We Do Not Want to Be Associated With Homosexuals!

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Last week we reissued our first ever publication, Elska Lviv, shot in Ukraine's most beautiful city. The reason to reprint it was due to a public vote whereby readers and fans chose from six out-of-print Elskas. Lviv won overwhelmingly; if the vote had been even close, I'd have chosen to reprint another.

Elska Lviv has always been problematic. While it would be simply ignorant to compare Ukraine to Russia, in terms of homophobia, they share more in common than most Ukrainians would be comfortable to admit. We didn't personally encounter any problems when shooting the issue, but we did after it was published, mainly from some of the participants who suddenly weren't happy to be part of Elska once they realised that Elska was gaining a larger audience than they expected. Mainly they had a problem that Elska's audience was so gay.

While certainly some if not most of the guys in Elska are some sort of LGBTQ, sexuality is never a requirement for a participant of Elska. However, for a mag full of pictures of men, often naked, it's quite normal that the readership would veer towards gay men. And when gay media started writing about Elska Lviv, the men from the issue were getting angry. Many were in the closet, or partly in the closet, or maybe not even gay at all. And they absolutely did not want to be associated with homosexuals, at least not in a public way. Some wrote in begging to be removed from the issue, but it was already published. Others demanded that third party media retract their stories about Elska, but that's not in our control even if we wanted it to be. So I told them, "Say what you want about us, pretend that Elska lied to you and claimed to be a 100% heterosexual publication, if that will help you."

I thought the drama had faded. After all, Elska Lviv was originally published over 2 1/2 years ago. But today, just a week after the reissue, one of the participants contacted us to demand being deleted, or at least to crop his face off any images. 

It reeks of homosexual imperialism to suggest that another culture should stop being so homophobic, and that gay men in those societies should just come out. That's not what I'm saying. Being in Elska does not and has never meant that you are absolutely gay. But being in the closet, if you are actually gay, is not strictly a passive act. You may need to overtly deny being gay if you are accused of it. It's just part of the deal.

When I saw his smile I realised... with Joel K from Elska Perth

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My first impression of Joel came after reading his story. And in that story he came across as a total dick. He wrote about having a boyfriend who was madly in love with him, but he didn't reciprocate at all, and he just seemed heartless. I was sure that when I met Joel in person to do our photoshoot, I'd hate him. Yet in person he was completely unlike how I imagined. 

He was softly spoken, a little timid, not at all conceited, not at all arrogant, not at all heartless. He was quite sweet. Prior to meeting I assumed we'd make really moody images that would suit his story, but he was too cute and smiley. And when I saw his smile I realised that I needed to capture that smile and show it. Readers would not have the luxury to meet him in person and understand who he really is. Without showing his smile, they might come away thinking he was a jerk, just as I had. 

After spending only five minutes with him I realised that I misunderstood his story as well. What came across originally as cruelty turned out to be a simple case of him being honest about not sharing the same feelings that his boyfriend had towards him. And that's okay, this happens in life. It would be truly cruel to hold on to someone you don't really love and string them along, right?

I hope that the photos I selected of Joel to print in the Elska Perth issue allows readers to interpret his story differently than I did before I met Joel. He's a good lad really. All the guys in Elska are. In full disclosure, if we meet a guy who really is a dick, we won't publish them at all. It hasn't happened often, but it has.

Meet Joel K and all the lovely Perth guys in Elska Perth: bit.ly/elskaperth

Lessons from Ukraine... with Semen M from Elska Lviv

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(Before we begin, you're probably pronouncing this guy's name wrong. "Semen" is the romanised spelling of the Ukrainian name "Семен", which is pronouned "seh-men", rhyming with the word "seven". It's like a Ukrainian equivalent of "Simon".)

