I grew up in a small suburban town in New Jersey with a main street, a movie theatre and a train that ran to the city—all within walking distance of my house. When I was in middle school, my best friend Geoff and his family moved into a half-completed subdivision in a rural part of southern New Jersey. Over many years of extended stays it became my second home.
But going to visit was depressing. The subdivision was street after street named for popular trees, lined with identical houses, and bordering construction sites and cornfields. It was nothingness. The closest thing you could bike to was other future subdivisions. Waiting until we could drive was a slow torture relieved only by cable TV and the occasional family trip to Friendly’s. Even when we could drive, the closest sign of culture was the mall with Chili’s, Barnes & Noble, and a movie theater—a culture that quickly grew dull. Even to a sixteen-year-old, it was stunningly vacuous and unfulfilling.
During our teen years the area got more developed, transforming the town into one giant housing development: a maze of curved streets with lawns running to the curb, leading to cul-de-sac after cul-de-sac, dotted with the occasional gated entrance and communal pool area. With this suburban sprawl came a feeling of inescapable isolation. It was as though we had been sequestered in a safe and idealized version of childhood where nothing bad could happen. We were ensconced in the safety of suburbia with the rest of the world held at bay by an hour commute and a rigid set of landscaping rules.
Our feelings of safety and isolation only served to amplify the anxieties faced by most teens. Life in a community designed to foster the perfect upbringing made pressures to be popular, to date, to get into college, and to live up to expectations all the more crushing. Inevitably these pressures were vented at parties with well-dressed jocks doing coke that were often broken up by random acts of violence. This tension eventually culminated when the local high school exploded into an open race riot.
Out of this dystopia, we discovered hardcore punk rock, and it became a refuge. It was music for us, played by other people our age from suburban backgrounds who were angry at the same things we were. And best of all, it wasn’t happening in some far off place like New York City. It was right down the street in the basements of suburban homes and local VFW halls.
It was around this time that I started photographing hardcore bands. It was my way into a world outside of suburbia, a way to escape to something better than a shiny new subdivision.
- Carl Gunhouse