You Don't Know Jolibee?... with Dylan R from Elska Los Angeles

The way Elska shoots work is that they're very much unplanned. We really just take a walk, have a chat, and shoot as we go, trying to document our moments and capture the genuine mood between us. Naturally, there's a bit of small talk in the beginning like, "Where were you born?", "What do you do?", "What music are you into lately?" etc. It was in this early part of the shoot that Dylan mentioned he was half-Filipino. So, bringing in my very little bit of cultural knowledge, I asked if he liked Jollibee, but he reacted with a blank stare.

"You don't know Jollibee?!" 

Maybe it's ridiculous, but Jollibee is honestly the first thing that came to mind when I tried to think of Filipino culture. It's a fast food chain, with branches around the world, including in LA. It's a place where they seem to think that spaghetti bolognese is a good accompaniment to fried chicken. I've never tried it, but ever since seeing Jiggly Caliente post pics of her with it on her Insta, I've been curious. He had no clue though. Perhaps you're thinking that with a body like that he probably doesn't eat that much fried chicken, but he actually had already brought up friend chicken, telling me that he's addicted to the fried chicken sandwich at Sweetgreen. He also admitted to often going to Chick-fil-A despite knowing full well that gays shouldn't really chow down there.

Maybe I should have offered to take him to Jollibee, so we could both break our Filipino fast food cherries, but alas, I had another shoot to do. And Dylan had to drive up to San Luis Obispo to visit his boyfriend. Maybe another time. Maybe actually in the Philippines. I'm not saying anything for sure, but we might be going there.

By the way, this pic was taken in my room at the Ramada Plaza WeHo. They graciously sponsored our trip to Los Angeles, and we are eternally grateful for their hospitality, and for giving us a room with such glorious afternoon light. 

To grab a copy of Elska Los Angeles, click here: bit.ly/elskala

Happy Birthday to Elska

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Can you believe it's been three years since Elska began? In that time we've released eighteen issues in eighteen cities, comprising 306 "local boys" and even more "local stories", spreading love for all our different bodies and all our unique voices. 

In celebration of our anniversary, we're offering 20% off everything for the next week. Just use the discount code TROISANS.

Whether you're looking for a few copies of our Elska city-zines, an annual subscription, or maybe a chance to own a limited signed art print, this week is the time to buy. 

Click here to head to the shop: bit.ly/elskashop

Cheers,

Liam

An Elskan's Determination... with Matthew G from Elska Los Angeles

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It's pretty often that the guys shot for Elska start out very nervous, very shy, and rather stiff. But no one ever (apart from maybe one guy in Taipei) was as scared as Matthew G. But despite his nerves, he had determination.

Matthew, originally from West Virginia, and still charmingly with a good deal of southernness in his accent, was in the midst of a long coming out process. Moving to LA helped, as did an eye-opening holiday in Bali that he mentioned, but there was still lots to learn and lots to do. The sexual part of his coming out is the subject of his story in Elska Los Angeles, and the social part of it is the motivation for taking part in Elska at all.

Matthew is actually an Elska subscriber, and as soon as he saw our announcement that we were coming to LA to make an issue, he got in touch. He felt like it could be a good step in his journey to self-acceptance and public participation. We of course were happy to help. And even if at the start the nerves were insane, he did loosen up, especially when the clothes came off (which is often the case).

It was in the end a great shoot, and if you're reading this, Matthew, I want you to know that including you wasn't done as some sort of favour to you. We're genuinely glad to have had you, and to share your story and your body with the world. Thanks, mate!

Get your copy of Elska Los Angeles here: bit.ly/elskala

Elska London Shoot Week Update no.3

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It’s now the last day of Elska London Shoot Week, and I’m feeling really good this morning, mainly because soon I’ll be able to leave this city. I suppose that’s rather dramatic, and in truth things had gotten better since the shaky start to the week. I met some nice people, had some laughs, took some great shots, and enjoyed a streak of hot, sunny weather. But yesterday it went downhill again. 

During a shoot with Michał G, he asked me why I left London a year and a half ago. He told me how he loved the city and couldn’t imagine wanting to leave. I explained that it was about the high cost of living, the crowdedness, general passive aggressiveness (which Brits are very good at) and the Brexit-empowered emergence of racist people from our of their holes. At that moment a woman yelled at the bus driver to give her more time to exit the bus, and I said it illustrated another bad thing about London - people being in a hurry (the driver) and others being angry (the passenger). Michał however said she was not yelling, as I said, but was just speaking an appropriate volume so that the driver could hear her. I suppose it was fair, and I was being oversensitive, and perhaps trying to put my prejudices onto the scene. 

