Daniel B, pictured in Toronto Canada.

Capturing the faces, bodies and voices of queer men

Launched in 2015, Elska Magazine is still going strong. For five years now, each issue of this ‘sexy anthropology journal’ takes us to a different city in the world and captures the faces, bodies and voices of local queer men in all their glorious diversity. By now Liam Campbell, the father of Elska, has traveled to many countries and met many queer men from many different backgrounds. GayIceland asked him all about it.
Liam Campbell, editor of Elska Magazine.

You launched Elska in September 2015. How does it feel like to be celebrating its fifth anniversary?
“Most of all it just feels unbelievable that it’s been five years already. It makes me feel grateful, and also more confident that another five years will be possible too.”

How did it all started?
“Although I did photography at college, it wasn’t until I took a job as cabin crew in 2014 that I really started getting into photography properly. My airline would send us to places I never imagined travelling to, like Kuwait, Kenya, Korea, and I just had to document everything with my camera. I started out doing street photography, but I quickly noticed that I perhaps inadvertently kept capturing hot locals guys, which made me start actually trying to recruit models. I’d be in Japan, for example, and would go on one of the gay apps and just ask if anyone fancied doing a photoshoot. In time I started building a pretty strong portfolio, which got me some commercial photography jobs, and that gave me confidence to do my own thing. That became Elska, a project where I could combine travelling and shooting boys all over the world.”

“…he started teasing me in that typical Australian way of bantering, insisting that it’s ridiculous and unfair of me to be fully clothed while photographing him naked, so he insisted that I get naked too.”

What kept you going?
“Well, this is a hard business, but I believe anyone who is able to at least not lose money by being a full-time artist is lucky. Recently I photographed a guy, who will be in our next issue, and he was wearing a t-shirt that read, ‘You can make a living from art, stop telling kids that you can’t’. I love that! Of course, it’s not a fancy sort of living, but I don’t need that much money. I’m more nourished by all the people who tell me that my work means something to them, that it makes them feel more positive, more seen, more confident.”

How do you pick the cities?
“In general my policy is to let the readers guide where to go. People often write in to say, “If you ever come to my city, I’d love to take part”, and once enough people write in from the same place, I go. That’s how we ended up doing issues in India and the Philippines, for example. But also, I try to make sure the roster of countries we include is diverse, so sometimes I’ll go somewhere like Bangladesh or Colombia, because there are gaps on the globe that I don’t want to ignore. By the way, if you want to request a city, we have a form set up here

How exactly do you find your models? Is it always an easy task?
“In the beginning we just used apps like Grindr, messaged everyone on the screen with our proposition, and photographed whoever responded. I like the spontaneity of that, but it can also be really unpleasant since a lot of people on there aren’t really looking to engage in anything but sex, and their rejections can be rather bitter. After the first year or so, it got easier. Nowadays we can announce a new city on social media, and sometimes we get enough responses from that to fill the schedule immediately. And if not, we go back to the apps.

Some cities are definitely easier than others, and it’s interesting because the size of the city doesn’t matter. I think the most populous cities I’ve done so far were London and Seoul, and neither of those were very easy. In general I found Northern and Eastern Europe the hardest, and Latin America the easiest. So if you want to extrapolate that Latinx people are the least reserved, I think that would be fair.”

Daniel D, Los Angeles. Photo / Elska

What’s your most memorable experience if you can spot one, either bad or wholesome?
“Oh, it’s so hard to choose, so I’ll go with a recent one. I was in Sydney, and one of the guys wanted to do a beach shoot because it seemed like a very Aussie sort of setting. It turned out that the beach he asked me to meet him at, Obelisk Beach, was a nude one. That’s fine with me, but then he started teasing me in that typical Australian way of bantering, insisting that it’s ridiculous and unfair of me to be fully clothed while photographing him naked, so he insisted that I get naked too. Definitely not an average photoshoot, but one of the most fun for sure. When it was over I put my camera on a rock and we both went for a swim. I really didn’t want to leave.”

