LGBTQ History

Historical photos of men in love: The rocking chair on the rooftop

Two Black men pose in a rocking chair on a city rooftop
Two Black men pose in a rocking chair on a city rooftop

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.

A Black couple pose in a rocking chair
A Black couple pose in a rocking chair Courtesy of the Nini-Treadwell Collection

Photograph Undated

115 x 74 mm

Provenance: US

Hugh and Neal: This was our first photo of an African American couple.  They are extremely rare and when they do become available, you need to be prepared to pay – a lot.  We’ve only lost out on acquiring one of these on two occasions.  This one has a playful tone to it.  The two men are coy and giggly with one another.  Their chosen surrounding is the safety and solitude of an inner-city rooftop.  The choice of the rocking chair is anyone’s guess.  Simply put, the rarity of this type of romantic male couple photo is its most distinguishing aspect.  Of our nearly three-thousand photos, we have about twenty romantic African American couples.

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