There’s something very moving about abandoned snapshots. We tend to equate other people’s photos with our own dusty family albums of events we barely remember (or wish we could forget) and people we haven’t spoken to in decades, but there are plenty of stories patiently waiting in the faded stacks at every antiques store and thrift shop.
New photo book Loving: A Photographic History of Men in Love, 1850s-1950s collects some of those stories. Collectors and partners Hugh Nini and Neal Treadwell amassed thousands of images of men posing together. Sometimes the relationship is clear, as in a mock marriage ceremony that dates from the early part of the 20th century. Sometimes the relationship could be reasonably explained as camaraderie. But in every photo, men gaze beatifically into the camera—or at one another—and are unmistakably in love.
More importantly, the images are shockingly modern to our eyes, accustomed as we are to period pieces in which same-sex love is represented (if at all) with all the stealth and secrecy of a heist movie. But here, men not only shared their true feelings but preserved them. First for themselves and then, as years went on and effects were scattered, for people like Nini and Treadwell, who understand the importance of truly seeing these men. Now, they share that importance with readers, letting these long-forgotten men live and love once more.