Rockabilly Reflections & Liberalism of the Studio

Rockabilly Reflections & the Liberalism of the Studio… This week I was asked to work on a simple portfolio shoot with Indah. This is the normal way of photoshoots and would have been a pretty straightforward exercise. The model does make-up and gets into a costume or outfit and the photographer does their part.

But, our discussions and open sharing of different experiences gifted us a day in the studio where a touch of the Rockabilly wildness and rebellious energy definitely came through. With rock and roll music and applying the finer touches of vintage makeup the spirit of rockabilly touched our studio and definitely transported us to a different place.

Rockabilly Reflections & the liberalism of the studio Elvis Presley Rockabilly Icon

Rockabilly is one of the earliest styles of rock and roll music. It dates back to the early 1950s in the United States, especially the South. As a genre it blends the sound of Western musical styles such as country with that of rhythm and blues, leading to what is considered “classic” rock and roll.

Google Arts and Culture

The Artists’ Studio

I see a studio as an open doorway to wherever your imagination can take you. One little room and whether youre a painter a sculptor or photographer, the artist studio is a safe haven of creativity. Usually private and very much where an artists individuality is at its strongest. In its own environment. Not disrupted by the outside world.

A photography studio is not exactly the same. From the beginning photography has been the middle child of art and technology. A medium whose versatility takes it into a wider scope of functionalities in our image centred world today.

The Neutral Nature of Studio Function

When we talk about a photography studio, the space is not usually assertive of its personality. It is designed most often to be neutral and inviting. In many ways a photography studio is far more determined by function than by privacy or individuality.

Liberalism Nourishes Creativity

Yet, I feel that this marriage of function and creativity lends this space to be much more democratic. The possibilities of what we can experience within this studio is much more liberal. Being determined often by the requests and needs of colleagues, customers, models and collaborators.. We dont always know what we will end up experiencing in our studio tomorrow.

This is possible when you allow your creativity to be open and be the driving force. Allowing unexpected meetings and powerful curiosities to take you on unfamiliar journeys.

Perhaps coming from a more traditional fine arts background, my relationship to the ‘studio’ is perhaps more sentimental. It is still predominantly a space that is a private sanctuary. However, through photography, my natural reserve and solitariness are challenged. By way of function, this space must be as much for others as it is for me.

This has turned out to be a very positive thing. The experiences that open up through the connections made in the studio are surprising, rewarding and unpredictable. In so many ways, from this one room, we get to experience things that otherwise we would not explore on our own.

Rockabilly Style Sawidji Studio Photography Shoot

When Indah came for a portfolio shoot she had a theme and genre in mind. That of Rockabilly. The objective from her viewpoint is focused on the aesthetics of the Rockabilly style in fashion. How it is identified.

Rockabilly Fashion

Indah did some research. On the history and origin of the Rockabilly Style as it is understood through fashion trends today.

The presence of the Rockabilly music trend certainly affects the lifestyle and dress of the fans, the Rockabilly Fashion trend can be said to be a place for fans to be able to express themselves more, freedom of opinion and thought, we can see this from the form of clothing worn by fans of this type this music, where the colors, fabric motifs and clothing designs accentuate several body lines so as to convey the goals of the musical trends and clothing of this music, expression, sexuality, and rebellion.

Indah Soebagyo

Another thing that makes this Rockabilly fashion style trend quite interesting is because it almost does not have certain fashion elements, this fashion style only focuses on comfort and confidence from the wearer or enthusiast of this fashion style. Even so, there are some things that seem to stick or we can also conclude as ‘standards’ or absolute rules in the style of clothing from this Rockabilly Style, namely the ‘color’ of the Vintage style which seems to remind the history or origins of the presence of this Rockabilly Fashion trend even though it is Indirectly, the vintage style has always been the forerunner in fashion styles to the present day.

