Historical photos of men in love: Under the paper moon

Historical photos of men in love: Under the paper moon
Love blooms under a paper moon 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.

Love blooms under a paper moon
Love blooms under a paper moon Courtesy of the Nini-Treadwell Collection



116 x 75 mm

Provenance: US

Hugh and Neal: Paper moon male couples are endearing. Posing together, affectionately, on a paper moon prop is one of the most romantic expressions of its time.

Our collection indicates that they came into being at the end of the 19th century and continued into the 1920s. This is one of our older ones, dating sometime around the 1910s. This particular paper moon photo is extremely worn and fragile. Wherever it lived before we acquired it, it had been taped to something: a photo album page, a wall, or the inside of a book.

What endures beyond its wear and tear, however, is the expression of fondness on one man and the willing acquiescence in the other. The man on the right reached just enough across his own lap, subtly, to caress the fingers of his boyfriend.

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