Photos of men in love from 1850s to 1950s when gay relationships were illegal

A new book has brought together images of men in love taken during a 100-year period.

The photographic book, Loving, includes images that were taken between the 1850s and 1950s, a time when gay relationships were illegal.

Collected by a married couple, Hugh Nini and Neal Treadwell, the photos were bought together in the past 20 years and digitised to go in their book.

Hugh and Neal worked meticulously to accumulate over 2,800 photographs of men in love.

The couple found them at flea markets, in shoe boxes, estate sales, family archives, old suitcases, and on online auctions.

Some of the previously unpublished pictures are formal studio portraits, others were shot at the beach, in suburban settings, in the countryside, and at home.

You can expect to see 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.

Their collection now includes photos from all over the world.


In one of the essays in the book, Hugo and Neal share how it all began with one photograph they stumbled upon in an antique shop in Dallas, Texas.

Dated somewhere around 1920, it depicts two young men embracing and
gazing at one another, clearly in love.

The collectors were curious how this photo—an accidental find—could have survived into the 21st century.

Then a second photo came to them through an online auction. Presented in a small art deco glass frame with the words ‘yours always’ etched into the glass, it shows two soldiers from the 1940s posed cheek to cheek.

Following these early discoveries, Hugh and Neal began to devote more time to search for photographs.


Soon, the couple became experts at deciphering the platonic from the romantic, picking up on tell-tale signals that the subjects may have been in love.

From their work, they also picked up trends throughout the ages.

For example, many men started wearing rings in some of the images, though gay marriage was not legal at the time.

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 was the photo booth picture, strip which was popular with couples for decades.

The anonymity of the photo booth was a safe place for a couple, as
they could act as the subject, the photographer, and developer.

You can buy Loving: A Photographic History of Men in Love 1850s-1950s online now.

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