LGBTQ History

Historical photos of men in love: The couples who were bold

A rare photo of two men in bed together as a couple.
A rare photo of two men in bed together as 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.

A rare photo of two men in bed together as a couple.
A rare photo of two men in bed together as a couple. Courtesy of the Nini-Treadwell Collection

Photograph

Undated

90 x 147mm

Provenance: US

Hugh and Neal: Taking a photo as a male couple, embracing, holding hands, or snuggling close, was a bold undertaking.  Even bolder, however, is the couples who took their photos as they relaxed, or embraced, in bed together.

This amazing photo dates from around 1910. This halcyon image of a loving male couple, relaxing in bed, with legs intertwined, and reading Adventure Magazine, is breathtaking for its boldness.  But it also invites us to share in their solitude and tranquility.  The magazine they’re reading debuted in 1910.

They were certainly on an adventure of their own. But we doubt that they could have foreseen that their adventure would be a double-page spread in an art book that would be published all over the world over a century later.

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