However, only half an hour later I got into an actual fight, which isn’t something that happens often with me (I’m a very calm guy). Michał decided to climb a tree and a man nearby came to protest, saying he was calling the cops if he didn’t get down immediately. I had to step in, shouting at the man about how he needed to calm down and stop being so bloody agressive, because it would only stress Michał out, making it possible he could hurt himself on the way down. Which then did happen. 

So we left, put it behind us, and bought a bag of chips. I might have had some if it wasn’t for the ocean of mayonnaise that Michał poured onto them. Anyway, we got onto the tube, Michał headed to a date, and I headed to the next shoot. Then just before I arrived I got another last minute cancellation. It was another guy in Brixton (Doug F), one of my favourite London neighbourhoods. So I had some dinner, went back to the hotel, and just as I got into bed, I got another cancellation (Jason W), this time for the following morning. This was to be in Surrey Quays, another very special neighbourhood, the place where I first lived when I moved to London as a teenager, and the place where I met my husband. 

I’m sure that by the time the issue is put together and ready for printing, I will have found a way to be more positive. But for now I just want to get   today over with and go home. The saddest part is that London is supposed to be my home, even if I have for the past year and a half lived in the USA. This is supposed to be where I feel comfortable, safe, nostalgic… but all I feel is stressed out. Anyway, time to get down the tube hole. Konstantin Z awaits, and I’m quite confident he won’t let me down.     

Really Real... with Tammie Brown from Elska Los Angeles

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Tammie Brown is one of those performers who's known for a particularly eccentric character. So when he came on board to be part of our Los Angeles issue, the prospect of getting to the person beneath the persona in Elska's typically intimate and honest way was so enticing, and also a little intimidating.

However, even though Tammie is one of the most quirky and charismatic artists to ever go through the Drag Race system, his authenticity was never in question. After all, no one until Asia O'Hara had the nerve to challenge RuPaul; and no one until BenDeLaCreme was willing to walk away, putting integrity above all else. There's nothing fake about Tammie, which makes him total Elska material, and all the more welcome in our Los Angeles issue, helping put to rest a stereotype that LA is chock-full of phonies.

It was early on the Monday morning after Drag Con weekend when I got to Tammie's house. He opened the door and gave me a big hug. Maybe I'm just too reserved, but it felt like he couldn't have meant it, as if he was still in Drag Con's autograph-hug-selfie mode. I didn't buy a t-shirt, I didn't feel like I deserved the hug. But I accepted and reciprocated as best as I could and then we went straight out to start shooting. We decided to take a walk in the neighbourhood, enjoying the weather, chatting, and taking shots here and there along the way. He was surprisingly shy and quiet, rather like a lot of artists are, but open and genuine, saying whatever he felt without a filter. Like most Elska shoots, it didn't feel like work, just like a couple of new friends getting to know each other, albeit with the mild distraction of a camera constantly snapping.

When we got back home, his friend Bri (Bri Cirel - you must check out her art) was in the middle of making some coffee, so we decided to take a break before moving on to the less clothed part of the shoot. As we sat around the kitchen table, we leafed through some Elskas together, talked about art, talked about life, and also talked about how Tammie had clearly beat Latrice Royale in their All Stars One lipsync!

Over coffee we also built an understanding that we all were so committed to our crafts and to supporting each other. It's true that his talking was peppered with a fair share of "Put some butter on it" style Tammie-isms, but I always understood him completely. I was now comfortably settled on Planet Tammie, I knew the layout, I knew the language. Later, when we finished shooting, he hugged me again, and this time it felt really real, it felt really right. Hopefully one day we will meet again, but until then... "See you in the magazines!"

Get to really know Tammie Brown in Elska Los Angeles: bit.ly/elskala

 

Elska London Shoot Week Update no.2

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It’s now midway through Elska London Shoot Week, and the rain has been teasing us the whole time. There are sudden bursts of sunshine and then sudden bursts of driving rain, but usually it’s just damp and grey. This is however my favourite weather, at least photographically speaking. I don’t end up with half the camera roll spoiled by guys squinting or by horrible shadows caused by harsh sunlight. But also, I think it’s appropriate for Elska London to be full of the sort of weather that Britain is famous for, although I would like some lovely sunny scenes just to break down the stereotype a bit.