And with that out of the way, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on our first ever issue, Elska Lviv. After being out of print for over two years, last week we re-issued it, following a vote by Elska readers to choose which out-of-print issue to bring back to life. That original issue came out in September 2015 and it was obviously enough of a success to have allowed Elska to continue, through to seventeen cities so far. It also taught us some lessons, some of which are highlighted here:

1) Three days is not long enough to shoot an issue - Partly due to costs, and also to the fact that I still had a full-time job to get back to, the men in Elska Lviv were shot in a mere three days (all Elskas since have been done in seven to ten). The result is that apart from Marko K, Eugen K, and Taras D, everyone was shot in the city centre so there's not much variation in setting. Most also were shot not in their own homes but in the flat we rented for our stay.

2) Never read the comments - Shortly after publication, we were lucky to get some great press in big time media like The Advocate and Pride. But when I naïvely went to read the comments, they were full of nastiness, particularly towards the men. Some said they were "nothing special", others said they were downright ugly, and there were a lot of homophobic comments too. Since then, no comments are ever read by us, and we recommend you to stay away too. Haters gonna hate.

3) Stories are special - The idea to have each guy write a story from his life was present from the beginning, but it was non-mandatory. This means that only four Lviv guys wrote something, and only two of those wrote something substantial. Yet those two stories were such highlights of the issue that since Lviv, all Elska issues have made stories mandatory for every guy. 

4) Be respectful of others, even when you don't agree with them - The greatest disappointment that came from the release of our Ukrainian issue was the backlash of fear and homophobia from some of the guys themselves. As the first ever Elska, nobody knew that the project would reach any level of popularity, so most of the guys were shocked when they found articles written about Elska Lviv, including in local Ukrainian media. Suddenly some of these men who weren't out (or who maybe weren't gay at all), felt outed by Elska. At first I was upset. I hoped that they'd have been proud to have been in Elska, but they were worried about what would happen if family, work colleagues, or neighbours found out. I know that the greatest service a queer person can do for LGBTQdom is to come out, but it's never my intention to force people out. All I can say is that since Elska Lviv, people can now easily google "elska magazine" and see that their participation may not go unnoticed. 

5) Forgive yourself - My other disappointment with Elska Lviv is that the final print product was a bit of a mess. I'd never printed any publication before, I'd never studied graphic design, and I only taught myself to use tools like InDesign or Photoshop. I was embarrassed, so when the first run finally sold out, I felt relieved to never have to look at a copy again. But over time I've learned to forgive myself and to hope that others appreciate that Elska is a handmade product that was never meant to be perfect, and that the imperfect aspects of it are part of its charm. Needless to say, it's a lot less scruffy today, and the new reissue of Elska Lviv has been spruced up a great deal, ready to sit happily alongside the rest of the Elska collection. 

Rediscover Elska Lviv here: bit.ly/elskalviv

Ég hata Mark Zuckerberg... with Ivan T from Elska Lviv

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We play by the rules set by Instagram and Facebook, even if they don't fully allow us the artistic freedom that we'd like, because for the sake of our business we have to use Insta and FB. Yet too often someone will report us for violating community guidelines. Maybe they really hate Elska, maybe they're jealous, or maybe they're just losers with nothing better to do. The real problem is that Mark Zuckerberg's organisation never looks at the creators' side of the story. We can't appeal, we can't argue, and the penalties for violations can be severe. 

For the pic we posted yesterday that was just banned, shown below, we clearly didn't violate the guidelines which specify that you can't show "genitals" or "close ups of buttocks". What you see is absolutely not a close-up. It's frustrating and it's petty.

I ask anyone who has an issue with Elska to please get in touch personally and discuss it. At the end of the day, this is a small operation and it means a lot to me. I can suffer greatly by Instagram bans, so please have some compassion and courage and deal with us directly. Contact link on the home page.

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Welcome Back to Lviv!

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Recently we ran a poll to let you vote for which out-of-print Elska issue to bring back to life. The winner was Elska Lviv (Ukraine). So we spruced it up a bit, sent it to the printers, and today it is officially relaunched.

Winning 35% of the votes out of a choice of six Elska city-zines, Lviv won handsomely. We're not sure why there's so much love for it, whether it's nostalgia (perhaps people feel that the very first Elska is essential for their collections) or whether it's about intrigue (Lviv is maybe our least known city ever featured), but in any case we're happy to give the people what they want. 

