“We’re from nowhere. A place with no history, at least one that was explainable to my friends and me,” writes photographer Rick Schatzberg in the new book, The Boys (powerHouse Books) of his hometown of North Woodmere, New York. “Part of the first generation born in post-war Long Island, we grew up in developments of look-alike homes in grids — automobile suburbs segregated by income, race, and religion.”
At the age of 65, Schatzberg returns to his hometown after the death of two members of his childhood crew, affectionately known as “The Boys,” to reflect upon the world they once shared in a series of snapshots from the 1970s paired with heartfelt portraits made in recent years.
Born in 1954, Schatzberg is a quintessential Baby Boomer, the son of a Marine who enlisted after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and was sent to fight in Okinawa when he was just 17. White veterans returned home to one of the greatest socialist enterprises in the United States’ history: the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, better known as the GI Bill of Rights. Between 1944 and 1952, the Veteran’s Administration backed some 2.4 million home loans, which forged a new generation of white middle class, a suburban oasis many look upon on as “the good old days.”
In one of the poetic reminiscences accompanying his photographs. Schatzberg recounts the return to his childhood home, thinking back on family snapshots he describes as “perfectly fashioned in a Jewish middle class version of the Kennedys.” But as the 1960s gave way to an era of unrest, Schatzberg remembers how “The Boys,” who first met during junior high school, joined together in the search for something more.
A Whiter Shade of Pale
At age 14, Schatzberg started smoking weed at his friend Kenny’s home. They soon settle into his parents’ basement where they’d listen to Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, and John Coltrane on the hi-fi. “Beginning in that basement we fed a hunger for quick wisdom: Beat wisdom; Eastern spiritual wisdom; absurdist wisdom; even Marx Brothers and Three Stooges wisdom,” Schatzberg writes. “Pretty subversive for boys who only a year earlier were spending their Saturdays going to Bar Mitzvahs.”
“The Boys” were 14 deep, and maintained their friendship over half a century. They only lost one — Andy — in their youth, “most likely a casualty of our romance with drugs and alcohol, but we never quite sure,” Schatzberg writes. But after the death of Eddie and Jon later in life, Schatzberg decided to create a series of large format portraits juxtaposed with snapshots from their youth. Taken together, we see that the camera doesn’t just stop time, it allows the past to persist, to act as a time machine and transport us into another realm, calling up vivid sensory impressions so crisp and clear it feels as though the moment just occurred.
“Later, I inspect every millimeter of their faces and bare torsos in the scanned film,” Schatzberg writes. “Time’s unfolding is obvious: balder, grayer, folds and wrinkles, scars. There is an eternal present in a photograph, but I see past, present, and future all at once.”
By Miss Rosen
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer focusing on art, photography, and culture. Her work has been published in books, magazines, and websites including Time, Vogue, Artsy, Aperture, Dazed, and Vice, among others.