Distributed for Columbia College Chicago Press
Elvis Presley. Pompadours. Black-and-white creeper shoes. Cuffed jeans. And a little bit of James Dean rebellion. These are just some of the ingredients of the modern Rockabilly style. Despite being generations removed from the original Rockabillies of the 1950s, today’s Rockabilly subculture has adopted the look—the slick-backed hair or the Betty Paige bangs—and the sound—from Carl Perkins to Buddy Holly—of mid-twentieth century American youth culture.
In Rockabillies, photographer Jennifer Greenburg offers a visual tour of a unique global subculture and her own place within it. The individuals her photographs capture are examples of the rockabilly scene, having fully embraced the aesthetic values of teens in the 1950s. What intrigues Greenburg is that these contemporary Rockabillies choose to overlook the social and political realities of the time period they adore and emulate. The subculture today has become a hybrid of texts and images—frequently taken out of context—from an era that saw race riots, cultural upheaval, and little hope for middle-class advancement. Few, if any, members of the Rockabilly culture would actually want to live in the post-war era; rather, the imagery and ideals have been adapted to serve a wistful interpretation of that time. As well, contemporary Rockabillies are not interested in historic preservation, but its members rarely stray from established fashion archetypes.
Through her photographs, Greenburg brings light to this unusual subculture and investigates its contradictory relationship to the American past.
“Jennifer Greenburg’s photographs transport viewers to a time and place—America in the 1950s—that largely exists in our collective imagination. Yet she has found a distinctive subculture of people which resurrects this time and makes it their reality, bringing not only the tiki prints, saddle shoes, and other visual markers into the twenty-first century, but also the social norms, taboos, and gender roles of this post-World War II era. The Rockabillies is a fascinating study of the significant impact material culture and design have on the way we live.”
“As with the best documentarians, Jennifer Greenburg allows us to see her subjects and their world on their own terms. That she has also made pictures with their own beauty and power only makes her work more compelling. Part of this is accomplished by her understanding that photography and re-creation themselves are at the heart of the rockabilly experience.”
“Jennifer Greenburg’s carefully crafted environmental portraits perfectly reflect the attention to detail and idealism of her subjects’ rockabilly lifestyle. By making photographs worthy of a glossy fashion magazine, Greenburg places the rockabilly’s nostalgia in a contemporary context, revealing a tension between the traditionalism and rebelliousness of their subculture.”
The Culture, Style, and Art of The Rockabillies
by Audrey Michelle Mast
by Bruce Berenson
Notes on the Plates
About the Photographer
About the Essayists