new movie celebrates historic loving photos

In his new documentary 100 years of men in love: the accidental collection, Emmy-winning actor and filmmaker David Millbern looks back at gay couples who had the courage to celebrate their love openly, long before gay rights or marriage equality were even a thought. Millbern shows us photos from the 1850s through the 1950s, beautiful images of gay men who weren’t afraid to show the world who they were and what they meant to each other.

In one particularly charming shot, two young men, possibly in their late teens, both well-dressed, stare directly at the camera holding up a sign that reads ‘not married but willing to be’. The photo was taken around 1900 in a very different world from the one we live in today.


photo of 100 years of men in love: the accidental collection

Throughout the film, viewers hear commentary from Hugh Nini and Neal Treadwell, a gay couple currently living in New York. Nini and Treadwell have been collecting the photos for years, scouring flea markets and antique shops for images that would have been lost to history without their efforts.

They currently hold over 3,000 photos, hundreds of which are shown in the film. Their collection was first seen in a well-received book titled Loving: A Photographic History of Men in Love, 1850s-1950s.

In a telephone interview with the Bay Area Reporter, Millbern recalled his youth, when he saw a tintype, an early form of photography that preserves an image on a thin sheet of metal or iron, of two handsome men seated very close l each other with their legs, arms, hands and shoulders crossed towards each other.

“When I was asking my parents, my family about it, nobody really knew anything about it except that it was my great-great-great-great-uncle,” he said.

After his parents died, Millbern took possession of a number of items in their home, including the tintype, which he kept and always wondered about.

“Then I came across Neal and Hugh’s collection,” Millbern said. “And I started looking at what they were talking about, and the signs, and the implications of what was in the picture, and I thought, bingo, this is what’s going on, these are my ancestors, and obviously I wanted to celebrate human partnerships.”

He found Treadwell and Nini through their publisher and contacted them, suggesting that their book could make a wonderful documentary. They agreed.

Much of the film is a collage of the many photographs in the collection, with narration drawn from words written on the back of some of the photos. Footage of interviews with Treadwell and Nini was added, and the result is a charming piece that highlights the fact that male love existed long before there were gay bars or gay dating apps where men could meet up.

In some photos, the men were low key, smiling at the camera almost like friends, although the look in their eyes reveals there was more to it than just friendship. Some of the film’s shots would begin by focusing on a close-up of the men’s faces.


directorDavid Millbern

Millbern’s camera then descends to reveal the full truth. Their fingers may touch discretely or their feet may be intertwined. Some photos are more obvious. The men could hug each other, their arms could be around each other. A photo even shows the two men kissing.

“I didn’t want it to just be a photo montage,” Millbern said. “I really wanted to linger, and for the audience to understand the relevance of each shot, to feel each shot, to fantasize about what it was like for this couple, the risks involved, the joy that was expressed. We really care about the shoulders of these gentlemen who really went out of their way to document their commitment and love. They paved the way for us to be free and open, because they had no right to be free and open. They took the risk , they were so happy they wanted to commemorate their love in a photo.”

The movie is subtitled “The Accidental Collection” because one day Nini and Treadwell found a photo while snooping around an antique store and recognized the image of a romantic relationship.

They assumed it would be the only such photo they would ever find, but then they found another photo, and a third, until they had 3700 such photos. They were all “accidental” because they never thought they would find a second photo after the first.


photo of ‘100 years of men in love: the accidental collection’

“Going through their collection and selecting those for the documentary was a monumental task,” Millbern said. “I felt such an honor as a filmmaker to say that those relationships never happened in an open and free society, yet the subjects took the risk to take that shot. Now, with this film, they can see the light of day. Now they can share their love with the world. For me as a filmmaker it was a very responsible job and I took such joy in sharing their joy and I think that shines through in the movie.

Millbern hopes viewers of the film will see that LGBT people have always existed.

“The courage that these people, these couples had to take a picture when it was not cool to take a picture with your lover,” he said. “We celebrate that courage and realize that those photos were really important then and are even more so now as we face the challenges that LGBTQ people still face in this country. We always say these people go through the Well, if you pass the torch, you’re in the dark. Light another torch to tell young people and our fellow LGBTQ people, get out there and find love, and commit to love and live love. in this free and open society that we have now, these people didn’t ‘I don’t have that, yet they did.

100 years of men in love: the accidental collection can now be seen on Here TV. www.ici.tv

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About Debra D. Johnson

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