These people live every day like it is 1950(Updated by Endah)
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The subjects in Jennifer Greenburg’s photos not only dress like it’s the 1950s, they also drive cars and decorate their houses as if Eisenhower were still in office. They’re part of the Rockabilly community, which Greenburg has spent more than a decade photographing.
“There are people out there who very legitimately want to imitate the 1950s,” she says. “They move to the suburbs, have the two kids and live a behind a white picket fence.”
Rockabilly principally refers to a genre of music popular in the 1950s that mashes rock ‘n roll with several other types of music including country and rhythm and blues. Some of the most famous Rockabilly stars include Elvis and Carl Perkins. Nowadays, Rockabilly is considered a subculture made up of people who surround themselves with items from that time period.
Greenburg, who is an assistant professor of photography at Indiana University Northwest, says she has collected vintage clothing but never knew people took recreating the 1950s lifestyle to such lengths before she started the project. Initially she was a bit taken aback, but she soon got to know members of the community and came to understand the Rockabillies like any other subculture.
“I think that everybody feels the need to belong to something,” she says. “[The Rockabilly community] has an outward appearance that people sometimes wrestle with, but it’s not any more out there than a lot of other communities people belong to. Take marathon running, just as an example. I could never imagine that being part of my culture.”
Greenburg, 36, says she was careful to approach the project without any presumptions and never rushed into the photography.
“I never wanted to be the photographer taking pictures of the freak show or the animals at the zoo,” she says. “I took the time to get to really know people and over time I was definitely in the culture. I was a much as part of it as I wasn’t.”
A variety of people participate in the Rockabilly community. Greenburg photographed bankers, teachers and academics. Many were also union members with blue-collar jobs; welders, laborers and carpenters. The Rockabilly culture appeals to that crowd, she says, because the 1950s were a time when union work was respected.
“I’d say half the people I photographed still worked these kinds of jobs,” she says.
The main part of the project took nearly a decade and Greenburg still talks with or visits many of the people she photographed. She usually spends New Year’s with the family in the photo who are sitting in the front of the television, and she’s kept tabs on people like the kid in the cowboy get up, who is now 14.
“For the most part I’m actively in touch,” she says.
When describing the project, Greenburg says people often ask just how far people take the 1950s theme. There are the clothes, the props, the homes, and she says sometimes there is a very hetero-normative feel to the families. There’s a mom, and she has her role, and dad has his role. But she’s never run into anyone who takes the racial views of the 1950s, or is an active believer in McCarthyism and wants to track down all the commies.
“Most people aren’t doing any kind of historical research, they’re just taking what they saw in old LIFE or Look magazines,” Greenburg says. “They’re taking the most idealized version of the 1950s and creating their life around that.”