A new documentary based on a vast collection of old photos featuring gay men in love going back to the mid-1800s has made its television debut.
“100 Years of Men in Love: The Accidental Collection,” directed by Emmy-winning producer David Millbern, is based on the photo book “Loving: A Photographic History of Men in Love, 1850s — 1950s” by Hugh Nini and Neal Treadwell.
Nini and Treadwell began their collection 22 years ago when the couple stumbled upon a rare, century-old photo of a gay couple in an antique shop. Since then, the men have been collecting thousands of images of gay men dating that go back 170 years.
To date, they hold a collection of approximately 3,000 photos from around the world, and they’re not done collecting yet.
“We didn’t do this with any intention. It sort of happened to us slowly over the years,” Nini told NBC News. “It was probably five to seven years into it, and at some point, we realized that we had started collecting something.”
During the time frame of the collection, the men in the photos took huge risks having their photographs taken with their significant others. Afterall, it wasn’t until 2003 that the Supreme Court struck down the remaining U.S. laws criminalizing gay sex. And even today, homosexuality is criminalized in approximately 70 countries.
The hourlong documentary features interviews with Nini and Treadwell about their photo collection, how it started and what it consists of today. The couple also shares never-before-seen images from the collection, heartfelt messages on the back of some of the images and how some photos share clues about the subjects’ relationships.
“I wanted these photos to linger so that our audience can see, think and reflect upon the relevance of what these men had to go through, the time that they were living in, the challenge and the risk that they were putting on themselves getting caught.” Millbern said in a joint interview with Nini and Treadwell.
The collectors shared that one of the first clues they look for in deciding whether an image shows men in love or just two male friends is the “unmistakable look two people have in their eyes when they have fallen in love with each other.” The couple says, “It’s not something that you can manufacture if you’re not feeling it and it’s not something you can hide if you are.”
As for the goal of the collection, Treadwell said it shows LGBTQ people that “we have a history.”
“We’ve been around forever, and this is just a beautiful way of reaching people,” he said.
“100 Years of Men in Love: The Accidental Collection” is now available on Here TV.