It's the creation of Hugh Nini and Neal Treadwell, a married couple who spent the last two decades scouring every flea market, estate sale and online auction for these photographs.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on April 9, 2022. It has since been updated.
Hugh Nini and Neal Treadwell spent the last two decades scouring every flea market, estate sale and online auction for photographs of men in love from a time when being in same-sex relationships had dire consequences. Over the course of their meticulous search, the married couple managed to accumulate more than 2800 previously unpublished snapshots portraying tender moments of romantic love between male couples from the 100-year period between the 1850s and 1950s. What started off as a personal project grew into something so powerful and significant that Treadwell and Nini knew they had to share it with the world.
Thus was born "LOVING: A Photographic History of Men in Love," a book featuring a curated selection of these photographs, which the couple released in celebration of LGBTQ History Month in the U.S. In a press release to Upworthy, the authors described it as a "visual narrative of astonishing sensitivity" that "brings to light an until-now-unpublished collection of hundreds of snapshots, portraits, and group photos made in the most varied of contexts, both private and public. Some are formal studio portraits, others were shot at the beach, in suburban settings, in the countryside, and at home."
"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," they explained.
Treadwell and Nini's collection boasts photos from all over the world, including Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, France, Germany, Japan, Latvia, the United Kingdom and the United States. While some were retrieved from old shoe boxes and battered suitcases, others were scored by the couple from estate sales, family archives and competitive online auctions.
"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 authors continued.
"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."
"Challenging boundaries, universal in reach, and overwhelming in impact, 'LOVING' speaks 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," they added.
Recounting how they began combing through history for these images that have survived the tides of time, Treadwell and Nini revealed that their journey began with one photograph they stumbled upon in an antique shop in Dallas, Texas.
Dated somewhere around 1920, the photograph depicts two young men embracing and gazing at one another and clearly in love. It sparked in the pair a curiosity to figure out how this image survived into the 21st century.
This curiosity was amplified by a second photo they found through an online auction that shows two soldiers from the 1940s posed cheek to cheek. Presented in a small art deco glass frame with "Yours Always" etched into the glass, their second find motivated the couple to spend more time on growing their collection.
"Once committed to the project, the collectors searched for tell-tale signals that might indicate a love relationship, most importantly the expression in the eyes, followed by body-language that might be as subtle as a glancing touch," states the press release.
Treadwell and Nini also observed recurring themes throughout their collection that wove a common thread through decades, centuries and countries. "For example, beginning in the mid-1880s, and continuing through the 1920s, posing under an umbrella was a common element, perhaps signal, that the two men were engaged in a romantic relationship," the release revealed.
"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.
Another theme that emerged early on was the photo booth photo strip, which was popular with couples for decades. As such, the anonymity of the photo booth was a safe place for a couple, as they could act as the subject, the photographer and developer.
Speaking of the release of their book, Treadwell and Nini stated: "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." You can order your copy of "LOVING: A Photographic History of Men in Love" here.