cousin and her husband worked at the refrigerator factory when it was in the paper and people kind of teased them, like, "Hey, you're a star!" But it was pretty minor. I'm still working with my cousin, Candi, now in 2016. We're still making pictures and video and documenting her life. It's partly that my family and other families in the work are people who gravitated towards it and wanted to do it with me. I'm not surprising anybody or trying to. I'm not looking for people who don't want to be seen. It's people who do want to be seen, and that's turned out to be true over decades.  

 

But I don't think that the art world is as big of a deal to anybody except the art world. That doesn't mean it's not important because we've all benefited from art, but not necessarily it's cycles in popularity. That sort of thing doesn't translate outside of it.

 

LK:  Can you tell me a bit about your process and how you achieve the distinctive look of your photographs? The images are so pure, you almost feel as if you are standing inside the photographs with the subjects rather than looking at them.

 

CV:  That's partly because I use bright colors and bright lighting. It really affects people. I don't know if it was a planned method, it kind of evolved. It wasn't like, "Oh I’m going to do it this way for the next thirty years," but the way they looked came from an evolving sort of method. Once they were color, I liked the look of that bright lighting. This was before flash, when I was using hardware store clamp lamps and lights. I wanted this overlit, bright light because I wanted to see all of the detail. I remember trying to shoot everything at f/22 or at f/16 because I wanted everything in focus. I didn't understand I was shooting for a deeper focus than the room even had, but I did it anyway and the only way to do that was to have really bright light. I was making these pictures that were literally for a depth of focus that was deeper than the room and more than the people on the couch were going to be able to see, but it was important to me. That became a permanent style, and to some degree, it's still what I do. It's also all documentary in the sense that I'm not faking the colors or doing special darkroom magic tricks. It's just like wedding photography - colorful film and flash. It's not phony, but it looks larger than life.

 

LK:  And as with documentary photography, all of the images are spontaneous. Is there ever any direction or staging of the surroundings?

 

CV:  It's just me following the natural thing that’s going on. There's no staging. I have a general rule against even minor staging. I'm not allowed to move a lamp on the table, or move the chair out of the way. I tried it in the eighties. I did things where I had families sit on the couch, sort of did this formal thing, but I just can't. I do that in The Self-Esteem Salon work, but when I'm working with the family stuff, I am totally in documentary mode - what they call "coverage." But you will certainly see where people are dressed up because I'm there. Or people are posing because it's like, "Come and take a picture of me and my cat." That looks like a theatrically posed thing, but I don’t tell people what to do because I find that that's spoils the truth of it. The audience will never know, but then I kind of think they would know. You can't have secretly changed stuff in it and then pretend you haven't.

 

LK:  Chris Lopez said that when he began collaborating with you on the Rock*A*Teens CD covers, you would pull a box of images together from your hundreds of family photographs for the band to look over. He said, "He's not tossing stuff out there. He's thoughtful about it. He's not showing up with this big stack. It is pretty small, because he's like, "How about this one, or how about that one or this one?" Did you feel you had a good sense of which images were best suited for the covers?

 

CV:  I put together edits of pictures and brought them over with no specific message in mind, but looking for Lopez to like one of them. It was Lopez combing though the box of my pictures. For all the covers, including the later ones, it's always kind of been Lopez. I mean, nothing in the band moves without Lopez. 

 

LK:  Let's talk about the images on The Rock*A*Teens self-titled debut, which features the photo "Josh and His Girlfriend" on the cover. I remember my first impression was that it was taken in Cabbagetown. 

 

CV:  Yeah, it certainly looks like it could be Cabbagetown. I think some people still think it is, but we weren't really trying to fool them. It's funny because when I was in grad school at Georgia State, I successfully made some work in Reynoldstown and in Cabbagetown. Some of those might have been under consideration for The Rock*A*Teens art, but I can't remember. Once we picked those two teenagers on the porch in front of - well you can't see the railroad tracks but they are at a house facing the railroad tracks that go through Galesburg - once we had that picture with the red house, we started to look at the whole package.  

 

LK:  That's a photo of a Wal-Mart parking lot on the back. Do you recall why it was chosen?

 

CV:  At the time, I had some pictures of the sunset at the Wal-Mart parking lot. I've been photographing sunsets at the Wal-Mart parking lot for twenty years. I tried it and tried it and tried it. I secretly wish I was Ansel Adams and could do landscape photography, but I make one good landscape picture every ten or fifteen years. I had been trying to make this sort of urban landscape picture, but never really succeeded. I showed Lopez and the band some of my attempts at doing that picture, because by then we were making an album package. Then I went and shot the one that ended up being the one on the back of the CD. Lopez liked how I had some taillights curling in. As a documentary photographer, I generally don't do that, because having those motion blurs is kind of a no-no for doc.  

