As someone who is extremely interested in photography, art, and visuals in general, I loved the exercise of analyzing the photos by Chris Verene. The words next to the photos also gave them added significance. The photo we focused on in class of Steve hanging up his car’s hubcaps on a swing set would not have been as significant had our group been unaware of the fact that Steve’s wife left him and he was also robbed of visitation rights to his daughters.
What I found to be particularly interesting about the photos was the way they were ordered. Verene started each set of photos with a very simple photo of someone that looked like it is just a portrait of the person. The viewers most likely do not think that anything is special about the person in the photo. Then, Verene uses a series of photos that explain the person’s life and the things the featured person has gone through. Most of the stories were extremely depressing, which is something I would have never guessed from the first portrait shown.
What I am not sure of is why Verene chose to focus on all of the negative aspect of these peoples’ lives. I am sure that the people featured in the book are able to find happiness amongst their hardships and I cannot figure out why he chooses to focus on their difficulties and not the things that make them happy in life. Maybe his goal is to show that life is not easy, but people struggle through it. I find this representation of life to be extremely depressing and had I photographed these people, I would have attempted to capture the times that made them happy. Maybe he is a realist or even a pessimist and wanted to portray life as it actually is, not a romanticized version. Maybe I am just an eternal optimist and refuse to focus on the negative and cannot understand why some people feel the need to do so.
In any case, the photos made me extremely sad. They reminded me that there is a thin and thick story to everyone. What I have learned through volunteer work is that everyone has something they have gone through. No one has lived their whole life without feeling pain or going through something that was difficult. Whether it is being bullied, abused, cheated on, or lied to, I believe everyone has suffered and everyone has a story behind their “thin” appearance. Through Verene’s work, I have to believe he is trying to convey the idea that there is more to everyone than what meets the eye.
What he does not show in his photographs that all hardship is a learning experience and through suffering much can be gained. I wish he would have shown what all the people in his story gained through their hardships. Even though he portrays difficulties that each of his subjects face, I wish there would have been a way for him to also show how they grew and gained a new outlook through the difficulties they suffered.