Elska Lviv is 140 pages and contains photospreads of 13 local guys, shot in this beautiful old European city and also at home. Some got naked, and some even wrote a story to accompany their chapters (this is notably the only Elska not to have stories from everyone). As our very first issue, made when Elska was just a budding idea, it is admittedly a bit rough around the edges, but so is the city of Lviv. And also like that city, we think it's rather charming all the same.

Order your copy now: bit.ly/elskalviv

Using Elska to Come Out... with Jason K from Elska Ekstra Perth

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One of the guys shot in Perth seemed really nervous when we met. Now it's quite normal for guys to have some nerves, but this guy was really scared, and the deer-in-the-headlights look just wasn't going to work. So I paused the start of the shoot and decided to ask what was up.

This was Jason K, and he told me that he wasn't out, crucially not to his parents. Immediately, even though it was pretty inconvenient, I said it was OK if he wanted to just cancel the shoot. But he wanted to carry on, both because it was an experience he wanted to try and because he felt that maybe it was time to finally fully come out. And if Elska could help make it happen, then so be it. "Just no full frontal images please", he told me, "that would really shock them to death!"

I was uncomfortable with the idea of having the responsibility of his coming out. That's why I decided to not publish him in the print mag. I would spare him from the extra impact that the print format has and let him come out on his own terms. Over time, however, I decided that any exposure he'd get wasn't really on our shoulders. After all, it was him who decided to do a photoshoot and share his story. We only facilitated it. So with that said, Elska supports his decision, and we wish him all the best.

Perth versus Dallas... with Martin A from Elska Perth

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Martin A was the first guy shot for Elska Perth, and with him came the first impressions of Perth. That began with the drive to meet him at his house in Guildford, a suburb of the city. That drive reminded me strongly of North Texas, of the suburbs far north of Dallas, a city where I lived for two years. The landscape is scrubby, the existing older homes remind you of a past era when farming this close to the city still happened, and then there's the fact that whatever old homes are left are being swallowed up by new developments where people can fulfil their dream of a detached house with a garden and swimming pool, made affordable by sheer virtue of distance from the city centre.

Over the course of Perth Shoot Week, this Texasy impression faded away almost entirely. I realised that Perth rather is what fast-growing American cities like Dallas could be, if only they cared a bit more about aesthetics and less about money money money. I recall hearing a news item when in Dallas where the hosts were arguing about the high costs of building a new high school, asserting that the architecture was too pricey. Specifically they were talking about portions of the building that had rounded edges to the bricks, and one of the hosts kept shouting, "Rounded costs more, rounded costs more!" 

My next impression came from Martin's home. One of the first things I noticed were all the framed photos of him and his husband, including with family around. This kind of happy gay family is still too rare in places like Texas, yet I know this is changing. I also noticed many souvenirs and tchotchkes from their travels around, including a set of coasters from Newport, Rhode Island, near my own current home town. Aussies love to travel, and sadly most Texans I met towed the sad old line, "Why should I travel abroad when there's so much to see in my own country?" To be fair, while this can be taken as nationalist ignorant bullsh*t, the truth is that Americans get so little time off from work that they can hardly travel even if they wanted to. I hope this too will change.

My next impression was about openness. As we got to shooting I found Martin very happy to do full nudity, which of course is never something to complain about. Most Perthians were proud and unafraid to show all of themselves. In this regard I don't know how to compare Perth versus Dallas. I'll just have to try to make an issue there one day. When I left Dallas after my two years there, it was largely due to homophobia at my workplace, which left a bad taste in my mouth that I attributed to the whole state. I'm open to having my impressions changed, or reaffirmed - in any case, to know more.

