LGBTQ History

Historical photos of men in love: I now pronounce you

You may kiss the groom
You may kiss the groomPhoto: 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.

You may kiss the groom
You may kiss the groom Courtesy of the Nini-Treadwell Collection

Postcard

Undated

85 x 110 mm

Provenance: US

Hugh and Neal: Marriage between people of the same gender, apparently, isn’t the new concept we’ve been led to believe it was. In our collection, we have several vintage photos of male couples marrying. They come from all over the world, but this photo is from the United States.

There is a tone of levity in it, but the choreography of the individuals is too deliberate to be a gag. Add to that, it’s been kept safe, for as many as 120 years, by someone. Beneath the theatricality of this photo is the “Willing To Be Married” sentiment expressed in others throughout our collection.

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