Historical photos of men in love: Labor Day 1910

Two men kiss on Labor Day 1910
Two men kiss on Labor Day 1910 Photo: Courtesy of the Nini-Treadwell Collection

The new book LOVING: A Photographic History of Men in Love portrays romantic love between men in hundreds of moving photographs taken between the 1850s and 1950s. Now, the authors are sharing some of the never-before-published photos exclusively with LGBTQ Nation this month along with their thoughts and the backstory behind each photo.

Taken when male partnerships were often illegal, the photos are from the collection of a married couple, Hugh Nini and Neal Treadwell, who over the past 20 years have meticulously accumulated over 2,800 snapshots, portraits, and group photos.

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The couple found them at flea markets, in shoe boxes, estate sales, family archives, old suitcases, and online auctions. Their collection now includes photos from all over the world.

The technology used consists of ambrotypes, daguerreotypes, glass negatives, tintypes, cabinet cards, photo postcards, photo strips, photomatics, and snapshots – over one hundred years of social history that reflect changing fashion, hairstyles, and societal norms, as well as the development of photography.

The men in LOVING shared a common desire to be seen and memorialize their stories despite the risks. Each image is an open demonstration of love, affection, and also bravery. The message here is as old as time, but from an unexpected, and heretofore silent, source.

Challenging boundaries, universal in reach, and overwhelming in impact, the photos speak to our spirit and resilience, our capacity for bliss, and our longing for the shared truths of love. It moves the conversation beyond old stereotypes and shifts the narrative to where it should have been all along: two people in love can be any two people, regardless of gender, orientation, or any other human-created divide.

Two men kiss on Labor Day 1910
Two men kiss on Labor Day 1910 Courtesy of the Nini-Treadwell Collection

Photograph 1910

113 x 69 mm

Provenance: US

Note: “Rocky Nook Labor Day 1910”

Hugh and Neal: Within our collection, there are three tiers of rarity.  The first tier is of couples who braved society’s disapproval by posing together romantically.  Every photo in our collection falls inside that tier.  The next tier is of couples who posed, non-sexually, in bed together declaring a romantic and physically intimate angle to their relationship.

This photo of two men kissing romantically is the rarest, and boldest, tier of our collection.  Their bold declaration of their love is astonishing.  Posing together in a romantic embrace was not a strong enough message to convey the power of their love.  Even posing together embracing on a bed wasn’t powerful enough.  Only a full embrace, with a Hollywood style kiss, atop a rock, with a lake as a backdrop, was powerful enough to convey how much they meant to one another.

We don’t know their names, but we do know that they took this photo on Labor Day in 1910.  It is one of two.  Both appear in our book Loving – A Photographic History of Men in Love.

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