 

Lopez kind of idealizes small town life. The set-up at the Wal-Mart for me was kind of about that. And those teenagers on the first cover, and the people in my other pictures are like icons of small-town life. In a way, Cabbagetown was kind of Lopez's small town.  

 

LK:  This was several years before your first book was published. What was it like for you to have your work mass-produced on CDs?

 

CV:  That record came out in 1996. At that point I had no idea that my work would be important in some way. I was dedicated to doing it, but I had no idea about it in terms of it being reproduced in a book or something. When Lopez said that he wanted to use one of my pictures of the album cover, I was ecstatic, because I thought, "Wow, I could never do this." I couldn't make all of these record covers, distribute them, and get them out to people who live in other towns.  

 

It's hard to remember one's mental experience before the Internet. Now, if someone takes that same picture, they can pretty much publish it immediately. Maybe only a few people subscribe to that person's Facebook page or Instagram, but once it's up, then it can have a life. If it's really good picture, it has this chance of getting widely distributed and whatever message it carries is getting multiplied and cubed and beyond cubed and squared into an unpredictable big, big reach. In 1995, when we were planning this, it was hard to take pictures. And definitely hard to distribute them. So when Lopez said we would use my pictures, I was amazed. It was like I was getting to publish a book, which had sort of been my dream.

Chris Lopez on The Rock*A*Teens:

 

I don't know if it was spoken or anything, but yeah, it was evident that we were going to use those photographs. Verene was in the band, so his artwork should be on the cover, and we could find things in his portfolio we thought reflected the band. We were looking at them because that was his primary creative outlet; it was this big project he was working on. It was part of everything at the time.

 

That was not a coincidence that we used this photograph that looks like it was taken in Cabbagetown for the front of the first CD. You've got the clapboard siding on the house, the denim shorts... and the haircuts. There's a bit of a vampire thing going on there, too. I saw Cabbagetown at the time and Galesburg as sort of parallel universes. Galesburg is kind of rural, even though it's a county seat. It's got a country feel, but kind of the same vibe as Cabbagetown: lower working class, more depressed. I saw a big connection between the two things.

 

The back has kind of a lonesome vibe. When we were selecting that, I saw that lonesome parking lot and the lights. It kind of looks like it could be an emo record almost on the back. I leave it to other people to really think about. If anything, you can put your own thoughts into what it means. I thought that it was kind of representative of the music without having any rock 'n' roll signifiers. That was one of the things, at least that was what was going through my mind personally - trying to not have anything that was going to be too reminiscent of anything else. 

LK:  The Cry cover features the shot of Mabe and Marion, which is now one of your most well known photos. It is a distinctively much darker image. Can you tell me about choosing that photo and about the two women it features?

 

CV:  I can't remember what all I put in a box to review for Cry. Cry really was the sad album. By then we knew what we used on the cover was important. It was like, "If we're going have a Chris Verene Galesburg picture on the first one, we can't not do that on the next one and the next one." The pressure was more on to do something good. I'm glad and I think it's beautiful. We've talked about reissuing that album on vinyl. That would be a great looking cover for vinyl. I think people flipping through records - even they had never listened to The Rock*A*Teens - would be inclined to buy that album.  

 

Mabe is in the front, and Marion is in the back. The flash is falling off right around the edge of her in the back and you don't see everything. That is a kitchen light above them, which has got some slight motion blur - which is against the rules for documentary! They are coming through the door. I think their personalities are extremely clear in the picture. They are kind of like great aunts to me. They are not my great aunts, but they are the same as family and close to my grandfather's side. In our family, everybody has a different experience. My cousins are more like siblings than cousins. Mabe is grandpa's cousin and Marion is not. They've lived together forever. They were a package and would kiss you on the cheek when you'd go visit them. We pretty much took care of them like family.

 

LK:  So they've always lived together?

 

CV:  In their golden years. They were friends, but it was sort of like they acted like a couple. There's a lot of stigma about that in the town - in any small town - but I don't think I'm outing them. They were both buyers for this department store, so they had really incredible taste and had a lot in common. I have lots of pictures of the house. It was like an incredible furniture museum.  

 

LK:  "Don Cantrell's Big Christmas Party" is featured on the back cover. There's a differing quality to it - bright and celebratory.  

