Twenty years ago, Hugh Nini and Neal Treadwell walked around an antique dealer in Dallas, and stumbled across a photo taken in the 1920s. On the picture, we see a couple men visibly in love. Yet at the time this photo was taken, homosexuality was still severely punished, punishable by the death penalty in many countries and considered by the World Health Organization as a mental illness. (The WHO also waited until 1990 to remove homosexuality from this list.)
Persuaded to stumble upon an object as rare as it is touching, Hugh and Neal buy the photo for a bite of bread. A few months later, during an online sale, they come across a photo of the same type. For Hugh and Neal, these photos of anonymous male couples don’t come to them by chance. They therefore decide to start collect.
Initially, the two new collectors collected these photos without much ambition. It was their common little passion, which they never told anyone about. They accumulated them just for fun. First stored in a box, they then began to arrange them in a first photo album. But as they purchased, the first album quickly filled up. We had to buy a second, then a third. After a hundred images accumulated, the two men began to realize the historical importance of their nascent collection.
Today, they have almost 3,000 photos of men in love, found all over the world. To imagine that so many homosexual couples dared to have their portraits taken during this period seemed unimaginable for Hugh and Neal at the start of their research.
The photos in their collection cover nearly a century of history – from the 1850s to the 1950s. Almost from the beginnings of photography, which appeared in 1839, until the post-war period, a period in which customs largely took hold. started to evolve. But these 1950s are also the moment when photography became accessible to the greatest number. Going to a photographer to immortalize his love was no longer in vogue.
By dint of buying daguerreotypes, photographic postcards and other old photo supports – whether in the United States, France, Poland but also in Vietnam – they ended up forging links with a good number of gallery owners. and resellers of all kinds around the world. One day, a New York gallery owner, intrigued by their collection, was captivated by the three albums he had just consulted. He immediately advised them to make a book out of it to share with the whole world.
Even though they liked the idea straight away, they first wondered if they were ready to show the world what, at the base, was a passion that only belonged to their couple. But, convinced of being invested with a mission of conservation and safeguard of these historical photographs, they ended up embarking on this adventure, today delighted at the idea of seeing out their book which brings together 350 images of their collection.
The title of their book, ” They love each other », Was not chosen lightly. In a global context not really encouraging, especially in the United States where they live and where the elections are approaching, they felt it important to publish this book with men who really love each other. In these photos, no sexual allusion, only signs of tenderness.
After two decades of collecting them, Hugh and Neal are still just as excited to find new photos. Even if they fear that the media exposure around their book will cause some sellers to skyrocket the prices claimed or that many other people will embark on the same type of collection. If they bought the majority of their photos for around ten dollars, they have already gone up to 2400 dollars for a single shot.
“What we would like to do is to move the discourse on homosexuality to another register”, hopes Hugh. For the collector, it is not uncommon for homosexuals to be seen only through the prism of sexuality. However, in their photos, it is the love and tenderness that the two subjects have that show through. “With this book, we hope to change mentalities so that we stop judging couples because they are two men, or two women, and that we base ourselves solely on the affection they have for each other. wear without taking care of the part that concerns no one other than them. “
More images from “They love each other”: