Early Photographs of Men in Love—Dating Back to the 1880s—Go on View in a Geneva Museum Exhibition

On view at Musée Rath, 'Love' features a curated selection of photographs from the Hugh Nini and Neal Treadwell Collection.

Photomaton, United States (n.d.). Courtesy of Nini-Treadwell collection. © Loving by 5 Continents Editions.

Earlier this month, the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire (MAH), Geneva, opened “Loving: The Hugh Nini and Neal Treadwell Collection” at its temporary exhibition space at Musée Rath. The event marks the first survey from the collection of historical photographs and images of men in love, which Nini and Treadwell have been building for over two decades. Dated from between the 1850s to the 1950s—a period when, like at times today, love shared between men was forbidden or even illegal.

Carte cabinet, United States (ca. 1880). Courtesy of the Nini-Treadwell collection. © Loving Continents Editions.

The exhibition is based on the runaway success of the publication Loving, which was released in five languages—French, English, Italian, German, and Spanish—worldwide simultaneously in 2020. Like the book, the present exhibition features a curated selection of images from the extensive collection.

Both Nini and Treadwell originally hail from Texas, and their passion for collecting images of male relationships began as a matter of happenstance: they came across a 1920s photo of two men who were in a relationship in a Dallas antique shop. Seeing themselves reflected in the image, they were inspired to begin searching out and building a collection centered on images of men in love. Today, the collection contains more than four thousand images, sourced from across Europe, the Americas, Asia, and Oceania.

Photograph (n.d.). Courtesy of the Nini-Treadwell collection. © Loving Continents Editions.

The New York-based couple of 31 years were approached by the museum and accepted the proposal of an exhibition of pieces from their collection. The show maintains the same ethos as the collectors, that “love between two individuals has always been and will always be a universal feeling, regardless of era, place, class, sex, or sociopolitical climate,” which is in line with the museum’s own values.

Photograph (n.d.). Courtesy of the Nini-Treadwell collection. © Loving Continents Editions.

In producing the exhibition, Zurich-based photographer Walter Pfeiffer was tapped to create a selection of works to go on view alongside the collector’s own choices, and, complimenting the presentation, Swiss artist Urs Lüthi’s videos on the theme of intimacy and profiling the collectors is projected in Musée Rath’s lower levels. Pfeiffer and Lüthi’s contributions provide a contemporary element to the historical content of the show.

On view through September 24, 2023, the exhibition provides viewers the opportunity to experience a century’s worth of male love in pictures—and a glimpse into one of the most comprehensive collections centered on men loving men.

Loving: The Hugh Nini and Neal Treadwell Collection” is on view at Musée Rath, Musée d’Art et d’Histoire (MAH), Geneva, through September 24, 2023.

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