 

CV:  We picked that one after we picked the one for the front because we wanted to have something to contrast it. We thought that the front with the word "Cry” on it would be sad. So we thought that the back should be something festive. 

 

 I think the idea with the front was that they are really old, but it doesn’t have the feeling of old people in a "look, aren't they cute" way. It has a certain sadness about it. I don't mean to be extra sorrowful, but it seems like they are close to death or something. It's like they are at the end, in the way that they are surrounded by black and all the negative space with their little circle chopping through. It's about things being over. It's not exactly depressing, but it's not uplifting for sure. It definitely wasn't like a lot of album covers at that time.

 

LK:  There was a lot talk about Cry having a darker, more mournful feeling than the debut, but like you said, you used kind of contrasting photo on the back that's more festive. It balances things out because there are also some great, energetic cuts on the second CD.

 

CV:  Yeah, like "Cry Crybaby." Cry is my favorite Rock*A*Teens production of all of them. There is a light and dark idea with the Cry cover that reflects the music, that’s for sure. 

 

LK:  I like the interior shot of Lopez and Kelly Hogan because they look like two kids running away from home, which feels appropriate for the record. He said you guys were probably leaving a show in New York and walking to Chan Marshall's (of Cat Power) apartment. Was that included as a way to feature some of the members in the packaging?

 

CV:  That's exactly what happened. We successfully parked the vehicle somewhere and we are carrying all of our valuables to Chan's apartment in Alphabet City to sleep on the floor.

 

With the Cry album, we had to deal with whether or not we were going to be in it. I think Kelly had the idea that Lopez had photos from the tour where they were in the picture, but not really. By the time of the second album, there was a sense of, "You have fans, and the fan base is blowing up, so even if you don't want to be in the picture, maybe you should be, man." I don't think it was a label thing, but there was definitely some sort suggestion like, "You really might want to put yourself on the CD because people will really like that." I think that photo was the compromise.

 Chris Lopez on Cry:

 

It's dark, it's rich, but their faces...Marion's got a little bit of mischief going on there, know what I mean? It’s just a great image. All the blacks and browns, and then her coat there and her hair color. It's striking. It's great. Verene's photography is so sharp. Printing it on CD does not really do it justice. It's just a striking image. I think there may have been some sort of discussion about this being dark. To me this didn’t seem dour. It just seemed like a picture, a story. I mean, just look at her. Marion's mischievous. Mabe’s a little more serious. There's a lot to look at. I like their faces. I like their ages.  

 

Once again, there's not any sort of rock 'n' roll signifiers going on here at all. Having looked at a hundred thousand records in my lifetime and being aware of what's going on around me... outside of loving the images, it was about wanting to do something a little different, regardless of what the music sounds like, and thinking about what not to do. This cover would be the kind of thing where you'd go, "What the...I don’t what this is." It's not one of those covers that's like, "Oh, yeah, this is going to sound like this." It's possible that something is being said by using the same photographer on these covers, which is fine. I'm sure there was some thinking in my mind, like certainly the cover for the debut symbolizes youth, and then with Cry, maybe a little more tired. Maybe a little bit darker, but it's not dreary. 

LK:  You didn't play drums on Baby, A Little Rain Must Fall, but your photograph of your grandfather's pillow and headboard was featured on the cover. Had you moved to New York by that time to pursue your photography career?  

 

CV:  No. I still played on the live shows and tour dates. Lopez played all the drums on that record and I believe they recorded without ever going to sleep or something. (Guitarist) Justin Hughes said Lopez had all these songs, had it ready to go. As I understand it, that album just exploded out of Lopez. Like, "I'm gonna make this record! I'll play the drums myself!" When that record was touring, I played in The Rock*A*Teens for as long as I could. When they were going to do the national Superchunk tour, it was going to be the whole driving around the country in a circle thing. That was around the time I was planning to move to New York. There was no way I could go.

 

LK:  Lopez said he ran into some people who thought this, but when I first saw the cover, I thought it was a coffin.

 

CV:  I don't think I've heard that before, but it's got that quilted stuff that they put in coffins. I don't think that he was going for that. Again, like the previous record, it looks elderly and close to death, you know? I think choosing it was a lot like the reasons for choosing the photo we used for Cry. Maybe because, in tone, those records are a little more similar. It was kind of a mutual thing. Lopez and I both agreed on it and thought it would be good. We were getting a little better at the process. 

 

LK:  He thought the pillow was covered in your grandfather's Vitalis or pomade. That was what caused the stains on the pillow.

