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A surprising look at the experience of men, revealed through photographs

  • Posted on: 3 March 2015
  • By: Irene

Greetings TEDxFlourCity Fans!

Welcome to March! While spring still feels far away, we've got the next best thing: we are so excited to be hosting our Kickoff Event next week! This free event is on March 11 (a Wednesay) at 6pm in the beautiful pent house office spaces of the First Federal Building. 

Our events are always a great networking opportunity for up and coming thought leaders in the Rochester community. Whether you are into networking and great conversation, or just want to enjoy some TED talks, hors d'oeuvres and a beautfiul view of the city with like-minded people, you won't want to miss this! If you would like to attend all you have to do is register here. Space is limited so do that soon. We look forward to seeing many of you there!

And now another TEDxFlourCity2014 flashback. Or should I say, a flashback within a flashback...

Gerry Szymanski’s passion project allows him to preserve and re-introduce pieces of history, much like he does at his job at the music library for the Eastman School. Szymanski collects late 19th and early 20th century images captured on small pieces of metal, an early form of photographs known as tintypes.

Gerry Szymanski on the TEDxFlourCity2014 Stage

Tintype technology emerged in the late 1850s as an affordable alternative to expensive daguerreotypes, and allowed for the working class to capture their lives on photographs. Each is one of a kind, as it was not possible to produce duplicates. Szymanski’s collection is unique because of what each image shares in common: men displaying affection toward one another. He has dubbed his collection of over 100 tintypes of this sort “affectionate men” photographs.

Szymanski is drawn to what might be learned from these affectionate men images about U.S. culture in the late Victorian Era. “We have to wonder and infer about the nature of their relationship, and the way men socialized in different periods of U.S. history,” he says musingly. “A lot of people look at these pictures and immediately think that these guys might be a couple. They might be lovers, they might be, you know, partners. And I think that that might be true, but not necessarily.”

In his talk, Szymanski explains that the nature of the interactions between men and women in the U.S. during the Victorian period was very different than it is today. The frequency with which non-married men and women interacted was much lower and the context was much more rigid. In general, “Women hung out with other women, men fraternized with other men,” Szymanski says.

Still, some authors who write on the subject speculate that this may have been evidence of an early gay culture. Szymanski acknowledges this but does not make the assumption. He believes that many people’s understanding of the culture of the Victorian era may be incomplete.

“I just have discovered that the idea of Victorian society as being kind of very prudish and kind of not very fun, is not really true…all of these images of men together in a very affectionate way, that doesn't seem to suggest the kinds of Victorian rules of etiquette and manners that we kind of assign to this time period…”

Szymanski says viewers of his talk will “learn something new about the 19th century that they probably had no clue about…people were getting their picture taken in an affectionate way that seems kind of odd to us now.”

Sparking this kind of curiosity is one of his favorite parts about collecting and sharing these images.

“…that is a really wonderful thing—being able to connect people up with something that they didn’t even know existed is something I kind of do on a daily basis.”

Watch his talk: "Boon Companions -- affectionate adventures in early photography"

We hope you enjoyed this talk and learned something new! If you would like to share this piece, please click on the "share" button below. In our next post we will highlight another speaker from the TEDxFlourCitySalon: Voz--The Power of the Latino Voice; stay tuned!

Have a fabulous rest of the week!