Gay men’s magazine Elska is currently celebrating its second anniversary. For two years the editorial team of Elska has brought intimate portrayals of men from across the globe, in photos and writing. In light of that we asked editor Liam Campbell to recount the most memorable photo shoots.
1) Sasha K, Lviv (Ukraine) – “Lviv was the first ever Elska city, and we shot Sasha on the first day there, so I’ll always have fond memories of him even if he hadn’t been really enthusiastic and sweet, which he was! When he arrived at the flat I was staying at, I first offered some tea and shortbread biscuits that I brought along from England. He really adored them, eating like ten of them as my assistant Andriy interpreted for him into Ukrainian what we were going to do. Then we took a walk around the old city to shoot, running into trouble from someone who tried to bribe us for being on what he called but actually wasn’t “private property”. Then we ended up with a small crowd of elderly ladies when he went topless in a public park. And finally when we returned back to the flat and were about to say goodbye, Andriy suggested, half-jokingly, that he come in to do a full nude shoot. He agreed to our surprise, and the first Elska nude happened there in my little Ukrainian kitchen.”
2) Davið J, Reykjavík (Iceland) – “We met Davíð at his flat where he made coffee, dished out loads of cakes and funny salty sweets, and chatted. I was playing with his little animals too and then his bunny bit me, which startled me into remembering that it was late November and the sun would be setting early. So we rushed out to Hvalfjörður where Davíð wanted to shoot. It was maybe two degrees at most and very windy, but Davíð was determined to do a nude shoot. So basically what we did was to leave his car running with the heat cranked up so we could have warm-up breaks in there after every twenty or so frames outside. He was definitely the most determined subject I ever shot, so whenever guys in later shoots complain about cold or rain or whatever, I tell them about Davíð.”
3) Roman T, Berlin (Germany) – “It’s interesting that sometimes guys we meet on the road are really friendly and hospitable and other times it’s all business. It’s even more interesting that some cities tend to have more cordial people than others (Mumbai being probably the warmest and our next edition Helsinki being the coldest). Anyway, the most hospitable guy ever met during any Elska shoot was Roman T in Berlin. Right after we finished working, he popped the cork off a bottle of bubbly and then cooked dinner for us. It might have had to do with him being a native Russian though – most Slavs I’ve shot have been more on the hospitable side.”
4) Tusan C, Reykjavík (Iceland) – “This was truly one of the most bizarre experiences. He wanted to do a nude shoot but insisted that if he were to pose naked, that me and my assistant Andriy would have to be naked too. So we did, and you know, it’s awkward at first but soon you forget that you have no clothes on and just get to work. I’ll always remember sitting there after we finished working, drinking tea on his sofa while still naked and not even noticing the nudity. I’ve never done anything like that again since, but would again one day.”
5) Daniel T, Lisbon (Portugal) – “From the start of the shoot I saw that Daniel always had his hands in his pockets. He kind of had this pouty, moody look so it worked for me, but then I noticed he would also sometimes leave his sleeves hanging really low with his hands tucked inside. This I thought just looked weird, so I actually scolded him. Then I was so embarrassed when he revealed that he has a congenital hand deformity, which I had no idea about, and he just didn’t want to show it in pictures. I kind of wish that he did want to reveal it to the camera, but he just wasn’t ready, although he did write about it in his Elska story.”
6) Chris C, Taipei (Taiwan) – “Even though I’m a pretty boring, monogamous, old-fashioned sort of married guy, there are times when you just connect with someone. I remember sitting in this little room with Chris chatting after we finished shooting, and we kept making that sort of eye contact that tries to lure you into a kiss, but I was trying to resist it. Then fortunately for me, right when it was getting a bit too difficult, my Taipei assistant Roman arrived and totally rebooted the mood. Later when Chris sent his story, I found out that he was feeling the same thing, so it could have turned into a very sticky situation, literally!”
7) Serkan T & Lola, Istanbul (Turkey) – “I was in Istanbul on some gay app, Hornet I think, looking for more people to shoot, and I started chatting to Serkan. He was really into the idea but then suddenly it was revealed that the person typing wasn’t Serkan, but his friend Lola, typing on his behalf because Serkan didn’t speak English. Anyway Lola said Serkan would love to shoot but she’d need to come with to translate, which I was ok with. Then she asked if maybe I could take a few pics of her just as a favour, and I agreed. However when we met I realised that I was being totally used… Lola had a huge bag full of outfits and was expecting a full-on free photoshoot, with Serkan kind of on the sidelines. On one hand I was annoyed, but on the other I found the experience shooting this trans woman in the streets of Istanbul exhilarating, watching men hoot and holler at her, while she would revel in teasing and shouting back at them. Ultimately I didn’t publish Serkan in the main Elska Istanbul issue though, because I just didn’t think he ever wanted to be part of it. It was all Lola.”
