Photoessay: Waiting for Wanda Jackson

Today, a Walkley winner from the archives. Steven Siewert won the 2008 Photographic Essay Walkley for his Good Weekend photoessay, “Waiting for Wanda Jackson”.

What we said then:

The 1950s was an exuberant decade that brought the birth of rock and roll, new fashions and social mores, and a breakaway generation who became known as teenagers. More than 50 years later, there are still some for whom the fifties never died.

Siewert spent five years documenting Sydney’s rockabillies, a vibrant subculture living and breathing an era that predates their earliest birthdays. The boys dress for cool with stovepipe jeans and slick quiffs, while the women wear dazzling cocktail frocks by night and colourful vintage dresses by day. Siewert travelled to gigs at festivals around Australia and entered people’s lives and homes, self-funding a project that captured how this small community expresses its passion for the past.

Colour, composition and fun are the key elements to this exquisitely crafted series of images, from energetic dance-floor shots to painterly portraits. One image in the collection, above, also won the Nikon-Walkley Prize for portrait photography. The subject, Robyn, had just seen rockabilly legend Wanda Jackson perform, and she was waiting for her in her boyfriend’s car behind the venue. Lighted by the interior and floating in a sea of drops from the rain outside, it’s an unconventional portrait and uncommonly beautiful.

What the judges said: Every image is beautifully composed. Siewert uses composition and colour together, playing off each other. These technically brilliant images actually use colour to tell the story. There’s a beautiful pace in the type of lenses he uses, from tight telephoto to wide angle. A perfect and well-edited use of the photoessay category, it really tells a busy and beautiful story.

Find Steven on Twitter: @SiewertPhotos

Robyn and Pia sun themselves at a picnic, rockabilly style. Photo: Steven Siewert

Robyn and Pia sun themselves at a picnic, rockabilly style. Photo: Steven Siewert

The annual Fifties Fair is a key event for Sydney's rockabillies. Photo: Steven Siewert

The annual Fifties Fair is a key event for Sydney’s rockabillies. Photo: Steven Siewert

Rockabilly couple Peter and Leanne inside their house which is furnished in the post-war-era style. Photo: Steven Siewert

Rockabilly couple Peter and Leanne inside their house which is furnished in the post-war-era style. Photo: Steven Siewert

Taking a cruise during the Vintage Caravan Weekend at Coledale Caravan Park. Photo: Steven Siewert

Taking a cruise during the Vintage Caravan Weekend at Coledale Caravan Park. Photo: Steven Siewert

Rockabilly families catch up at Greazefest. Photo: Steven Siewert

Rockabilly families catch up at Greazefest. Photo: Steven Siewert

Pia and Astred pose at the Fifties Fair. Photo: Steven Siewert

Pia and Astred pose at the Fifties Fair. Photo: Steven Siewert

Rockabillies Sue and Marc at a picnic with fellow members of the scene. Photo: Steven Siewert

Rockabillies Sue and Marc at a picnic. Photo: Steven Siewert

Getting ready for the Sinners Ball at Greazefest. Rockabillies travel from around Australia for this three-day rockabilly festival held in Brisbane. Photo: Steven Siewert

Getting ready for the Sinners Ball at Greazefest. Rockabillies travel from around Australia for this three-day rockabilly festival held in Brisbane. Photo: Steven Siewert

Rockabillies take to the dance floor at Greazefest. Photo: Steven Siewert

Rockabillies take to the dance floor at Greazefest. Photo: Steven Siewert

Jonno takes a break from his duties as best man at the wedding of rockabilly couple Matt and Kat. Photo: Steven Siewert

Jonno takes a break from his duties as best man at the wedding of rockabilly couple Matt and Kat. Photo: Steven Siewert

A new generation of rockabillies check out their father's EK Holden at Greazefest, August 2005. Photo: Steven Siewert

A new generation of rockabillies check out their father’s EK Holden at Greazefest, August 2005. Photo: Steven Siewert