In 2008, Columbia University librarian Herbert Mitchell passed away, bequeathing a trove of curios to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Mitchell was an obsessive collector of historical ephemera, from quotidian trade catalogs of wallpapers and plumbing supplies to tintype occupational portraits and other rarities.
Among the daguerreotypes, tintypes and ambrotypes he bequeathed to the Met are a number of pictures of men posing in surprisingly intimate embraces.
Men affectionately hold hands, drape their legs over one another and sit in each other’s laps, enjoying intimate physical contact without any evident trace of the self-consciousness one might expect from the stiff portraiture of the late 19th century.
None of the portraits include captions or identifying information, leaving the relationships between the sitters to the imagination of the viewer.