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Updated: 9:31 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 23, 2010 | Posted: 2:59 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2010

Chris Verene a highlight of Atlanta Celebrates Photography

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Chris Verene a highlight of Atlanta Celebrates Photography photo
Maggie Taylor
Maggie Taylor's “Boys with Thinking Caps” and “Subject to Change" are on view as part of Atlanta Celebrates Photography. Taylor's work, along that of her husband Jerry Uelsmann, is at The Art Institute of Atlanta's Dunwoody and Decatur galleries.
Chris Verene a highlight of Atlanta Celebrates Photography photo
Chris Verene
Chris Verene's "First Day of School, 2007" is included in his new show at Marcia Wood Gallery, part of the Atlanta Celebrates Photography.
Chris Verene a highlight of Atlanta Celebrates Photography photo
Chris Verene
Chris Verene's "Rozie and I Like to Visit Gary, 2003" is included in his new show at Marcia Wood Gallery.
Chris Verene a highlight of Atlanta Celebrates Photography photo
Jerry Uelsmann
Jerry Uelsmann's "Threshold" is part of the dual exhibit, "Just Suppose: The Art of Maggie Taylor and Jerry Uelsmann,” at The Art Institute of Atlanta's Decatur and Dunwoody galleries, running Sept. 27-Nov. 6 as part of Atlanta Celebrates Photography.

By Wendell Brock

For the AJC

Back in 1994, a gawky Atlanta artist Velcro-ed a bunch of incandescent, hyper-realistic family portraits to the wall of an old Cabbagetown laundromat. They were pictures he’d been taking of the folks back home in Galesburg, Ill. —  a place of twinkling Christmas lights, U.S. flags, party canapés, cherished pets and village oddballs — since he was 17.

His name was Chris Verene, and though he didn’t know it then, he was on his way to becoming an art-world superstar.

Son of an Emory University philosophy professor and a product of the bohemian Little Five Points scene of the late-’80s, Verene and his documentary photographs of economically depressed Galesburg were featured in the 2000 Whitney Biennial. In 2002, he won a coveted Pollack-Krasner Foundation Grant. His pictures, which serve as sad, kitschy reminders of the dreams and disappointments of middle America at the end of the 20th century, have been collected in two handsome oversize monographs from Twin Palms Press: “Chris Verene” (2000) and the just-released “Family.”

On Oct. 9, the soon-to-be 41-year-old Verene, who now lives in Brooklyn, will return to his adopted hometown for the opening of “Family” at Marcia Wood Gallery. The show promises to be one of the glitzier offerings of Atlanta Celebrates Photography, a citywide festival of more than 150 events and exhibits running through October.

“I think of Atlanta as home because so much of my life happened there,” the photographer said by phone from his home, as he watched his 4-year-old son, Nico, eat a mango on a Sunday afternoon. Verene’s parents still live in Atlanta, and his wife, Ani Cordero (lead singer of the band Cordero, for which he plays drums), grew up in Atlanta.

Photography is not Verene’s only passion. As a socially awkward teen, Verene and his friend, Grace Braun, started the band DQE (Dairy Queen Empire), began to do concerts and have their music played on the radio. “I think that was a great, big self-esteem boost for a kid like me who was not understood and did not have many friends.” He hung out with Atlanta singer-songwriter Kelly Hogan and remembers cross-dressing performance artist Benjamin Smoke (a.k.a. Opal Foxx) practicing in his parents’ basement.

He started taking classes at Emory as a Druid Hills High School sophomore and began studying photography at 18 with mentor Nancy Marshall. He remembers lugging a medium-format camera back and forth to Galesburg every Christmas. He would put up hardware-store clamp lights and get his cousins to sit on the couch and take pictures.

Thus was born the photograph of his pig-farming cousin Libby pulling a bloody new-born piglet out of a sow and his cousin Candi’s now-famous wedding portrait, with its tacky flower arrangements, balloons and "her two favorite customers from the Sirloin Stockade." That picture graces the cover of Verene’s first book, while the cover of “Family” shows the home of Candi on the day she signed her divorce papers and a tornado hit. Presented in chapter-like narratives, the pictures are labeled with Verene’s pithy handwritten remarks: “Dorothy says that when she was a little girl, a star fell on her.” “Mercedes will soon have a half sister named Lexus.”

Boston photographer David Hilliard, who has a show up at Jackson Fine Art through Oct. 23, says he admires the way Verene “opens up his life just enough to tell you something about himself while allowing you to look inward at your own life.”

