The term “camera club” can be used for anything that advocates photography, but in Chris Verene’s series he stepped into the seedier interpretation of the phrase, where “groups of men used to lure young women into modelling nude by pretending to be professional fashion photographers.” These mid-90s “clubs” were organised through classified newspaper ads, flyers or word of mouth and in a pre-internet age it gave the photographers a disturbing power. “The photographers could say a lot of things about their fame without being Googled or legitimised,” says Chris. “The resulting pictures might never be seen by anyone beyond the photographer and certainly could only be seen in person.”
The project began by accident: “A friend talked me into accepting an invitation to go to one of the events,” Chris explains. “I quickly realised that there was so much commotion around any model who was nude that no one would notice if I stepped back to include an out-of-focus model with the photographers’ bodies in my frame.”
Focusing on the photographers instead of the models creates a deeper sense of voyeurism and uneasiness. Chris presents the way these types of images are achieved rather than the final shots, and as a result records the imbalanced relationship between the model and photographer. “I had been an activist and a feminist since my teens, and this looked like a situation where I could talk about issues of women’s power and men’s power by merely documenting something that was already happening.”
There’s a retrospective element to the series having been taken in a pre-digital era. “The Camera Club series is a time-stamped milestone of the last gasp of analogue photography as it relates to art history’s process where men use their power to gaze at women,” says Chris. But the sinister undertones are exaggerated when thinking of the modern day equivalent. Smartphones and social media have created a more instant and public version of the camera club, and now the consequences between the model and photographer are no longer kept private.