Brain Pickings

A Photographic History of Bromance, 1840-1918


Seems like today, we’re in the business of debunking seemingly modern concepts by exposing their old-timey roots. After social networking, we’re after bromance. Contrary to what Judd Apatow movies may lead you to believe, bromance is actually an old and surprisingly well-documented phenomenon. Just look at Dear Friends: American Photographs of Men Together, 1840-1918 — a collection of over 100 photographs depicting what’s best described as platonic male affection. Or, in modern terms, bromance.

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.

[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.” ~ David Deitcher

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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