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Men loving men

This section is a happy accident, prompted by the publication of two books "63 E 9th Street. NYC Polaroids 1975 –1983" and "Loving: A Photographic History of Men in Love, 1850-1950"; and the discovery of a photograph from 1949 of two men with a handwritten note on the back: “To Buzz, I’ll always remember the times we spent together ... All my love, your Tommy."

The book's photographs and Polaroids are a testament to love and affection between men at a time when being homosexual (or gay) was illegal, with persecution and harsh prison sentences when caught. It's also worth noting that the Polaroids were taken on the cusp of the HIV and AIDS epidemic which laid waste a generation of gay men like those depicted, many starting out in life.

Buzz and Tommy

As for Buzz and Tommy, all we have are clues and it's unlikely we'll ever know their story. But, there is something seductive, even heartwarming, to want to believe that they embarked on the holiday romance of a lifetime. And yet, the same year, the United States Department of Defence standardised anti-homosexual regulations across all branches of the military: "Homosexual personnel, irrespective of sex, should not be permitted to serve in any branch of the Armed Forces in any capacity, and prompt separation of known homosexuals from the Armed Forces is mandatory."


This is a far cry from today's TikTok endorphin soaked gay culture. While it's almost impolite not to strip off for your boyfriend on camera, there's something more in these everyday vintage photographs filled with love and defiance, and revealing how gay men are threaded through - while also apart from - society and history. Some of the smaller codified gestures can be difficult to find while the position of a hand, entwined legs, or even a kiss seem terrifyingly brave.

Of the Polaroids, Bianchi recalls. "Back then we were in the early days of a revolution that seemed inevitably headed to a more loving, playful and tolerant way of being. We were innocents.” In contrast, many of the vintage photographs in "Loving" seem to express a forbidden love in which burned hardship and repressed emotions. One can only imagine the days leading to the click of the shutter, and the stories behind each photograph.

LGBT+ people have come such a long way in 100 years so perhaps it's a little silly to compare photographs like these with TikTok. Nevertheless, it's difficult not to be moved by these men loving men, immortalised on nitrate and cellulose acetate film, for us to celebrate and remember.

'Not married but willing to be!': men in love from the 1850s – in pictures | The Guardian | 16 Oct 2020
This vintage photo of two lifeguards who were maybe probably more than friends has everyone talking | Queerty | 14 Apr 2020
1900–1949 in LGBT rights | Wikipedia
Vintage Gay Love | Glen Moore (Pinterest)

Vintage Workingmen Beefcake |  Facebook Group (Private: you need to join)
Kick the Ick | Facebook Group (Private: you need to join)
Adonises of the Silver Screen (Silent Era to 1980s) | Facebook Group (Private: you need to join)

Gay's the Word Book Shop | MEN R US
HIV ad AIDS History | MEN R US

Loving: A Photographic History of Men in Love, 1850-1950

Loving: A Photographic History of Men in Love, 1850-1950 portrays the history of romantic love between men in hundreds of moving and tender vernacular photographs taken between the years 1850 and 1950. This visual narrative of astonishing sensitivity brings to light an until-now-unpublished collection of hundreds of snapshots, portraits, and group photos taken in the most varied of contexts, both private and public.

Taken when male partnerships were often illegal, the photos here were found at flea markets, in shoe boxes, family archives, old suitcases, and later online and at auctions. The collection now includes photos from all over the world: Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, France, Germany, Japan, Greece, Latvia, the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, and Serbia.

Loving | 5 Continents Editions | Oct 2020
Loving: A Short Documentary | Hugh Nini and Neal Treadwell | 2020 | 8m 28s

63 E 9th Street. NYC Polaroids 1975 –1983

In 1975 Tom Bianchi moved to New York City and took a job as in-house counsel at Columbia Pictures. That first year Tom was given a Polaroid SX – 70 camera by Columbia Pictures at a corporate conference. He took that camera to the Pines on summer weekends, those pictures became the book, 'Fire Island Pines. Polaroids 1975 – 1983' published in 2013. Now some 44 years later we finally get a first look at another extraordinary collection of polaroids by Tom taken in his NYC apartment at 63 East 9th Street. Whereas Fire Island is an expansive communal experience happening on a sunny sand bar outside of the city under huge open skies, Tom’s New York apartment was an intimate track lit den, a safe stage where he and his friends invited each other to play out their erotic night games. Tom’s 'NYC Polaroids' take us behind the closed door of his apartment, “Back then we were in the early days of a revolution that seemed inevitably headed to a more loving, playful and tolerant way of being. We were innocents.” Bianchi recalls.

63 E 9th Street. NYC Polaroids 1975 –1983 | Tom Bianchi | Damiani | Apr 2019

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