A brand new e book brings collectively a century of pictures of males in love

The photographs belong to Hugh Nini and Neal Treadwell, who describe them as a "random" collection of images. A little over 20 years ago, the couple stumbled upon a black-and-white picture taken in the 1920s of two young men hugging and were intrigued by who they were and how the photo ended up in a Dallas antique shop. "Taking such a photo at a time when they would have been less understood than they are today was not without risk," the duo wrote in the intro of the book.

It was with this image that the Nini Treadwell collection was launched, in which the couple sorted boxes and stacks of old photos in shops and flea markets wherever they traveled. They have currently taken 2,800 pictures.

“At the beginning we took photos because they spoke to us personally,” they explain. “Soon we were actively looking for them. As we came across something more and more, we felt we were involved in some kind of rescue mission. Those photos had stood their ground between 70 and 170 years, and we were now the stewards of these unlikely survivors of a world just beginning to overtake them. "

Treadwell and Nini had to set a few parameters about what they would buy on the go and implement a "50/50 rule" which meant they had to be at least 50% sure that the photo was of two men who were romantically involved. They also uncovered some narrative stories – for example, a WWII soldier who kept a slew of snapshots in a box with a ring, and a request to keep them safe after he died because he couldn't get out could be public during his lifetime.

Some pictures taken under umbrellas speak to the secret code that was used in the mid-19th century through the late 1920s. Posing under it meant the two men were tangled up. And the images stretch across the world and come from five of the seven continents (Africa and Antarctica are the two missing).

Overall, the book offers a fascinating collection of native photography that also includes moving images, and a reminder of the discrimination and need for secrecy that many of these men have likely experienced in their lives.

Loving: A photographic story of men in love from the 1850s to 1950s is published by 5 Continents Editions at a price of £ 52. fivecontinentseditions.com