Verene, who remembers noticing the works of Diane Arbus as a kid and buying a Nan Goldin book at the old Oxford Books in Peachtree Battle, says he’s surprised by how little the fame of his pictures has changed his subjects.

“In Galesburg, they say that life is the same, and people go to work and babies are born, and things happen. As my grandmother called it, it’s a plain town. It’s not trying to be special or fancy or unique. She always told me she felt like my pictures were plain.She’d always say, ‘You told it plain.’ ”

Event preview

“Chris Verene: Family”

Opening reception, book signing 1-5 p.m., artist lecture 3-4 p.m., Oct. 9.

Through Nov. 13. Marcia Wood Gallery, 263 Walker St., S.W., Atlanta. 404-827-0030,

Atlanta Celebrates Photography

Here are some highlights of Atlanta Celebrates Photography, running Oct. 1-31 at venues all over town. For more information:

“Just Suppose: The Art of Maggie Taylor and Jerry Uelsmann.” Long before Photoshop put pictorial manipulation at the fingertips of anyone with a computer, master printer Uelsmann spent hours in the darkroom crafting surreal images in which the landscape fuses seamlessly with the ephemeral human form. Taylor, his techno-savvy wife, on the other hand traffics freely in the digital world, creating an “Alice in Wonderland”-style oeuvre that makes her the Queen of the Scanner. Though technically dissimilar, their dreamlike material makes the couple fascinating bedfellows, and a pair of exhibitions at Art Institute of Atlanta galleries places their work side by side for closer inspection. The artists are in town for a joint lecture on Oct. 14.

Sept. 27-Nov. 6. The Art Institute of Atlanta: 6600 Peachtree Dunwoody Road, 100 Embassy Row, Atlanta. 770-394-8300, . The Art Institute of Atlanta-Decatur: One West Court Square, Suite 110, Decatur. 404-942-1800, . Lecture: 7 p.m. Oct. 14. Robert C. Williams Paper Museum, Georgia Tech campus, 500 10th St., Atlanta.

“David Hilliard: Tending to Doubt.” Hilliard’s investigation of his parents’ opposing spiritual views — his dad is a “recovering Catholic” and his mom is a born-again evangelical Christian — are showcased in his quiet, painterly photo-narratives, which are designed in diptych and triptych style, as if they were the depicting the lives of the saints. In “Rouse, 2010,” a group of his mother’s friends are photographed in a prayer circle of fleecy pastel housecoats, while across the room, a coven of stern-looking women in slick raincoats seem to be preparing for a secret-society meeting (“Weather Gathering, 2010”). Hilliard’s love of theater and film are evidenced in the formality and precision of his pictures, but it’s the subtle erotic tensions rippling beneath the surface that beckon.

Through Oct. 23. Jackson Fine Art, 3115 East Shadowlawn Ave., Atlanta. 404-233-3739,

“Before 1190 Huff Road.” Midtown’s Westside district may be a destination for design and food lovers. But before that, it was a wasteland of industrial warehouses and, before that, a witness to the Civil War. In a public art project that meditates on time and history, progress and erosion, Karen Brummund plans to hang a picture of the historic Huff family home, which survived Sherman but was eventually razed for development, on the surface of a Midtown warehouse. The image will slowly deteriorate and fall apart in the coming weeks.

Oct. 2-30. 1190 Huff Road, N.W., Atlanta.

Roswell Photographic Society. This hard-working community organization offers workshops, classes, exhibits and monthly critique sessions. “Everyday Objects” features work by Gittel Price, Nancy Mingo, Maria Schlossberg and numerous others; while “Friendships” uses the work of Hazel Berger, Toni James, Steve Ryf and other photographers to decorate a tearoom.

Through Aug. 11, 2011. “Everyday Objects,” Greater North Fulton Chamber, 11605 Haynes Bridge Road, Alpharetta. “Friendships,” Anna Lee’s, 425 Market St., Roswell.

Mark Steinmetz. The Athens photographer with a series of critically acclaimed books from Nazraeli Press (“South Central,” “South East,” “Greater Atlanta”) will lecture about his life and work. Influenced by Atget, Cartier-Bresson, Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlander, Steinmetz is an old-school black-and-white master who prowls the streets, capturing ordinary-looking moments steeped with emotion.

Lecture: 7 p.m. Oct. 27. Big Studio, 877 West Marietta St., N.W., Suite E, Atlanta.

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