Los Rombos... with Juan C from Elska Bogotá

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It's nice to keep up with the Elska boys even well after their Elska issues first come out. Like Juan C from our Elska Bogotá issue. If you paid close attention while reading that issue, you'd have noticed a couple of clues about him. First there were the nude shots taken at his home, where you can see microphones, keyboards, and other music equipment in the background. Then, on the Elska Bogotá mixtape, there's a song by Juan Conde, "Orquidéas". The 'C' in 'Juan C' stands for 'Conde'. It's him, it's his voice, his song, that closes the Elska Bogotá issue.

We've stayed in touch since shooting, and he recently shared a new project with me, a group called Los Rombos. They're pictured above - Juan's the one on the right of course. Now I hope you Elskans know that I wouldn't bullshit you, so when I tell you I'm in love with the new Los Rombos EP, I'm being completely honest. I hope they make it huge and that one day I can see them perform live in some dimly lit club somewhere. 

Oh, and if you're wondering, doing the photoshoot above was rather smelly. As Juan told me, "we were literally in the shit!" And I also totally want to steal the idea, but I might save it for an Elska in Argentina, or Wisconsin, or maybe Hokkaido. Hmm, where else is associated with cows?

Elska's GDPRemark

If you're curious why we haven't sent out thousands of GDPR emails, well it's because all the GDPR emails I've been getting are driving me insane. So take heed of this message instead:

Everyone on Elska's mailing list gave us their email directly, either by specifically joining our mailing list or by ordering from our online shop (which includes in the ordering process a tick-box to 'opt out of marketing'). To be clear, we have also never purchased or stolen anyone's names or contact details. If you do wish to opt out of our communications, click the 'unsubscribe' link at the bottom of one of our emails or let us know

I didn't think he'd do it... with Henry W from Elska Perth

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An alternate version of this photo with Henry W perched on a trashed sofa was one of the options for the Elska Perth cover. Ultimately it was problematic though, for two reasons. First, even considering Aussies' famous sense of humour, a focus on rubbish doesn't leave the best impression of Perth, nor is it very accurate - I only saw maybe fifty such sights in my ten days in Perth! And second, by the time we had to decide on a final cover, Henry still hadn't sent in a story. I couldn't put a guy on the cover who didn't even write a story!

Frankly, I didn't think he'd do ever do a story. We met very last minute, without enough time for him to really look into what Elska was. I explained that I needed a story in order to shoot, and he agreed, he promised, but I wasn't hopeful. 

To be honest, I wouldn't normally shoot a guy at all if I had the inkling that a story might not come. But I shot Henry anyway because, well, the Perth roster was very, very white. Walking around the city though, you see that the population isn't all white, so the corresponding Elska should reflect that. For some reason it was just that the guys coming forward to take part in our Perth project were homogenous, so I had to interfere. I had to try.

In the end, the story came just two days before the final was sent to the printers, and only after I told him that if he didn't send a story, I would instead write my own story ABOUT HIM. I guess he was afraid I'd badmouth him in this story, which put the fire under his feet, and a story came a few hours later. A really good story too, one worthy of a cover boy.

See the final product, story and pics, in Elska Perth: bit.ly/elskaperth

Elska x The Goody House B&B

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy a big hotel, where you know what you’re going to get, but sometimes I yearn for more of a personal touch. It’s nice to feel cosy, well looked after, and to feel like a proper guest. I felt instantly at home when I arrived at The Goody House B&B.

When I rang the doorbell, host Pär-Johan opened the door holding a card with a picture showing a pear, the letter ‘U’, and the numeral ‘1’, indicating how to pronounce his name. This then morphed into a little linguistic dance with me speaking a bit of Icelandic and him responding in Swedish, which soon turned into a proper Swedish lesson. A language lecture is, by the way, probably the most fun I can have. But if it’s not what you’re into, Pär-Johan seems well-versed in any subject. And if you’d rather just relax, then he, like all good Swedes, is expert at comfortable silences, able to make anyone feel at ease.