Sonwabo S, Cape Town, South Africa. Photo / Elska

Do you feel like your work has evolved throughout the years? How?
“Yes, for sure. In some ways it’s changed in terms of quality. When I started I knew nothing of graphic design, of editing, of running a business at all, and all of these skills improved over time. Looking at the first issues is almost embarrassing for me now, though I prefer to think of them as charming! My photography has changed too. Partly it’s also better in quality, because of experience, but more so its intention is more clear. In the beginning I had too many ideas of what a photospread should look like, based on what I learned in school or saw in other magazines. Over time my attitude changed, which is now about being honest. I try to let nothing deter me – if a setting cramped or badly lit, it doesn’t matter because it’s more important to me to faithfully represent that moment between me and the model than to make something that is technically beautiful.”

Inder N and S Arif, Mumbai, India. Photo / Elska

You’ve traveled to many countries and met many gay men from many different backgrounds these past years. Despite all the socioeconomic and cultural gaps, have you spotted any recurring theme or pattern in the stories your models shared with you?
“Certain themes come up again and again, like coming out stories, love stories, and sex stories. What’s really interesting is that they come up no matter where you are, but the way they’re told differs slightly. Coming out stories aren’t just the stuff of ‘conservative’ countries, proving that all queer people know what it feels like to be an outcast, to be different. Love too is universal, but in the way that I said that Northern Europe seems a bit reserved, the love stories we’ve had from our Helsinki, Reykjavík and Stockholm issues tended to be more coy; whereas some from our Los Angeles, Guadalajara, and Pittsburgh issues were absolutely filthy!”

Heiko M, Berlin, Germany. Photo / Elska

Have you noticed a difference in the way gay men all around the world talk about – and perceive themselves in the span of five years?
“I would have thought that five years isn’t enough to really perceive change, but there are a couple specific areas where I think there are some differences. One would be race – there are more people who both notice racism and who are willing to address it. Another would be body positivity, with more and more people admitting how damaging beauty standards and Insta culture can be. I talk to a lot of people who feel un- or under-represented in media, be it because of their race or their body type and age. When I started this five years ago, the vast majority of people who would come forward to take part in Elska were young, white, fit, and probably very well-endowed too, because that’s what they expected I would want. My work has become more diverse over time, and it’s not because I’m specifically trying to find more diversity but rather that different types of people are feeling confident to put themselves out there. I couldn’t be more happy about that, and more hopeful about the world.”

Last time we interviewed you back in June, you had just released Fifteen Icelandic Swimming Pools. What have you been up to since then?
“Since then I’ve released two new issues, both shot pre-Covid in January – Elska Sydney and Elska Kuala Lumpur. I also shot an issue this summer in my home country, the UK, which will be out in December. It’s going to be a very interesting and surprisingly exciting issue, which is very fortunate since I only chose to shoot in the UK because Covid made it too difficult to travel to any other countries.”

“… the love stories we’ve had from our Helsinki, Reykjavík and Stockholm issues tended to be more coy; whereas some from our Los Angeles, Guadalajara, and Pittsburgh issues were absolutely filthy!”

How did Covid impact your work?
“In 2020 I have actually lost four cities, all places I had flights to but which got cancelled due to the virus crisis. They were São Paulo (Brazil), Buenos Aires (Argentina), Beirut (Lebanon) and Milan (Italy). One of them I have rescheduled, but the others I can’t say if I’ll ever return to make Elska issues there. I hope so though.”

Nikolas L and Pieterjan V, Brussels, Belgium. Photo / Elska

What’s next on your bucket list? Why?
“I really don’t know, Covid has disabled my ability to even dream about future travel. I really want to get back to Africa one day though, but it’s a difficult continent for gay life all over. I wouldn’t want to endanger the lives of any men who would choose to be published in Elska, by being publicly outed, even in a small publication like this. Yes, I could more safely do another city in South Africa (I did a Cape Town issue in 2018), but I’d really love to feature another country, Senegal or Ghana perhaps. Honestly, if anyone is out there in Africa reading this and feels confident that Elska could work, get in touch.”

