Brain Pickings

A Photographic History of Bromance, 1840-1918


In the spirit of exposing the old-timey roots of seemingly modern concepts — take, for instance, social networking — here comes a historical look at “bromance.”

Contrary to what Judd Apatow movies may lead you to believe, “bromance” is actually an old and surprisingly well-documented phenomenon, as evidenced by David Deitcher’s Dear Friends: American Photographs of Men Together, 1840-1918 — a collection of more than 100 photographs depicting what the era’s comfort levels would have described as platonic male affection.

The book is a treasure trove of early photography gems, including rare daguerreotypes, cartes des visites and vintage photographic postcards, insightfully contextualized by art historian and cultural critic David Deitcher.

Curiously, the images have been longtime prized collector’s items for gay men, who saw in them a sort of indirect validation in lieu of real representation of homosexuality in portraiture — something we covered last week with Hide/Seek, which explores the history of gender identity and sexual difference in art.

David Deitcher writes:

[In the late Victorian period] men posed for photographers holding hands, entwining limbs, or resting in the shelter of each other’s accommodating bodies, innocent of the suspicion that such behavior would later arouse.

Tender and often funny, Dear Friends is both a fascinating timecapsule of an era and a powerful implicit reminder of all the artificial behavioral norms we have since imposed on our conception of masculinity and friendship.

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