LGBTQ History

Historical photos of men in love: Meeting in the middle

Together forever
Together foreverPhoto: 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.

The middle portrait
The middle portrait Courtesy of the Nini-Treadwell Collection

Cabinet Card

Undated

167 x 109 mm

Provenance: US

Hugh and Neal: This photo is one of five on an extremely rare cabinet card. On this single card are five images that are arranged one in each corner, and this one in the center. Think of the “5” side of dice or a domino. The corners are single portraits of each of these two men — two each.

In their single portraits, they have proud, stoic, expressions. In this one, the center, with their heads touching, there is a calmness. It’s the expression we take on when we’re with the one we love, and who loves us in return, and everything is right in the world.

We have always maintained that the expression between two people who are in love can’t be masked or fabricated. In this extraordinary cabinet card, we have the opportunity to see how these men looked when they were alone – and how they looked when together. It’s night and day.

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