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Verene was born in DeKalb, Illinois, and is the son of the philosopher Donald Verene, from the Verene family of Galesburg, Illinois. He spent his teens and twenties in Atlanta, Georgia and studied art at Georgia State University. Verene moved to Brooklyn in 1999. In 2000, he was included the Whitney Biennial with his 1998 series Camera Club and the performance installation piece, The Self-Esteem Salon. That same year his monograph about Galesburg and his mother's family in the Georgia and Florida, Chris Verene, was published by Twin Palms Press. The New York Times reviewed his self-titled book in 2000. "Chris Verene is this year's most appealing newcomer, a diamond in the rough whose square color pictures record his family and friends in candid, unvarnished fashion. The book gets its gritty grip on reality by sticking to place, which happens to be Galesburg, Ill. The tacky interiors, worn clothes and forlorn expressions in the pictures suggest that all is not well in Galesburg, but Verene adds a commentary that tries its best to be upbeat and compassionate. The effect is reminiscent of Mark Goodman's visual diary of life in Millerton, N.Y., A Kind of History, which was published without fanfare a year ago. But the larger shadow hanging over Verene's work belongs to Diane Arbus, which is not a bad thing".
Three generations of his family still live in Galesburg and the family and city are the subjects of his life’s work—a twenty-three-year ongoing documentary project. At age 16, Verene began work with a medium format camera and started taking pictures of his family and friends within the small town of Galesburg. While having many diverse interests in music, film, and escape magic, the subject of his photographic career eventually became centered on the town of Galesburg and various events that take place within it. In 1998, The New York Times observed: "... anthropological portraits, like Chris Verene's of a cousin at her wedding banquet in Illinois... Such portraits tell us less about individual people than about the worlds they inhabit, which is perhaps the main truth of most portraits." 
Verene's work reveals an artist committed to documenting the hope and spirit in his family’s community. Through the works on Galesburg, the viewer is shown the simple, average human stories taking place in the declining American Midwest. Verene’s unstaged documentary color photography, with its Arbusian style, is largely appreciated for its honesty, intense color, and composition. In a review of Verene's Galesburg portraits shown at Postmasters Gallery in 2010, Cora Fisher writes in The Brooklyn Rail: "At no point in their stories of separation, divorce, remarriage, and birth across generational ties, class differences, and economic changes do they seem any less than Verene’s co-authors in the construction of their narrative."
In the years between 1999 and 2004, Verene’s New York art dealers were the Pat Hearn Gallery, Colin De Land American Fine Art, and Paul Morris Gallery. Since that time, Pat and Colin have both died unexpectedly and Paul Morris has recently closed his space to pursue full-time directing the Armory Art Show. Meanwhile, Verene continues to produce new work. His work is held in many public collections listed below. In New York, Verene worked with Deitch Projects and Paul Morris Gallery. A complete listing of art dealers worldwide is available at his official website. Chris Verene is represented world wide by Postmasters Gallery, New York City.
Aside from his photographic practices, Verene is also a notable musician and performance artist. While living in Atlanta, he co-founded musical groups D.Q.E., and The Rock*A*Teens of the famous Merge Records. As a drummer, he performs and records nationally with Cordero, the band founded by his wife, Ani Cordero. He continues to work with Christian Holstad on a performance art series, titled “The Baptism Series” which is a sub-chapter of Verene's ongoing performance art series, “The Self-Esteem Salon (1998-present).”
Verene is currently based in Brooklyn, New York where he lives with his wife and son, and commutes frequently to his family's hometown of Galesburg, Illinois. He is an Assistant Professor of Photography at The College of Staten Island, City University of New York.
Selected public collections
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
- The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
- The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
- The Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art
- The Margulies Collection, Miami
- The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
- The Jewish Museum, New York
- The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago
- The High Museum of Art, Atlanta
- The Birmingham Museum of Art
- The Cheekwood Museum, Nashville
- Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Atlanta
- Georgia Museum of Art, Athens, Georgia
- Pym, William (2005-03-15). "Free for All". www.artforum.com. Retrieved 2007-09-15.
- Homes, A.M. (2002), "You're In Trouble If You're Eating Your Own Seed Corn: Chris Verene Interviewed by A.M. Homes" (PDF), Parkett Journal: 132
- Homes, A.M. (March 2000), "American Pie" (PDF), Vanity Fair: 268
- Kushner, Rachel (March 2001), "Openings: Chris Verene" (PDF), ArtForum: 134–135