 

CV:  I don’t know exactly, but it was a really old pillow and it always looked like that. It was just really worn, but it works as a metaphor for age and decay.

Chris Lopez on Baby, A Little Rain Must Fall:

 

I may have said that kind of looks like a coffin, I have heard that, but I knew exactly what it was in the picture. I had other people who were disgusted by that pillow situation. I believe that's all hair product stains on the pillow from the old guy. I'm sure it's like pomade and Vitalis. I think I chose it for the headboard thing and the dirty pillow.  

 

It could also kind of represent my life at the time. There's a story from around that time. I was gone out of town or something and somebody was over at the Wylie Street house, hanging around with (my roommate) Jim Prible. People were drinking or whatever and Jim was like, "Oh, if you can't drive home you can go flopping Chris's room." Jim told me the story that this girl was in there sleeping in my bed and hollered across the house, "It smells like an old man in here!" There was like an old, moldy piano and overflowing ashtrays.

 

It also reminds me of like a Sunday afternoon. Maybe in the winter but the day is really clear. I have this thing about Sundays. Sundays freak me out. There's just something about them I don't like. Sunday afternoon - it's quiet, it's kind of lonely. It reminds me of being at your grandparents' house. Like, "We're gonna go to your grandparents house this afternoon." There's a little different vibe than your house. Things are older, everything’s antiquated in the house, it's a different neighborhood from where you live there's nothing to do. That's one of the things it reminds me of.  

LK:  Golden Time was a departure because you didn't use pre-existing work. The photographs were taken specifically for the CD packaging.

 

CV:  Golden Time is when Lopez steps in and sort of art directs the Chris Verene photograph. Also, he basically cast it. It had to be Lisa Shinault, who is an extremely important figure in the band in general. The album cover is a photo of Lisa. I believe the decision to do it in black and white was part of Lopez's art direction, but the rest of the plan was that it was supposed to look like how I would have shot my family work. So it's daylight and flash at the same time. Everything is in crisp focus and it has a deep depth of field. It's supposed to fit in the chain of pictures we used on the other records.

 

LK:  For the tour poster you went through the pictures and then ripped one of them apart, scratched out his face, and then you took a second photograph of that ripped photo to symbolize that the "relationship" between he and Lisa was over.

 

CV:  I remember meticulously doing the layout in the darkroom and doing the scratching so that it looked convincing. The idea was that if you saw the CD cover, and the photo inside the CD, and then the tour poster, that expanded the story. She appears alone and confident on the CD cover. The poster is another image from the same event...they are holding hands in that photo and then on poster he's still there, but crossed out. So it's like Lopez and Lisa used to be a couple and have broken up. It's supposed to be an entire kind of story.

 

LK:  Lopez said part of the appeal of using your photographs on the records was that they don't have any kind of typical rock 'n' roll signifiers. He also didn't want band photos. Were you surprised when he came up with the concept for Golden Time?  

 

CV:  Yeah, I was surprised because he seemed like he didn’t want to appear on the packaging. He's not really reticent for anything, even live shows, to be starring Chris Lopez. He was never like that and that's not why he does the art. I can totally understand that. 

Chris Lopez on Golden Time:

 

Same photographer, but we're not using any of Verene's existing images. We actually had a photo shoot. 

 

We went out there this area out on Capitol Avenue, it's called Capitol View off of what used to be Stuart Avenue. That neighborhood where you go down 75/85, past the stadium and it's University Avenue and then you get off. I was working down there renovating a house and there was this little triangular roundabout that had all these great streetlights, like original streetlights from back in the day that I was really into. 

 

I was still in my work clothes. I think at the time Verene was probably roommates with (cover model) Lisa Shinault and it was unplanned, like, "Come on to Lisa's and let’s go." She has such a great style. She has kind of a timeless face. She doesn't look of this time. We took photographs and then picked out the ones that we liked. The streetlights - that's also kind of a lonesome nighttime kind of thing.  

 

We made tour posters of it. Not the cover photo here where she's alone, but another of me and Lisa together. It was supposed to look like she was so angry that she scratched my face out the photograph...that was what that was supposed to represent. Verene took the photograph, tore it in half, taped it back together and then took a photograph of it for the poster. The posters were tall and skinny and pretty cool. 

LK:  You had these dual roles within the group, but as a drummer what are your thoughts on band photos?  

 

CV:  I wanted to do band photos. I was all about band photos!

