LGBTQ History

Historical photos of men in love: Can you spot the hidden clue that they’re a couple?

Historical photos of men in love: Can you spot the hidden clue that they’re a couple?
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.

Can you find the hidden element that shows these men were romantic?
Can you find the hidden element that shows these men were romantic? Courtesy of the Nini-Treadwell Collection

Tintype

Undated

95 x 63 mm

Hugh & Neal: This is an astonishing photo, in the form of a tintype, dating from around the 1860s.  When we acquired this gem, we chose it for their expressions, the hand-holding, and the legs overlapping at their ankles.  We had it in our possession for years before we noticed the most important expression of this image.  Within this photo, there is an aspect that moves it from the 99.9% certainty that it is a photo of a romantic male couple, to a 100% certainty.  See if you can find it.

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