Indah Soebagyo

Rockabilly born out of a spirit of Independence and Rebellion

Elvis Presley Rockabilly Music Sawidji Studio Blog

But coming back to my Rockabilly Reflections as I tend to call it..Rockabilly is understood to be a fashion trend today but its origins in the 50’s is not someting that was defined by fashion. Its roots and truest identity is through music.

Pictured Left: Elvis Presley

Then, in 1954, Elvis happened. The influence that the softly spoken Mississippi native had on popular music – and in particular rockabilly – is incalculable… They didn’t know it at the time, but the music establishment had just changed forever.

Roots of Rockabilly

Rockabilly Reflections: Musical Definition

Defining features of the rockabilly sound included strong rhythms, boogie woogie piano riffs, vocal twangsdoo-wop acapella singing, and common use of the tape echo. However there were progressive addition of different instruments and vocal harmonies that wanted to make it appeal to a wider market. Music production houses were adding and changing its sound to make the most money out of the new style.

And we see another pattern of the effects of over-commercialisation. This commercialisation diluted the true Rockabilly sound so much that it disappeared. Though other subgenres indeed emerged after the rise of Rockabilly it was never the same as its purest form.

Art and Photography Blog Sawidji Studio
Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly

Other influential artists in the genre included Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent, Roy Orbison, and Conway Twitty. Many of these went on to have important careers in “mainstream” rock and roll. By the late 1950s, rockabilly had fused with rock and roll to such a degree that virtually died out as a distinct musical form.


Its also interesting that what is now accepted and has made its mark on popular culture historically began as a result of the underdog. The minority group stands up against the popular system. Even the term ‘rockabilly’ was in fact first uttered as an insult. A way of calling the rockers at the time ‘hillibillies’ or ‘country hicks’.

Early rockabilly singer Barbara Pittman told Experience Music Project that “Rockabilly was actually an insult to the southern rockers at that time. Over the years it has picked up a little dignity. It was their way of calling us ‘hillbillies’.”

reference Wikipedia
Photography Studio Bali Sawidji Studio
The Rebellious Rockabilly Spirit

Liberal nature of the studio a great mentor for curious minds..

Something that I really appreciate is whenever creative projects connect us to cultures and times different from our own. It ends up revealing just how connected we are to each other. The struggles of the ‘average Joe’ in the 50’s finding a champion in the rebelliousness of rock and roll.

Today we have music championing the LGBT community, its anthems like that of Gloria Gaynors‘ ‘I Will Survive’ fuse indelibly within this subculture. Another example is the working class ‘rakyat kecil’ (as we know it in Indonesia) finding their voice through the critical music of Iwan Falls.

In every age of history, human struggles define us. Through creative expression in response to opressions and injustices great things happen in art and music. The irony is that they become so popular. Inevitably consumed by commercial ideas and lose their identity. But these changes in social history and popular culture create an ongoing cycle. Always evolving. Collective identities through creative protest and expression is a big part of our social history.

Photography Dewi Dian Reich
Rockabilly Black and White

Rockabilly Reflections & the Liberalism of the Studio

The Rockabilly themed photoshoot that Indah wished to do in our studio was simply a joy. Bringing out some musings about the unexpected turns our small studio is capable of taking. From the conceptual worlds we create for our own independent art, to collaborations that take us through musical history of rock and roll to the quiet of intimate portraits.

Sawidji Studio Sawidji Team Fine ARt Photography
Mangalih, Indah, Dewi Dian, Jun

I am more convinced through each project that this space loves bringing people together. And teaches us something wonderful that expands our understanding and appetite for life and creativity. It is a very liberal space but one that accumulates the creative contributions of all the friends that have come and shared part of themselves here.

Rockabilly References for those interested

Photography Blog Sawidji Studio

Rockabilly a history by Encyclopaedia Britannica

Exploring the genre in Art and Culture

100 great Rockabilly Songs

Check out Rockabilly Hairstyles

what did you find most interesting?