Where can we find the print magazine in Iceland?
“Various branches of Penninn / Eymundsson sell Elska in Iceland, but it’s probably best to call ahead and check what’s available as each branch only gets a small amount of each issue.”

The Hamburger Factory
- gourmet burgers

Ok. You’re in Iceland. Most likely for the first time.

You will probably bathe in the Blue Lagoon and take a road trip to Gullfoss and
Geysir. That’s all well and good. But neither Geysir’s nor waterfalls are
something you eat. That’s why we have 15 brilliant and creative hamburgers at
The Hamburger Factory. And they are all perfectly square. Don’t miss out on
Iceland’s most beloved hamburgers.

The Hamburger Factory is Iceland’s most innovative gourmet burger chain.
Packed with burger-craving customers since it’s opening in 2010, among the
regulars is Iceland’s best known fisherman, Eric Clapton. In our restaurants we
welcome tourists with our newspaper like menu and smiley service. They are
packed with fun items and memorable connections to Icelandic pop culture.

Locations:

Omnom Chocolate
- award-winning chocolate maker

    Omnom Chocolate is an Icelandic craft chocolate company based in Reykjavík. We produce handcrafted chocolate from organic cacao beans sourced ethically and sustainably. We’ve developed direct relationships to create premium chocolate with fine flavor cacao beans.

    Our creative flavors are carefully crafted by meticulous chocolate makers. The cacao beans are roasted, winnowed, ground, and refined into melty-smooth chocolate.

    Omnom’s process is one of constant exploration, invention, and experimentation. If it doesn’t please us, if something isn’t absolutely delicious, there’s no reason to be doing it. So, we always start with our taste buds and follow our instincts. Our team searches for the finest ingredients in the world and new ways to improve chocolate. This obsession with knowing where our ingredients come from has led us around the corner to dairy farms in the Icelandic countryside and all the way to rainforest cacao farms of Nicaragua.

    In only a few short years, we’ve grown from our 50 sq. m. petrol station space and become an award-winning chocolate maker. Now, with our headquarters in 101 Reykjavík, our chocolate is sent out around Iceland and all over the world.

    At the end of the day, our goal is to make chocolate.

     

    Alfred’s Apartments
    - gay owned an operated

      Alfred’s Apartments and Alfred’s Studios is a gay operated and owned accommodation in the heart of Reykjavik.

      Alfred’s Apartments offers spacious apartments at a good price located just around the corner from Laugavegur shopping street. You can choose the apartment starting from a Small Studio for 2 persons to a large One-bedroom Apartment with balcony for 5 persons.

      Their staff will ensure your comfort during the stay and provide the most updated information about the city, gay and night life in Reykjavik.

      Each apartment has a private bathroom with a shower, fully equipped kitchen and free Wi-Fi. Guests can buy groceries at the local grocery store 50 meters from the apartments. Because of their very central location, numerous shops, restaurants and cafés are available in the surrounding area. The Church of Hallgrimur is located 350 m from the apartments, a tourist agency is just 50 m away and the nearest gay bar is less than 5 minutes walking distance.

      Laekur hostel
      In the hostel we have dorms for 4-8 persons with shared kitchen and bathroom facilities. The rooms are furnished with free internet, lockers, and a USB charger by each bed. The beds have linen provided and you can rent a towel in the cafe on the ground floor for 5 EUR.

      All the dorms are mixed with both genders. You can also book a whole room with 4-8 bunker beds.

      Blue Lagoon
      - a world of wonder

      Named by National Geographic as one of the 25 Wonders of the World, the Blue Lagoon is a shimmering expanse of warmth, relaxation, and rejuvenation. Its unique geothermal seawater comes from 2000 meters within the earth where sea and fresh water converge in a tectonic frontier of porous lava and searing heat. Propelled by extreme pressure, the water ascends to the earth’s surface, emerging enriched with silica, algae, and minerals: the elements that endow Blue Lagoon geothermal seawater with its radiant, healing properties.

