Christopher Irion

When I first got to Middlebury it never occurred to me that I would be involved in artistic endeavors all my life.  While I  had a peripatetic and desultory relationship to painting, drawing and sculpture throughout my childhood, it wasn’t until taking Bruce Muirhead’s life drawing class, the very first winter session of our sophomore year that I saw a way forward.

Winter Session was such a brilliant concept.  Spending a month pursuing only one interest meant that a very tentative and nascent need for expression could take hold during that time.  Muirhead had this habit of pacing around behind the circle of students with the model within the center of the circle.  In an almost incantatory chant he would talk about how to feel the ways the different parts of the body fit together, and his instructions to one person on the other side of the room very well could be instructions to you as well.  It also meant that you really couldn’t be lost in thought about anything else. You had no other way out but to focus.

Muirhead taught me to focus.  In that regard he was probably the best teacher I ever had.  It was about where to put your energy.

A year later he was suggesting I consider transferring to RISD, his and David Bumbeck’s alma mater.  I squeaked in, first getting a letter that I had been accepted and then getting one that said I was on the waitlist. However, once there I was on fire.  I never looked back.

Graduation took me down many meandering paths including a dishwashing job that I loved, running a black-and-white dark room, and then owning a color printing lab in San Francisco, before striking out First for 10 years as an architectural and interiors photographer, working for magazines from House Beautiful to Architectural Digest, Town & Country and many others.  Then another 20 years in advertising photography.

The work you will see included here comes from 14 years of traveling across the United States photographing small and large communities.  I would make several hundred portraits of the members of each community and then create a public installation of the portraits printed larger than life in a grid 10 feet high and 72 feet long.

It was a life-changing experience.  I started out wanting to be able to make portraits using a private space in a public place, but soon discovered I was actually photographing whole communities.  I became interested in how to portray these communities in a democratic fashion, where I was the last one to know who were the heroes and villains.  I also wanted to find a way to show that our communities are much more complex and interesting than the five or seven people we like to hang out with.  Everybody has a story -  the person at the checkout stand, or the one who hands us our coffee every morning.  And under the right conditions it is simply written all over their faces.


The rest is history. To see more of my work please visit: