Historical photos of men in love: Their memories live on because their story is known

The only photo with a known backstory
The only photo with a known backstory 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.

The only photo with a known backstory
The only photo with a known backstory Courtesy of the Nini-Treadwell Collection


1945, 57 x 81 mm

Provenance: US/photo taken in Austria

Note: “Kitzbuhel, Austria, May 1945, Pfc Dariel Burns, Johnny, in the snow up on the alps”

Hugh and Neal: This photo represents the only couple for whom we have secondhand knowledge of the relationship of these WWII soldiers. The soldier in the front is John W. Moore. His boyfriend’s name is Daniel. They, like us, are both from Texas.

Based solely on their expressions, we acquired five or six of the two of them together. They weren’t embracing or holding hands. Their poses were quite tame. But they had a look in their eyes that tells us that they are a couple. Months after acquiring the first five of them, this one appeared. And it confirmed our earlier prediction that they were a romantic couple.

Their story is almost unbelievable and covered extensively in the forward of our book.

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