      From its humble beginnings in the shadows of a geothermal power plant, Blue Lagoon has evolved into a world of wonder, now encompassing a hotel, a restaurant, a luxury lounge, a renowned line of skin care, a research center, in-water massage, and a wealth of spa and refreshment facilities.

      Achieving harmony with the volcanic landscape of Iceland’s Reykjanes lava plain, the lagoon and its surrounding architecture embody the unification of the man-made and the natural, and adhere to the highest principles of sustainability.

      Blue Lagoon. A wonder of the world. A world of wonder.

      Whales of Iceland
      - larger than life

      Whales of Iceland is the largest whale exhibition in Europe (and perhaps even the world), where guests can learn about the giants of the sea in a calm and modern environment. The permanent exhibition features whales like guests have never seen them before. It is truly a giant experience.

      Landsbankinn
      - leading financial institution

      Landsbankinn is a leading Icelandic financial institution. It offers a full range of financial services and is the market leader in the Icelandic financial service sector with the largest branch network.

      The present bank was established on 7 October 2008 but the history of its predecessor dates back to 1886. The bank is owned by the National Treasury of Iceland, which holds 98.2% of its share capital, and other shareholders who own 1.8%.

      Landsbankinn’s strategy is to provide comprehensive financial services that meet customer’s needs. It emphasizes providing exemplary service to customers, developing e-banking for their convenience, increasing the efficiency of support functions, modernizing its technology and ensuring effective utilization of its balance sheet.

      The bank’s vision is to be exemplary and its role is to be a trusted financial partner.

      Special emphasis is placed on promoting a performance-oriented culture in the bank. To follow up on the implementation of this strategy, the bank has defined key goals which are measured regularly to determine progress. These goals include, for example, customer satisfaction and loyalty, profitability, cost efficiency and the correlation between risk appetite and employee satisfaction.

      Landsbankinn wishes to lead the development of a sustainable society in Iceland by integrating economic, social and environmental concerns in its operations. The Bank aims to ensure that both its owners and society at large benefit from its activities.

      It intends to achieve this aim by building solid infrastructure and a strong team of 1.100 employees, by listening to its customers and by respecting and encouraging its employees to actively participate in their community. Landsbankinn was a founding member of Festa, a Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility, and is a member of the UN Global Compact.

      Landsbankinn has been a proud sponsor of the Reykjavik Pride since it was first celebrated in Iceland.

      Dohop
      - get inspired

      Dohop allows people to find the cheapest flights available with just one click. Founded in Reykjavik in 2004, it is the only Icelandic company of its kind and quickly became the go-to tool for finding cheap flights among the locals. Dohop finds the best deals among hundreds of different airlines and online travel agencies, to make sure that the user is getting the cheapest price. Dohop also offers hotel and car rental search engines, so users can make all of their travel bookings from a single website.

      Dohop‘s specialty is finding so-called “self-connect” flight options, which can save travelers money by booking a ticket through two or more different airlines. The ability to look for these self-connect option is what sets Dohop apart from its competition, as it can save people hundreds of dollars on certain routes.

      More recently, Dohop has developed a unique product called Dohop Go!, which allows users to check for the cheapest available flights from their home airport. This tool is perfect for those who are looking for travel inspiration but are not willing to overpay for their flight ticket. Dohop Go! is now available in the Dohop Flights App, both for Android and iOS, along with its traditional flight, hotel, and car search engines. “

      Macland
      - for all your Apple needs

      From starting out as a proper startup with only a good idea and the need to change things, to becoming an established company with 6 employees. Starting from scratch and expanding organically has allowed us to love our expansion and take our customers on the ride with us.

      Macland is located at Laugavegur 23 (101, Downtown Reykjavik)
      For all your Apple needs. We are here.

      Aurora Reykjavik
      - northern lights center

        Aurora Reykjavik is a Northern Lights Center situated in downtown Reykjavík at the Old Harbor next to Icelandair Hotel Marina and Vikin Maritime Museum.

