Out Country

My friend Stacy bought this photo at an antique store and shared it with me last night.  It is an amazing photo of a gay couple in the late 1800s in America.  These two guys, presumably, paid a photographer to set them down in front of a tintype camera and shoot a photo of their love and intimacy.

Yes, an out, gay couple in America over one hundred years ago.  Incredible. It definitely gives me hope and the strength to be out and proud in a modern America.  Yes, I can’t get married, share employment benefits or adopt (easily) a child, but if these two guys were able to live their lives together, in America, two hundred years ago, I sure can!

It should be inspiration for anyone, not just in the LGBT community but anyone who faces adversity, bigotry and challenges in this modern day America.  Which I’m pretty sure is all of us.

I hope this aside from my usual blog post has given you a little hope to overcome whatever obstacle finds its way into your path.

UPDATE: Since so many people have claimed this to be a fake, which is first offensive to me and second offensive to the purpose of this post, here is the original scan, untouched by Photoshop. The original image above was cleaned up in Photoshop to repair some of the damage 100+ years can have on a photo, I ran a “remove dust and scratches”, adjusted curves and uploaded that photo to Flickr. I personally scanned this file in using an Epson Perfection Scan V750 Pro at 4800dpi.  It’s a 1.27gb scan at well over 12000 pixels wide when at 300dpi.   I have downscaled it to 4800 pixels wide at 300dpi for this post but have done nothing else to it.

Photo links to 1920px version

You are more than welcome to download the large file here (7.2mb, 4800x7016px)

I’m not sure why so many people on Twitter and Facebook, especially one from an equality group would cast aspersions, call this a fake.

My professor who dated, preserved and revived photos like these for museums looked at my scan and said he has no reason to believe it isn’t the real deal, that the problems with the photo, the eyes, the focus, the peeling and deterioration all are elements of proof it is a legitimate image.  Hopefully we will have it in class on Monday for him to examine in person. Meanwhile, here are 12 tintype images I found on the Internet all ranging from 1860-1920. Notice the similar wear, the oxidation, corrosion, rust, scratches, peeling, the backgrounds, the density, the gradations of light, the compression of the lens and the varying clarity and focus.

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11 thoughts on “Out Country

  1. The background looks like it’s trying to be a wall but isn’t actually 3-dimensional. Look at the moulding near the floor. But I really want to believe this is real! Thanks for posting!!

  2. I’m beginning to wonder if people are trained to think all photographs are fraudulent anymore. People commented on the background (they used backdrops back then), the cheeks (it was common to touch up b/w photos with color like that), and the clothing  (“too modern”… yet blue jeans have been around some 150 years and some old fashion would surprise a lot of people).

    It’s a very sweet photo, in my opinion. I won’t say that maybe they aren’t brothers and it’s misinterpreted but I’m cautiously optimistic. Believe it or not, there was Victorian photographic gay porn so anything’s possible. 

  3. I love this photo! Real and honest. 

    To the skeptics- photography was not always as instant and easy as it is now. When the concept was first introduced, it took a lot of work to get subjects to be completely still for pictures to turn out properly. Any movement could ruin the entire set-up, and a new flash-bulb would have to be installed, and everything would have to be done all over again. 

    Backdrops were commonly used (as they are today! Hello, when’s the last time you saw the busy background of a retail store in a family professional photo?), there was no color, so enhancements, such as rosy cheeks, eye color, lip color, and other such highlights, were often painted in after a photo was developed. 

    Since the gene pool was a bit smaller in this era, I highly doubt that the two shown here are brothers. The facial structure and features aren’t similar enough for them to be related (and I don’t think cousins held hands like this). Also, hand holding in siblings normally doesn’t show in photos between males past childhood. 

  4. Check out Ken Summers and ImaginAries comments on that.  Also, look at the backdrops to the 12 other tin-type photos I posted.  Just as they do today they did then, canvas/board backgrounds.

  5. Thank you for taking my sentiment for this post into consideration and your thoughtful insite on the history behind images such as these.

  6. My professor had very similar remarks regarding this photo.  Obviously you see in the image what I saw and have a knowledge of the subject and history behind tintype, daguerreotype and other antique photo techniques.

    Thanks again for the great comment.

  7. I think it’s absolutely inspirational, Justin. Thanks so much for sharing. I could stare at this photo for hours.

  8. OK, gay or not the photo looks real and they DO have similar facial features and could very well be cousins if not brothers. Just because their eyes don’t match doesn’t mean their lips, cheek bones and other features don’t. Could have been one has eyes of the father and the other the mother. To be this bold in cow town America with their gayness is unrealistic. They most likely would have been hung (not what I would do but this was the culture then). Also, My Grandfather said boys and girls had very close friendships then that didn’t require sex to be a part of it. My Father (from Italy) Said it used to be common place when he was a kid that young men and old men would walk hand in hand or arms around each other. I don’t like the we have to sexualize everything in our country. Men who won’t be close the their boys because they think it’ll cause homosexuality or even people thinking if people are close friends that it could mean they are gay. I don’t think it’s fair that we have to label everything the way it fits in our heads. I think it’s OK to say I don’t know. Another thought could be that the young man kept his friend from moving for the few seconds that the shutter was open on the camera? Who knows and I suppose that’s the point.  

  9. The background is a painted backdrop, so it is one dimensional. Many photographers stocked a number of backdrops to choose from (just like the ones used for school pictures, only more creative), so it’s common to see backdrops used in old photos.

    As a point of humor, though, I ran across a conversation about an old postcard not too long ago with people trying to decide if it was real or faked. One man said it surely was a fake because “photoshop didn’t exist back then.” I know many people tend to think that people in the past were somehow more stupid and unable to do things without computers, but have we really gone that far?

    The only real question is whether the hand-holding is proof positive they were a gay couple or just friends. Back in the 1800s, people had a different view of relationships and friendships and weren’t so worried that saying “I love you” to a very close friend “made you sound gay.” With all our modern over-masculinity, I really wonder if we’re not sliding backward in evolution…

  10. The background is a painted backdrop, so it is one dimensional. Many photographers stocked a number of backdrops to choose from (just like the ones used for school pictures, only more creative), so it’s common to see backdrops used in old photos.

    As a point of humor, though, I ran across a conversation about an old postcard not too long ago with people trying to decide if it was real or faked. One man said it surely was a fake because “photoshop didn’t exist back then.” I know many people tend to think that people in the past were somehow more stupid and unable to do things without computers, but have we really gone that far?

    The only real question is whether the hand-holding is proof positive they were a gay couple or just friends. Back in the 1800s, people had a different view of relationships and friendships and weren’t so worried that saying “I love you” to a very close friend “made you sound gay.” With all our modern over-masculinity, I really wonder if we’re not sliding backward in evolution…

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