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‘It was a little awkward’ – how Rick Schatzberg shot his old friends topless

They grew up in a ‘nowhere’ suburb in the 70s, smoking skunk, going for rides and dating girls. The photographer reveals why he decided to capture the

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They grew up in a ‘nowhere’ suburb in the 70s, smoking skunk, going for rides and dating girls. The photographer reveals why he decided to capture the ravages of time on his old childhood gang

Rick Schatzberg had a dark epiphany a few years back, when two of his friends died in quick succession, one from a heart attack, the other from an overdose. “When two people you know and love die within six weeks of each other,” says the photographer quietly, “you realise that death is not just something that happens to other people, to the unlucky people. It’s something that is suddenly very present.”

Schatzberg’s response was to undertake a project about encroaching mortality – his friends’ and by extension his own. The result, several years in the making, is The Boys, a photobook that is both nostalgic and brutally realistic: a visual evocation of youth in all its instinctive carefreeness; and old age in all its debilitating inevitability. Composed of casual colour snapshots of his male friends in the 1970s, and large-format contemporary portraits of their ageing bodies, it lays bare what the novelist Rick Moody, in his accompanying essay, calls “the sobering action of time”.

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