 

We just did this feature for Oxford American. They weren’t sure what they were going to do for the artwork because for that story you could have done it a lot of different ways. I had all the band photography and had to go through everything for them. I shot so many Rock*A*Teens photos, even way after I wasn’t the drummer anymore. Many times I shot band photos with Lopez in them, but the idea that he would give the green light for one to be in an album package or on an album poster or something...like it's fine if we take it but that doesn't mean he was going to let us use them for anything. So, I made attempts because I thought that we looked great and thought that a band photo would be charming. I didn't want to do Lopez's dark method! There are so many. But band photos are awful, anyway. There is no good reason to have four or five people standing there, but we tried!

 

LK:  Let's talk a bit about your other work. Galesburg is ongoing project, you have The Self-Esteem Salon and your more recent Home Movies. And you are a college professor in New York.

 

CV:  I am an assistant professor full-time at the College of Staten Island, which is part of the CUNY system. It is a massive school with dorms and everything. It is a great school. We have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a concentration on photography. I make as many trips as I can to Illinois. I was in Galesburg in the fall for my cousin's wedding. I go frequently and work on new pictures and videos. I opened a show on March 30th at Cleveland's Institute of Art. It featured some of the same people, the same work, my cousins and stuff.  

 

LK:  Did it include new Galesburg work?

 

CV:  The newest work for me. I am an extremely slow artist, so my new work is like 2010. That work premiered in New York at my most recent show, which was about a year and a half ago. I'll be making new work in Galesburg and I have video and photographs going at the same time now. That's a newer process for me.  

 

LK:  I've noticed that your Camera Club series still gets a lot of attention online. I recently saw something on the It's Nice That arts blog.

 

CV:  That project is long since over. Once I made it, it was a complete set and it was done I didn’t add to it and won’t plan to add to it. It's not that I don’t want to, but in terms of the world, with the advent of digital photography and internet... those pictures are from the mid-nineties. They started to become well known at the very end of the nineties and were in the Whitney Biannual in 2000. At that point I might not have known that the whole way that photographers operate, and the way that models and people who want to be seen would change. That work was from a period that resembles the Bettie Page period. There would be classified ads calling for models. It was the kind of photography that has always been mysterious and quite difficult. You couldn't just do it. The advent of MySpace was not on the horizon, nor was the idea that you could take pictures and instantly have a high quality final picture. So it can't be continued. This speaks to a kind of cultural shift. Like when they talk about the era of the Byzantine art period or "When did contemporary art start?" Something happened around 2000 or 2002 with digital and cell phones that changed it all. I still don’t know what to call it.

 

LK:  That ties into a question about the Galesburg series. You obviously started in film. When you go to Galesburg now, are you working with film, or have you transitioned to digital? I know a lot of film photographers felt forced to.

 

CV:  In one phone call what can I say about it? There's my own odyssey with it. Once, one of my assistants accidentally sprayed Windex on one of the negatives instead of canned air. We did a bunch of things to try to clean it, but chunks of the emulsion ripped off the film and I was like,"Oh my god, I guess I'm going to have to go digital." We scanned the film with a high-end scanner and replaced the ripped parts with Photoshop. Then I couldn't get the color right because it wasn’t the way I shot it. The computer doesn't know shit, so you're sitting there with a professional trying to make it look like how it is supposed to look. You’re at this point where you're like, "Gosh, we can't make it look the way it would have looked so we have to come up with some other similar look." But even that was twelve years ago and that process has now changed and gotten better. I don’t think it's necessary to be a purist and use one and not the other. But in a general, the official Chris Verene thing is that I'm not going to change the process because it is a documentary project photographing these people. I've always done it the same way, and so unless I have to, I'll just go the absolute path of least resistance. So it's still film and it's still completely analog, using a camera that doesn't have any active electronics.

 

LK:  You're able to implement digital technology into your Home Movies video project. 

 

CV:  For me the way digital has intersected with my work is that when something seems really urgent or when the story is getting really complicated - there's the urge to make video. You can’t say no because everything makes video: your laptop can make video, your phone can make video, and any camera you buy has video in it. That process is what led me to start videorecording people, because it's free. It's like almost completely free to do it; it's just some data space. You’re not allowed to not take video - you have to. So that's where digital is a change in my work. Now I am trying to make movies and I have successfully begun doing that, according to the people who have seen both. I don’t really have them on the Internet, but the minute you come and see any of the movies in the gallery, the word is that hasn’t changed it at all. From the book to the wall to the website. It's just the same Chris Verene. 

A selection of images from Chris Verene and Family is featured in the gallery below:

 

 

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