By Gregory Crofton
They found the first photo while browsing in a small antique mall after church. Hugh and Neal thought they’d never come across another like it — two men embracing in a backyard, revealing their love only to the camera.
“The look in their eyes said that there’s clearly something more here than friendship,” said Hugh Nini, in the film. “We looked at the photo and the photo looked back at us and said, ‘We’re the same.'”
After 18 years together in Dallas, the Hugh and Neal moved to New York City and that’s where a collection of photographs began to take shape. Neal had a job that put him on the road, so he’d comb stores across the country for photos like the first one they discovered.
And as a couple, they traveled to Europe each year where they made more photographic connections. Their collection eventually grew to more than 3,000 images and ultimately became a book, and now a movie: “100 Years of Men in Love: The Accidental Collection.”
Written and directed by David Millbern, this 56-minute doc is charming and effective partly because of its delicate, tasteful soundtrack but also because old photos to begin with are almost always intriguing.
The changing technology of photography and ever-evolving story of fashion alone are enough to keep this film interesting. Add open affection, forbidden love so to speak between two men who could have been punished for exhibiting such behavior, and the threads of this film become clear.
Inscriptions from the backs and fronts of photos are conveyed, and these tidbits help the stories come to life. One states: “I send you a photo that probably will raise the curtain of a little part of my life.” But other photos are truly mysterious with both men engaged in a kiss, but with their faces safely away from the camera.
Among the highlights collected by Neal and Hugh is the world’s earliest selfie of a “romantic male couple.” “In the Mirror” shows two men standing one arm around the other while gazing into the mirror, while the shorter of the two works the camera’s shutter.
The film presents what could be the first documented gay marriage. Two men are shown exchanging rings under an umbrella with third man in the photo conducting the ceremony. Neal and Hugh go on to explain that through their research they came to learn that an umbrella in a photo that includes two men has a certain significance.
“We can’t find any scholarship on this … but what’s crystal clear to us is that two men between the 1860a and the 1920s posing under an umbrella is an indication they are couple,” says Hugh. “It was the like rainbow flag of the time.”
“100 Years of Men in Love: The Accidental Collection” begins Friday, March 25th on Here TV.