LGBTQ History

Historical photos of men in love: Posing for a portrait in the 1800s

Two men pose in the late 1800s
Two men pose in the late 1800sPhoto: 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.

Two men pose in the 1870s
Two men pose in the 1870s Courtesy of the Nini-Treadwell Collection

Cabinet Card

Circa 1880

167 x 109 mm

Provenance: US

Note: “McInturff, Steve Bock, Delaware O.”

Hugh and Neal: We believe that this photo dates from the late 1800s.  Possibly sometime in the 1870s.  The clothing, jewelry, and grooming of this couple suggest that they are well off, and cultured.  One of the men has a shyness in his demeanor, the other a gentle determination.  This photo was elaborately planned out in advance, which stands in contrast to the majority of our collection which are, more often than not, spontaneous snapshots.  It is one of our personal favorites and is by far the most expensive in the collection.  A framed copy of it, that we made ourselves, hangs in our home.

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