In this book of carefully composed, color-saturated photographs--nearly all of them portraits--Jennifer Greenburg offers entry into the rockabilly subculture of which she is both participant and observer. Taken between 2001 and 2009, mostly in the Chicago area (where Greenburg, who teaches photography at Columbia College Chicago, lives), the photos initially appear to have been shot about 50 years earlier.
In the book's introduction, Greenburg explains how her involvement in the close-knit rockabilly community initially evolved from a shared aesthetic. That particular aesthetic--with its poodles and pompadours; crinolines and credenzas; dinette sets, tiki bars, and pin curls--is emblematic of an era of optimism, a fictional America of happy suburban families with stylish cars, bright-eyed children, and easy lives. The craving for this American dream is at the subculture's center: the rockabillies, Greenburg notes, were "actively pursuing a 1950s lifestyle of marrying young, moving to the suburbs, and having children. They did not care much for the ins and outs of politics... and they weren't losing sleep over the economy, AIDS, or Roe v. Wade." She found "a subculture of people who had mostly turned away from the horrors of contemporary American culture to focus on family, friends, music, and vintage Americana."
This escapism may seem irresponsibly naïve on a level, but Greenburg's subjects knowingly pick and choose the elements that define their subculture. They create a fantasy lifestyle modeled on fictionalized depictions of an ideal from an era before most of them were born--with total self-awareness. As Greenburg notes, her interest in this vision of the past allows her "to be the architect of a dream world constructed entirely in my own imagination."
In her insightful contribution to the book, "The Culture, Style, and Art of the Rockabillies," essayist Audrey Michelle Mast contextualizes these people's commitment "not just as an aesthetic, but as an identity." Mast invokes Jean Baudrillard's concept of the simulacrum to explain the nature of this lifestyle, in which the invented or created lifestyle is "neither a likeness nor a copy of historical reality," but a newly invented truth, more real than that which inspired it.
Greenburg recalls her own disillusionment with Bush-era America; how she, and other members of the rockabilly subculture, felt "defeated and hopeless" as the nation entered a period of "mediocrity and fundamentalism." Mast points out that rockabilly culture, neither anti-establishment nor fundamentalist, is "an inward-looking" version of conservatism. Incorporating a strong shared aesthetic to identify one another, the rockabillies seek to build a like-minded community while leaving the rest of the world alone. Greenburg's book gives a fascinating glimpse into their world.