Verene was born in 1969 in Galesburg, Illinois, a town of 33,000 people in central western 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 it’s Arbusian style, is largely appreciated for its honesty, intense color, and composition.