When two of photographer Rick Schatzberg’s oldest friends died unexpectedly, he embarked on a mission to photograph the remaining group of a dozen men who comprised his friendship group. A project which took two years to make, The Boys combines portraits of Rick’s friends with archival imagery the tell the story of their shared history – now in their 66th year of friendship, the boys have known each other since childhood. A touching and intimate work, the series “connects the boy to the man,” in an exploration of “friendship, ageing, loss, and memory as we arrive at the threshold of old age.”
The Boys was conceived as an idea for a photo book from the outset. “Early on, however,” Rick tells It’s Nice That, “I realised that the book should be a hybrid, a collective memoir of sorts that combines text and images. After completing all the work – the portrait and landscape sessions, photo editing, book design, and text sections – two more friends died within six weeks of one another. With this turn of events, the narrative arc of The Boys assumed a sad symmetry that I could not have imagined when I began the project.”
In turn, the project does what photography does best: tell the stories of individuals that are, at the same, universal narratives. It’s one of long-term relationships and the profound effect suffering a loss can cause. But what’s most compelling about The Boys is its revelation of the intimacy of male friendship, a story not often told, especially within this demographic. It gives the series an honesty and raw humanity that’s hard to ignore.
“_The Boys_ is obviously very personal work; the men and their locale are quite specific products of post-war American suburban culture, and I am one of its subjects,” Rick weighs in on this point. “But in mining the material of time and death, it is also radically universal. I have tried to make work that is loving and intimate, but which is also remorseless. My hope is that the book will remind readers of things they already feel deeply and that are worth remembering.”
The photo book as an object seems particularly apt for this work, which functions in an almost capsule-like manner. It’s a medium Rick fell in love with which studying on the University of Hartford’s Photo MFA programme, from which he graduated in 2018. “ At the outset, my conception for viewing good photographs was of framed prints on a gallery wall. I had long been familiar with iconic photo books like Walker Evan’s American Photographs and Robert Frank’s The Americans, but I only gradually recognised the power of the photo book as an important art form in its own right,” he recalls. “I came to see photo books as the most coherent and practical medium for organising the world with a camera, to communicate in an original dialect within the language of photography. If there was one clarifying moment that stands out to me in this regard, it was discovering Alec Soth’s Sleeping By the Mississippi.”
Interestingly, Rick only came to photography in the last decade after “escaping the corporate world”. He tells us: “Art school in your mid-60s is not the easiest proposition; it forces you to question a lifetime of assumptions and motivations. This was a humbling experience, but in retrospect, a valuable one.” Rick currently divides his time between Brooklyn, NY and Norfolk, CT, and The Boys will be published by PowerHouse Books in 2020, featuring an afterword by Rick Moody.
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