Middle-aged men from the same homogeneous Jewish suburban environment on Long Island are exposed with folds, moles, graying hair and a hanging stomach. The photographer has made a dozen men from the group of friends The Boys take off their upper bodies. Through the large – format camera's detailed, sharp reproduction, they are not only physically, but also mentally undressed. Status and affiliation are stripped away. The aging man is left naked and vulnerable, marked by the ravages of time, but also by the unfamiliar bodily exposure.
Photographer with bare chest and abdomen
Rick Schatzberg (born 1954) loses two of his friends from the gang of friends in nine months. One dies of a heart attack, the other of an overdose. The sudden loss makes him want to photograph the survivors. He chooses to bring a large format camera (4 x 5 cm) and travels home to everyone in The Boys.
The fact that he surrenders himself in front of the camera has undeniably been a driving force in getting the others to show up. At the same time, some of the answer lies in the participation in the jargon and the way in which it has been honed through lifelong friendships. There is little these guys have not shared.
The gang was formed in their teens, when the boys from different suburbs on Long Island met at school. The book's cover is a tribute to the unadulterated uniform of these suburbs: a brownish lawn in a backyard bordered by a fence with a gate. The image has captured typical symbols of the western middle class in the post-war period. This time in America, specifically North Woodmere – a place out in no man's land. In this place without a city center and cultural offerings, they searched together in the woods and with each other:
«North Woodmere was constructed as a modern extension of the older town of Woodmere. There was no town center, no public gathering place or square. No local economy. As teenagers we hung out in bedrooms and basements to smoke pot and listen to music. »
The book also contains snapshots from the 70's. They show the time when the guys got to know each other. Bursting afro hair, sling pants, drugs and women are common. Schatsberg has collected these from the respective photo albums.
Folds, moles, graying hair and hangover.
The focus is on the relationship between the guys, on lifelong friendships between men. Well-written texts provide insight into their lives then and now. The point of view is not nostalgic. Schatzberg is a trained anthropologist (1978), and his professional perspective is strongly present. At the same time, it is his own tribe and himself he tenderly and thoroughly examines: the middle-class man from good conditions, his ties to other men and to the inevitable decay of his body. The community project shines through where all the guys were on the picture selection.
The photo book has an innovative and thought-provoking layout. Snapshots from adolescence and tight portraits taken today – contrast the present and the past and create a larger space for reflection. I take it upon myself to fold back and forth, compare bodies, faces, but also reflect on my own life. This book is far more personal than Schatzberg's first book, Twenty Two North, which dealt with life and the landscape along the American highway from north to south.
Self-imposed honest reflection
In an engaging way, Schatzberg explores what it means to have several lifelong friendships and a larger flock to share many decades with. The guys from The Boys have apparently managed to stay together right into the fall of life. One last meal is lively described. A humid evening with cheap and expensive whiskey in abundance accompanied just as generously with Asian steaming dishes. The memorial service at Bensonhurst in Brooklyn for a recently deceased friend is depicted, and we get an insight into a close-knit group with their own codes and customs.
Schatzberg uses the book project for both documentation and cognition. He settles with his own blind spots in the friendships. It is easy to recognize oneself in several of his texts, including hindsight: the bittersweet realization that annoying phone calls were something far more than the words that were said. That where he himself perceived that the friend had little to offer, it was he himself who was unable to capture the inalienable value of consideration and contact until it was lost.
Bursting afro hair, sling pants, drugs and women are common.
The photo book is a tribute to the well-mature man and lifelong friendship. But the self-imposed honest reflection lifts the book to something far more. Over the years, the companions of youth have become far more valuable. In their company time is abolished, we can behave as in the young years.
As they say themselves: “We are exploring a new landscape where companions from youth are fewer and more precious. Humor is our medicine; when we are together, we are still a bunch of stand-up comedians. "