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Columbia College Chicago
The Rockabillies

The Rockabillies

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Distributed by University of Chicago Press

Photography, Sociology

11 x 10

Page count:
112 pages

Illustration count and type:
112 pages

Publication date:
November  2009

by Jennifer Greenburg, with essays by Bruce Berenson and Audrey Michelle Mast


        The Rockabillies is a series of photographs of Greenburg’s own community in and around Chicago, Illinois, and across the country, who place great importance on the look and feel of the 1950s. As a photographer, Greenburg comes by her affinity for vintage honestly. She grew up with a family that cherished its history and celebrated it with snapshots and artifacts. As a child, Greenburg was captivated by her family’s past and it allowed her to construct the dreamworld in which she now lives surrounded by the art, design, and fashion of the mid-twentieth century. Turning a lens on her community, she documents the iconography of the Rockabilly subculture, and makes icons of the subjects themselves.
    Greenburg’s photographs of American rockabillies examine a unique global subculture and her own relationship and place within it. The individuals chosen are part of the rockabilly scene which has adopted the look and value system of mid-twentieth century American youth culture. The group appears almost blissfully ignorant of both the realities of the time period so adored and of current realities. Few, if any members of the Rockabilly culture would, in actuality, want to live in the unsettled post-war era; however, the imagery and ideals have been adapted in almost wistful interpretation of the time. The subculture has become a hyper-hybrid of texts and images—sometimes taken out of context—from an era that saw race riots, cultural upheaval, and little hope for middle-class advancement. Rockabillies are an anomaly in comparison to other subcultures in that they orient themselves to a time period rather than to music or ethnicity. This group is not interested in historic preservation from the point of re-enactments, yet its members rarely stray from established archetypes, as illustrated in the photographs.

    Greenburg’s photographic series is accompanied by her own introduction and essays by Bruce Berenson, host of the “Rockabilly Roadtrip” on Sirius/XM Radio, and Audrey Michelle Mast, curator and art critic.

Author Biography

    Jennifer Greenburg was born in 1977 and raised in Chicago, Illinois, where she currently resides. She holds a B.F.A. in fine arts from The School of the Art Institute in Chicago and a M.F.A. in conceptual art (emphasizing documentary video and photography) from the University of Chicago. Solo exhibitions of her work have been held at the Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago; Indiana University Northwest Gallery for Contemporary Art, Gary; The Richmond Public Library, Richmond, VA; The Latin School of Chicago; and ARC Gallery, Chicago. Light Work awarded Greenburg a grant and Artist-in-Residency for 2005, publishing a selection of The Rockabillies in its 2006 annual, Contact Sheet. Greenburg is a recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Grant and two Community Arts Assistant Program (CAAP) Grants. Her work is part of the permanent collections of Light Work and the Museum of Contemporary Photography. Greenburg has taught at Columbia College Chicago, Loyola University Chicago, Harold Washington College in Chicago, and College of Lake County in Grayslake, Illinois.