In Then & Now, Doug Inglish recreates the amorous photoshoots of his past, channeling a long-harboured, ‘unrequited passion’

Nothing has quite managed to blight culture like the before and after spread. A mainstay of supermarket magazines, Channel 5 documentaries, and the Instagram explore page, images of surgery, weight-gain, and personal ruin have fed the maw of our most base and morbid satisfactions. But for Doug Inglish, an LA-based photographer recreating his earliest work shot by shot, the allure goes beyond all those depraved, clinical associations. “It’s emotional. It’s the stuff of memoirs. It’s about nostalgia and it’s about loss,” he says from a hotel room in Rome. “It’s that thing of: I was, I am, I become.”

20 years since those original photos were taken, Then & Now has seen Inglish cast the same models in the same scenarios, juxtaposing young men with their middle-aged counterparts. “It all started with an obsession I’ve had with a model called Jacob, who I started shooting back in 2004. We’ve kept in touch over the years and one day we just decided to recreate some of our old photoshoots. The result was really gratifying, so we kept going, later transforming them into a zine with Luis Venegas. The whole thing is an ode to Jacob. To unrequited passion.” Time has admittedly been kind to Jacob and his peers, their hairlines unmoved and bodies just as unyielding as they were decades ago. And yet despite Inglish selecting “the most beautiful” of his subjects, it’s their harder-to-define attributes that make them all the more alluring.

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“As young men, they came to Los Angeles to become something, to find something in themselves, but they’ve lived lives now and there’s no longer that sense of innocence. What you’re drawn to at the beginning is open promise but what you see now is the truths of these men. That’s compelling in its own right.” As emotive as the passage of time may be, the images evoke an erotic reading, too, harboured in intense stares, unbuttoned waistbands, and splayed legs. In the bulging singlets and Americana speedos – “I’ve collected vintage 80’s athletic gear for years,” he adds – Then & Now is a portrait of masculinity informed by Inglish’s earliest awakenings, plucked from the underwear pages he’d tear from the back issues of GQ in local libraries. 

“I’ve collected homoerotic photography my entire life. When I found the mature content pages on eBay I started collecting vintage beefcake photography from photographers like Bob Mizer, Bruce of LA, Jim French, and Cadinot, but also the work of amateur photographers who’d shoot in their homes.” The gay liberation movement obviously provided an outlet for open expressions of homosexuality, but Inglish approaches photography in a similar way to his forebears, seeing his own home as a secret studio. “We share a common language,” he says. “Photography makes the personal public, so the erotic becomes cultural.” In many ways, this is endemic to portraiture. “It’s the through line in all my work, and clearly there’s a sense of longing in that. That’s really who I am. I’m a romantic.”

A lifetime since taking those initial photos, Inglish looks on Then & Now as a “visual diary,” drawing lessons from the space between the before and afters. “We don’t prize age in ourselves but there’s a sort of fearlessness to these guys, that never expires,” he concludes.