|Two Chinese Men in Matching Traditional Dress, c, 1870s|
This image is also also an excellent example of how our unconscious associations with certain symbols shape the meaning of what we see. This picture on the left of two Asian men with pink robes--they must be gay, right?
The pink robes worn by the two men in this picture read to many bloggers as something that constitutes gayness. It's not necessarily a signifier of sexual orientation or attraction. Beyond the pinkness, I can't fathom why people listing this image on blogs and Tumbler would see this picture as one that depicts a vintage gay relationship.
The thousands of observations we make about people in our silent and mostly unconscious process of categorizing and stereotyping people into easily understood categories aren't any more accurate that are assumptions about the color pink in this photograph. Our categories and stereotypes are useful heuristics--but they need to be constantly evaluated and checked with actual data.
In all probability, these men are not gay. It's unclear whether or not they even have any sort of relationship (intimate or not).
Perhaps a reader with knowledge about 19th century Chinese history might come upon this blog and share some thoughts (anyone read Mandarin? The text in the background might say something interesting).
The men in the image, the story about why they were captured on film, and who the photographer was are currently unknown. It's fairly easy, however, to find out a lot about some basic identifying information about the image.
This albumen silver print from a glass negative, produced sometime in the 1870s, is owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The image, not currently on display in the museum, is one of 8,500 photographs from the Gilman Paper Company Collection. If you want to do some very deep research on the people who collected this photographs, check out these two articles about the rise and fall of the Gilman family fortune: here and here.
Beware of what you think you see when you look at photographs. We easily see what we want to see in vintage photographs. It's much more difficult to stand back and let the image tell us the story it has to tell.
This goes for viewing people in your day-to-day life, too. It's always more challenging--and rewarding--to stand back and let a person tell their own story rather than to hear the story we think they should tell.
For more images of vintage men and their relationships (some gay, some straight) visit: Two Men and Their Dog; Adam and Steve in the Garden of Eden: On Intimacy Between Men; A Man and His Dog; The Beasts of West Point; Vintage Men: Innocence Lost | The Photography of William Gedney; It's Only a Paper Moon;Vintage Gay America: Crawford Barton; These Men Are Not Gay | This Is Not A Farmer | Disfarmer; Desire and Difference: Hidden in Plain Sight, Come Make Eyes With Me Under the Anheuser Bush, Hugh Mangum: Itinerant Photographer, Two men, Two Poses; Photos are Not Always What They Seem,Vintage Sailors: An Awkward Realization, Three Men on a Horse, Welkom Bar: Vintage Same Sex Marriage, Pretty in Pink: Two Vintage Chinese Men, Memorial Day Surprise: Vintage Sailor Love, Memorial Day: Vintage Dancing Sailors, The Curious Case of Two Men Embracing, They'll Never Know How Close We Were, Vintage Love: Roger Miller Pegram,Manly Affections: Robert Gant, Homo Bride and Groom Restored to Dignity, The Men in the Trees, The Girl in the Outhouse, Tommy and Buzz: All My Love,Men in Photo Booths, and Invisible: Philadelphia Gay Wedding c. 1957. You can also follow me on Tumblr.