Celebrating its 6th anniversary, Elska Magazine is a publication of photos and stories from models around the world. Each issue of this bi-monthly ‘bookazine’ is made in a different city and features intimate photos and personal stories from a range of regular local guys.
Creator Liam Campbell started the project and says it’s meant to “make you feel like you’ve traveled to the city yourself and spent a week there that was chock full of first dates.” The magazine, which is now on its 36th issue, exhibits queer people from Reykjavik to Budapest, Athens to Atlanta. Nearly 600 guys have made it to print.
“Even today I still think that if Elska was full of professional models or porn stars that it would sell more copies, but I’m happy to sacrifice sales and leave it to some other photographer or publisher to play to the mainstream.”
Although some of the photos are of manlier men, Liam says that it’s not the aim of Elska to just be full of hot guys and it’s certainly not what he wants to photograph. “Even today I still think that if Elska was full of professional models or porn stars that it would sell more copies, but I’m happy to sacrifice sales and leave it to some other photographer or publisher to play to the mainstream. I feel quite content doing things my way.”
Liam says the everyday-ness of the models is the best part and it helps the reader get to know a city and its men as if they were there exploring on their own. “In the beginning, I took inspiration from some relatively mainstream gay magazines and male nude photography books, but what I did was less polished and less conventional in the fact that I allowed anyone to take part, not just specific ’types’ that would fit the mold of society’s idea of beauty,” he says.
Liam even got some backlash for not publishing the hot, muscled centerfolds people expected. “After releasing my first few issues, it seemed like my way of doing things was something negative because I got a lot of hate that my ‘models’ weren’t attractive or interesting enough, or even that I had too many old, fat, or non-white people (yes, I really got complaint letters about this sort of thing). But it seemed that eventually, my way of doing things became an asset because it turned out that there are at least enough people like me out there, people who have a broader notion of beauty, to make the magazine successful.”
Up next Elska has new cities and new models on the docket. Liam and his camera will be in Bern, Switzerland, and then Athens, Greece to collect stories and photos of locals for the next few issues. The next one headed to print is Casablanca, Morocco and the one before that covers the men of Atlanta, Georgia, a city that Liam describes as the “Black Gay Capital of America.” Showing diversity is one of his goals, despite any haters that hit unsubscribe.
“The first time I really got these [haters] was for the third issue, which was Elska Reykjavík (still the highest selling issue) and someone asked if they could cancel their subscription unless I could promise that future issues would have less ‘thicker’ guys. And then when I released the fifth issue, Elska Taipei, the first issue we made outside Europe, there were many complaints from people with the “sorry, but I’m just not into Asians” line.”
Despite the casual racism and fatphobia, the majority of Elska’s subscribers love the real, unfiltered look at the men of any given city. It’s also why Liam got into this kind of photography. “It all started with a trip to Reykjavík actually,” he says. “Iceland was the first country abroad that I ever visited alone. I went there at the age of eighteen after having lusted over landscape photography books on the country that I used to take out constantly from my school library. I expected that on that trip I’d see some of that landscape for myself, and take my own photographs of it, but what was more consequential was that on this trip I took advantage of that time away from home, away from all the people who knew me, none of whom knew that I was gay, to be out of the closet,” says Liam.
“I enacted on a crush for the first time with a boy who worked at the hostel next to Laugardalslaug, I had my first kiss with a man at a club just off Laugavegur.”
Then he got to know the men of Reykjavík intimately. “I enacted on a crush for the first time with a boy who worked at the hostel next to Laugardalslaug, I had my first kiss with a man at a club just off Laugavegur, and then went a little further with a guy I randomly met in a coffeeshop on Skólavörðustígur. After this trip I became addicted to travel and to Iceland, partly for the what the country offers to all tourists, but more so for how free I felt there.”
The name for the magazine, Elska, comes from this feeling of freedom and adventure. “It wasn’t until many years later, when I worked as cabin crew, that I started getting really into combining travel with meeting men and photographing them and then when I came up with the idea of putting this work into a tangible publication I decided that I should give it an Icelandic name. So I chose ‘Elska’ in honour of the country that sparked my interest in travel, that awakened my love for photography, and that allowed the real me to show himself,” says Liam.
This article is a part of “What’s On: Books, Podcasts, and Comics from Queer Creators. A collection of new content for you to devour”, by journalist Michael Ryan.