I quickly unpacked, transferred the photos from the previous shoot (with Henry W) and then gulped a glass of water while Pär-Johan tried to convince me that taking a little break wouldn’t kill me. I argued that it actually might just do that, but the swimming pool ultimately looked too enticing to refuse. So we both stripped off and dove in, where Pär-Johan gave me another Swedish lesson: “Jag simmar, du simmar, vi simmar,” [“I swim, you swim, we swim,”] and I returned it in Icelandic: “ég syndi, þú syndir, við syndum.” 

Before I knew it, two hours had gone by and I had to rush to dry off and get to the next shoot (with Dan G). Before I left, I asked if Pär-Johan wanted to take part in Elska. He readily agreed, and then diligently wrote his story while I was off shooting Dan. The next morning, after a lovely breakfast including eggs, yogurt, cereal, and toast with ‘bush marmalade’ made from local native fruits, we headed out to the River Canning, a tributary of the River Swan, to shoot Pär-Johan while black swans, the state emblem of Western Australia, floated around us. By now it was getting hot, so soon we were back at his pool to cool off. This was the last shoot in Perth, and in that pool I felt like I was on holiday. If only I didn’t have a flight in the morning, but hopefully one day I’ll be back.

THE GOODY HOUSE B&B / WWW.THEGOODYHOUSE.COM / +61 409 985 747

Elska Los Angeles Shoot Week Update no.3

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Elska Los Angeles Shoot Week has come to an end, and I'm sitting here in the backyard with the last guy photographed here, a guy known as Tammie Brown. He's been looking at my Elskas and I've been looking at his Ragqueenz, which he adds, are made from his old panty hose! I never like to share many previews of the Elska subjects before the issues come out, which is why I told him to turn around. "Yes sir" was the reply. She's so polite, she was raised right!

It's certainly been a busy shoot week, with a total of 21 sessions, followed by a fun but grueling weekend selling our wares at LA Drag Con. And the next couple weeks will be unbelievably busy too, with all those pics to edit, stories to proof, and a nice big Elska and Elska Ekstra to lay out. It's not un-fun work though, and I really look forward to getting stuck into the LA content. It's a city I've had a lot of love for since I was a five year old kid watching repeats of "Three's Company" and wanting to be the Jack to his Janet and Chrissy (or Terri or Cindy).

By the way, I already have in mind three cover options - one including a petrol station in the background, one with palm trees all around, and one with 'se habla español' painted on a backdrop wall. When these, plus any other cover mock-ups, are finalised, those of you in the 'elskanati' (our inner circle) will be invited to vote for your favourite. If you're not already aware, the 'elskanati' consists of a few select friends as well as all Deluxe-level Elska subscribers and all Patreon members pledging at $25 or more. If you're not part of it, get into it, and put some butter on it! 

Come see Elska at Drag Con LA

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Come see Elska Magazine at RuPaul's DragCon Los Angeles 2018 today and tomorrow. We're located along "700 Charisma Court" at booth D12.

You'll find ten different issues of our mags, our card sets, and an exclusive selection of art prints made just for Drag Con.

P.S. If you're also a fan of the Squirrel Friends Cocktail Hour Podcast, Nick Kochanov is here helping us all weekend! 🐿️😍🐿️

Elska Los Angeles Shoot Week Update no.2

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It's Day 5 of Elska Los Angeles Shoot Week, and we're already up to thirteen guys, meaning Elska LA is bound to be another packed issue. As usual for this point during a shoot week, themes are starting to emerge. So far it's palm trees and petrol stations. There might be a few billboards in there too, but nothing too cliché - no Hollywood Sign, no Walk of Fame, no Santa Monica Pier (even though I always really liked that place), and no photobombing Mario Lopez at The Grove (do they still even make that show?). 

As for the guys themselves, well, they're a pretty bold bunch. Definitely the opposite of shy. But that can be a problem. Whereas in most Elska cities, a lot of energy and trickery are used to coax the guys out of their shells, here it's often a case of trying to pull them back. It's like it's in their blood here to know how to pose and how to look good, but sometimes that level of self-awareness can come across as fake. So new skills are being learned to break down walls. And if it doesn't always work, well then that's just a part of what LA people can be like. So even if some images look a bit fake, well at least it's true to what LA is - a very real place that's dominated by an industry that praises fakeness. It can be inescapable.

