Every photo is a moment capturing their love, as it were, away from the prying cruel eyes of a judging society.
Hugh Nini and Neal Treadwell stumbled upon an old photograph of two young men embracing each other and gazing into each other's eyes in an antique shop in Dallas, Texas. The two men in the image were clearly in love and the image was dated around 1920. It was the image that would be the start of a personal project for the duo as they started collecting images of men in love from a bygone era. They exclusively collected images of men in love from a time when same-sex relationships were often punishable by law. They always kept an eye out for them and actively searched for images at flea markets, estate sales, and online auction for photographs of men in love. Some of the images were found in old shoe boxes and battered suitcases. Hugh Nini and Neal Treadwell, who are married, collected more than 2,800 previously unpublished images of moments of love shared by men. Their images ranged between a 100-year period from the 1850s and 1950s.
While it was a personal project for them, they decided that it was too precious to not share it with the world. They compiled the images into a beautiful book titled, LOVING: A Photographic History of Men in Love. The couple released the book last week to celebrate LGBTQ History Month in the United States. The photos are range from formal studio portraits, personal photos from the beach, suburban settings, in the countryside, and at home. Hugh Nini and Neal Treadwell described the book as a "visual narrative of astonishing sensitivity" that "brings to light an until-now-unpublished collection of hundreds of snapshots, portraits, and group photos made in the most varied of contexts, both private and public," in a press release reports Upworthy. The pictures cuts across the class divide, religion, profession, and borders. "The range of individuals shown is extensive, covering nineteenth-century working-class men, fashionably dressed businessmen, university students, and soldiers and sailors of all ages — spanning the time between the Civil War and World War II, and into the 1950s," said the duo.
The book has images from all over the world, including Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, France, Germany, Japan, Latvia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The technology used in capturing these images capture the timeline of the images as well. "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," said the authors.
The authors note the images were highly risky but each of them seemed determined to capture their moment of tenderness at a time when same-sex relationships were looked down upon and often punished by society and in many cases by law. "The men in LOVING shared a common desire to be seen, only to one another, and to memorialize their stories despite the risks. Each image is an open demonstration of love, affection, and also bravery. When viewing these photos, we are drawn to the honest and disarming expressions of devotion evident throughout. The message here is as old as time, but from an unexpected, and heretofore silent, source," said Nini and Treadwell. They said the images captured the essence of love between two people. "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," they added.
An interesting observation was that many of them exchanged rings despite not having the option of getting married. "While none of the men in 'LOVING' had the legal option of marriage, photos show that many of them exchanged rings. One of the earliest photos in the book, from around 1860, shows one of the men wearing a ring on his little finger. During WWII the appearance of wedding rings, bracelets, and other jewelry serving as symbols of commitment became more common and were worn by many soldiers and sailors."
"The subjects of our photos, with the release of 'LOVING', will publicly narrate their own lives for the first time in history. And far from being ostracized or condemned, they will be celebrated and loved. And the love that they shared will inspire others, as they have us. Love does not have a sexual orientation. Love is universal," said the duo at the time of the book's release. You can order your copy of LOVING: A Photographic History of Men in Love here.