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Postcard, circa 1910, 90 x 141 mm, note on front: “E. Thieniann & M. Hunter” (image courtesy of the Nini-Treadwell Collection © “Loving” by 5 Continents Editions)

A beautiful group of photographs that spans a century (1850–1950) is part of a new book that offers a visual glimpse of what life may have been like for those men, who went against the law to find love in one another’s arms. In Loving: A Photographic History of Men in Love 1850s–1950s, hundreds of images tell the story of love and affection between men, with some clearly in love and others hinting at more than just friendship. The collection belongs to Hugh Nini and Neal Treadwell, a married couple who has accumulated over 2,800 photographs of “men in love” during the course of two decades. While the majority of the images hail from the United States and are of predominantly white men, there are images from Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, France, Germany, Japan, Latvia, and the United Kingdom among the cache.

What do images of men in love during a time when it was illegal tell us? What are we looking for in the faces of these people who dared to challenge the mores of their time to seek solace together? Flipping through the book, it wasn’t that I felt that I learned a great deal about being LGBTQ, but what gave me comfort was the feeling that we’re not going anywhere. Seeing ourselves in the past is as much about being certain of our present and, dare I say, our future. When we see them as connected, we feel more whole, and that’s what love is about for many of us anyway.

The book, Loving: A Photographic History of Men in Love 1850s-1950s (5 Continents Editions), is available online.

Photo strip, undated, 35 x 27 mm, provenance: US, (image courtesy of the Nini-Treadwell Collection © “Loving” by 5 Continents Editions)
Photograph, 1951, 121 x 83 mm, note: “1951” “Davis & J.C.” (image courtesy of the Nini-Treadwell Collection © “Loving” by 5 Continents Editions)
Photograph, Undated, 96 x 67 mm (image courtesy of the Nini-Treadwell Collection © “Loving” by 5 Continents Editions)
Cabinet card, circa 1880, 167 x 109 mm, provenance: US,
Note: “McInturff, Steve Book, Delaware O.” (image courtesy of the Nini-Treadwell Collection © “Loving” by 5 Continents Editions)
Photograph, undated, 90 x 147 mm, provenance: US (image courtesy of the Nini-Treadwell Collection © “Loving” by 5 Continents Editions)
Photobooth, undated, 32 x 27 mm, provenance: US (image courtesy of the Nini-Treadwell Collection © “Loving” by 5 Continents Editions)
Photograph, undated, 110 x 84 mm, provenance: US (image courtesy of the Nini-Treadwell Collection © “Loving” by 5 Continents Editions)
Photograph, 1910, 113 x 69 mm, provenance: US
Note: “Rocky Nook Labor Day 1910” (image courtesy of the Nini-Treadwell Collection © “Loving” by 5 Continents Editions)
Photograph, undated, 115 x 72 mm (image courtesy of the Nini-Treadwell Collection © “Loving” by 5 Continents Editions)

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

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