Now regarding the pic here, it's one of the guys from our upcoming LA issue. It was taken at Elska's home for the week, the Ramada Weho hotel, located in the heart of West Hollywood, one of the world's most historic gay communities. So when this guy said he wasn't able to shoot at his place, we decided to invite him over and show off the hotel room and the neighbourhood.

Now back to work. Next stop Little Armenia, then Boyle Heights, then back to the hotel and maybe time for a drink at one of the bars on Santa Monica Blvd? We'll see.

Elska Los Angeles Shoot Week Update no.1

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Coming into LA, the first sensation was feeling that perfect 21 degrees as I stepped out of the airport. Second was the blue skies surrounding the iconic LAX Theme Building. And third was turning onto Santa Monica Blvd and seeing the rainbow flags of West Hollywood, and beneath that a sign for the Ramada WeHo hotel, which would be our home for Elska Los Angeles Shoot Week.

Note that I didn't mention traffic. Skip to day three and it's really not that bad. I mean, it's bad, but it's nothing compared to what was experienced during shoot weeks in Bogotá, Mumbai, or Istanbul.

Traffic is a stereotyped vision of LA, one that has truth, but not quite as bad as you're led to believe. A highly segregated society full of endemic racism is another stereotype, and while there's surely some truth to that too, I didn't perceive it to the degree in which I'd feared. I did however perceive stark class segregation. Like when shooting a chap called BB Gunn up in the Hollywood Hills, I felt that we were being watched, that at any moment someone would shout, "You don't belong here!"

And that actually is what happened. Pulled over to get a shot with a view down Lauren Canyon, someone drove by and shouted, "That's not your parking space, you dumb fucks!" Surely my camera highlighted to him that we were outsiders, but in any case we were not welcome in this bougie part of town.

However, that's just one shoot in nine so far. The rest have been fun, easy, even joyous, and I'm discovering LA as a real, working city. It has quirks like any other, but ultimately it's just another big mass of people all trying to live and prosper as best they can.

Elska x Aloft Perth

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There’s a river that flows through Perth – the Swan – and although you often see it from bridges or when taking ferries across it, you really don’t notice how beautiful it is until you catch the view of it from Aloft Perth. Our room on the eighteenth floor offered glorious images of the Swan snaking toward the remote mining towns out east. When we brought Jordan G over to shoot here, he had to pause to appreciate the view, and to say, “Wow, I didn’t realise how beautiful this city was before.”

Of course he also couldn’t help but remark at the gorgeousness of the hotel as well. Part of the W brand, Alofts pride themselves on attention to design and commitment to hosting quality leisure spaces, which at Aloft Perth includes the atmospheric W XYZ bar, the contemporary-casual Springs Kitchen, a well-equipped gym, pool and yoga studio, and the next-door Humblebee Coffee with its perfect exemplar of Australia’s famous coffee culture. Just like its W cousin, the Aloft is sexy and luxe, but also accessible, a perfect combination of comfort and cool. 

Every morning of our shoot week in Perth began with a perfect brekkie (Aussies often spell it ‘brekky’, but I refuse to do that). Not only was the food and coffee superb, but the entire north wall is parted in the morning to let the cool breeze in, making you feel like you’re at a holiday resort rather than in the middle of a big city. Breakfasts here were definitely a highlight, but probably my favourite memory was when visiting the penthouse event space to shoot Jordan, where we stumbled across a wedding reception being set up. It was for an older gay couple who’d been together for over forty years but who never had been able to make it official until Australia recently passed same-sex marriage legislation. It is just such a beautiful feeling to witness this joy and pride, watching so many couples finally able to step out fully as themselves and declare their love openly. I can’t think of a more special location in Perth to celebrate this love than here.

ALOFT PERTH, 27 ROWE AVE, RIVERVALE WA 6103, AUSTRALIA / WWW.ALOFTPERTH.COM / +61 8 6147 2468