8) Jack S, Cardiff (Wales) – “Originally the plan was just to shoot Jack at home, but when we met he had this impromptu suggestion to go shoot in Cardiff Castle – not ‘at’ the castle but ‘in’ the castle. He revealed that he worked there and had full access, so we went for it. Not only did we get a tour of the castle but a secret tour too because we had to stay out of the way of the tour groups and go into roped off private rooms instead. It was such a special experience, but even beyond memories, I have a physical souvenir too… When I tried to open an old door, the heavy iron handle fell off, and I put it in my bag. It now sits in my home next to a pile of Elskas.”
9) Tate S, Toronto (Canada) – “Shooting Tate was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had shooting. Most of the guys shot in Elska are gay and sometimes this can create a sort of tension, but Tate was straight and it just felt easy with him. I remember walking around the neighbourhood shooting and just feeling like we were hanging out rather than working, listening to his stories, and ogling his cute friend Samson who’d tagged along (and who probably also was straight). Anyway when we returned to Tate’s place, he suggested we go to the rooftop pool in his building ‘cos there were some great views of the skyline from the windows there. Then when he took his shirt off I saw the scars of his double mastectomy and I had to tell him that scars are something I won’t Photoshop away for Elska. I didn’t know what he would say but I really admired that he wasn’t ashamed to show himself fully, without worry.”
10) Harvey S & Justin Trudeau, Toronto (Canada) – “I remember being really relaxed with Harvey. The shoot really went slowly. We drank wine, listened to music, chatted and relaxed. Then he started showing me all these cool shirts, some of them that he designed himself, and one amazing one with an image on it of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau riding a moose while Canadian geese fly overhead. We had to use this top but I felt he had to have his dick out for full impact, ‘cos who doesn’t want to see Trudeau naked, right? I loved the images we made, and I only wish the world was ready for that much nudity or I’d have put one of those Trudeau-dick pics on the cover!”
11) Martin F, Providence (USA) – “Martin F was one of those people who really showed me what a small world it is. First of all he told me that he used to live in Iceland and knew quite well some of the guys from the Elska edition made there. Then I discovered that he was from Brittany, a part of France that is famous for a pastry called kouign amann that I used to get all the time from a local bakery when I lived in Montréal. Then after the shoot we went to a French bakery in Providence called Seven Stars where they make it. And he told me they were quite authentic too. Then recently I ran into a girl at a café who used to live with him, and we spent ages talking about him. I’m convinced that I’ll run into him again one day, that the coincidences will continue.”
12) Pieterjan V & Nikolas L, Brussels (Belgium) – “Since the start of Elska I’ve always had a difficult time dealing with it when anyone refers to Elska as ‘erotic’. It makes me uncomfortable, like the word is too close to ‘porn’. Although I don’t have a problem with pornography, I’m not trying to make it. But these guys got me the closest to porn that I’ve ever been. Halfway through the shoot, they started getting extra intimate, with one in particular becoming noticeably excited. I kept interrupting them to ask if I should stop shooting, and they kept telling me to keep going. Eventually however, I did decide to stop and I left to let them ‘finish’ on their own because I know also that when you are under the influence of libido, you can do things you might regret later. But part of me wishes I’d stayed though, just to see what would happen!”
13) Ruben L, Brussels (Belgium) – “We were standing in Ruben’s kitchen discussing what he was planning to write for his Elska story, and he kept saying he was gonna write about cyborgs. I didn’t get it, so I was trying to explain that the Elska stories aren’t supposed to be fiction, and certainly not sci-fi. Then he took his shirt off, grabbed my hand and pressed it onto his chest. I felt this weird plasticky thing under his skin and instantly recoiled. “What is that?” I cried, thinking it was some sort of extreme piercing gone wrong, and he revealed it was a sort of pacemaker. I just never expected something like that on a guy so young. Finally it made sense why he was planning to write about a cyborg, because the cyborg was him.”
Main photo: Ibrahim, Istanbul, Turkey.