        Aurora Reykjavík is Iceland’s first educational and recreational Northern Lights Center where multimedia is used to explain when, why and how the Northern Lights work, with the highlights being large HD projection of the Aurora’s. We also share myths and legends about what our ancestor thought about those mystical lights.

        The Northern Lights Center is for all ages. Children are our favorite guests and we created the exhibition in a way that children can have a look freely and parents don’t have to worry about things being broken.

        Aurora Reykjavik offers a great selection of souvenirs that are designed and made by Icelanders along with nice little coffee corner, where you can enjoy free coffee and tea while browsing through the souvenirs or just planning your next step.

        Contact Aurora

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          Ísey skyr
          - once tasted never forgotten

          Our Story
          Once upon a time, 1,100 years ago in fact, Nordic settlers began arriving in Iceland. They brought with them the skills and knowledge for producing skyr. As time passed, the know-how and recipe for this nutritious food slowly faded out elsewhere in the Nordic region. Luckily, the Icelandic skyr-making tradition continued.

          For centuries, Icelandic skyr formed a cornerstone of the national diet, helping to keep people strong in living conditions that were often harsh. On family farms countrywide, it was the women who nurtured this dairy and passing on both the recipe and the original Icelandic skyr cultures from mother to daughter.

          Ísey skyr builds on this remarkable legacy. It was some of those very same women, the recipients of their mothers’ expertise, who, around 90 years ago, taught Icelandic dairy scientists the art of skyr-making. The production process is more high-tech these days, and the quality standards more rigorous. However, the basic recipe and the use of original cultures to ferment the skimmed milk remain the same. Protein rich, fat-free, creamy and delicious – Ísey skyr is as relevant to consumers now as it was all those centuries ago.
          This is our secret and you are in on it

          You can read more about Ísey skyr on our website.

          Núðluskálin
          - noodle bar

          Núðluskálin is a small gay owned and operated fusion noodle bar.

          All of our courses are individually made from fresh ingredients and therefore highly customisable.
          We offer fully Vegan versions of all courses.
          Though originally a take-away we now seat over 30 people.

          Núðluskálin is located right in the heart of Reykjavík on Skólavörðustígur 8 (street leading up to the big Church) near the junction with Laugavegur (main street).

          Seatours
          - adventure cruise

          Ferry Baldur – the gate to the West fjords
          and VikingSushi Adventure – Bird & Nature watching Tour for everyone all year around

          The “VikingSushi Adventure” is the right boat tour for travelers who are adventurous and want to experience something new – close up to the nature seafood simply doesn’t come fresher than this! The archipelago area of the Breidafjordur Bay always surprises her visitors during winter or summer with spectacular sights. Where else you get to try delicious fresh scallops and sea urchin roe straight from the ocean served with soy sauce, wasabi and ginger.

          600x400-seatours-tasting

          This old volcanic area, characterized by the typical basalt formations of the islands, is the home of countless birds. Here you will also find the strongest currents in Iceland. The VikingSushi Tour takes roughly two hours and our captain is also the tour guide.

          600x400-seatours

          The VikingSushi Tour is a true adventure through incredible nature which should not be missed by any traveler to West Iceland.

          Birds, possible to spot:
          -puffins (from the middle of April until the middle of August)
          -eider ducks
          -shags
          -kittiwakes
          -fulmars
          -white-tailed eagle

          The car ferry Baldur is the bridge to the West fjords via the island Flatey
          Ferry Baldur crosses Breidafjordur Bay daily from Stykkisholmur on the Snæfellsnes peninsula to Brjanslaekur in the north. A ferry ride considerably shortens the route between the south and mid-west of the country and the West Fjords region. It also gives you the opportunity to experience a floating restaurant.

          Take a stopover at the charming island Flatey when you are crossing the bay or go to a day tour to Flatey and back to Stykkishólmur. At Flatey are no cars allowed and between the houses of the 18th century you get the feeling of a journey back in time.

          Contact Us


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          Thank You. We will contact you as soon as possible.