Historical photos of men in love: The photo booth as a safe space

Historical photos of men in love: The photo booth as a safe space
Love in a photo booth 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.

Photos booths didn't require a third person to take the picture.
Photos booths didn’t require a third person to take the picture. Courtesy of the Nini-Treadwell Collection



52 x 39 mm

Provenance: US

Hugh and Neal: This is a wonderful example of a photo booth photo, which is a very important category within our collection.  The photo booth was the safest way to memorialize a romantic male couple’s relationship and assume the minimum risk of exposure.

Using a photo booth puts the subjects into three important roles in one.  They are the subject, the photographer, and the developer.  Being all three eliminated any third-party involvement.  Many loving male couples used the photo booth as a means to safely record for history the love they had for one another.

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