Since the last update, where I complained of last minute cancellations, I can tell you that there have been even more. Never have I encountered so many people who could not to commit to something, or to have the decency to be honest enough about it to cancel with some advance warning. Worst of all, after shooting eighteen issues and over two hundred men, for the first time ever someone stood me up for a shoot. There I was bright and early at 7:30am at Brixton station and he didn’t come. My calls went unanswered and my texts not replied to, even though the two WhatsApp ticks did appear. He’d seemed excited though, and had written a decent story, so I was surprised. I’m fully in the belief that such behaviour is a London thing, but one benefit of London is that it’s pretty easy to go onto Grindr and find a last minute replacement, which I did, shooting Paul M an hour after being stood up by Dan T. So I remain confident that Elska London will work out, but the experience making it is just riddled with a lot more uncertainty and anxiety than I’d have liked. 

On a more positive note, this morning’s shoot with Jose C was nothing but lovely. He looked so cute in his pikachu pyjamas, and when we later snuck into a bus garage for some shots, nobody threw us out. Result! I was also glad to last night meet Darren B on the Isle of Dogs. It’s one of the most unique neighbourhoods in all of the UK, so I was lucky that one of the subjects lived there. And I’m also hopeful about tonight’s shoot with Jamie T. His story is impactful and beautifully written, so if he somehow doesn’t turn up tonight, I’ll really be cross. But I have a good feeling. 

As for tomorrow, I’m not sure. Two of the guys haven’t yet replied to my “Looking forward to tomorrow” texts, which isn’t a great sign. But we’ll see. I’ll let you know next time.   

In the Beginning... with Jeremy Lucido from Elska Los Angeles

In the beginning, before Elska, I was just doing a lot of travel, meeting a lot of guys, and taking a lot of pictures. But no one really ever saw them. Over time, as more and more content built up, I felt a strong need to get them out there. But I didn't just want to upload them online, I wanted a physical product, something with real substance and weight. So I went shopping and discovered a zine called "Starrfucker" by Jeremy Lucido. I thought that this could be the model to base Elska on, and with that inspiration, I booked a trip to Lviv, Ukraine, and got to work.

(After the shoots in Ukraine however, I found it just impossible to limit Elska to the classic zine size of 60-ish pages, which is why Elska Lviv came to 140 pages. The latest issue by the way, is even bigger, 184 pages.)

Anyway, over the years, I've chatted to Jeremy a bit, but never met him. So when it came to fruition that we'd be shooting in his city, Los Angeles, I asked if he'd like to meet. But even better, he fancied taking part too. I thought, 'why not?' It's always fun to watch someone who's used to being on the other side of the camera wriggle with extreme discomfort from the front of the lens. And photographers often are the shyest of all. Jeremy was no exception here, although when we got to the nude shoots, he loosed up enormously. Perhaps he's just at his best when undressed... actually we've had quite a lot of mails and messages from readers about just how much they love his nudes. I'm not going to argue!

See more of Jeremy and read his story in Elska Los Angeles: bit.ly/elskala

Elska London Shoot Week Update no.1

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I arrived a few days ago, wanting to have a little time in London to just   enjoy before starting a typically intense shoot schedule. The sun was   shining, it was uncharacteristically hot out, and I saw my phone’s step   counter go higher than it ever has since I moved to the US a year and a half   ago. Now the weekend is gone and just as I’m ready to start Shoot Week, the heavens have opened. So I’m sheltering in a crowded coffee shop waiting for the rain to stop so I can trolley my three bags to my hotel. And no, I can’t afford a taxi alternative, not in this city. 

If the rain seems an ominous start to the week, well just remember that this is a little island in the Atlantic where rain is the norm. But there are other ominous things going on. Firstly, never before in any of the eighteen cities we’ve done for Elska before have so many people cancelled last minute. And they really strung us along until the very end, so that only this morning did I wake up with a string of bizarre and creative excuses. At least they did write to cancel though rather than just not showing up. We also still are waiting for five stories to come in (they were due yesterday), but most of those did ask for an extension. 

Really it’s not so bad, and besides, there’s a reason I always book more guys than I need, to allow for cancellations. In London’s case I had booked twenty-two, so we’re still doing well. The real problem is that, just due to bad luck I suppose, all of the men who cancelled were men of colour. In an ideal world, I would just go with the flow, but I’m aware that publishing a London issue with all white guys sends a bad message. It may not be my fault or my intention, but my work, my brand, my reputation will suffer. So now I’m   going onto Grindr and Hornet and other apps and messaging specifically men of colour, which makes me feel really uncomfortable, like I’m reducing a person to their race. But it’s not really about me and how I feel; it’s about how someone of colour might feel to open Elska London and not see anyone like themselves. 

Anyway, as I’ve sat here, messaging around, someone from Instagram responded to my call, and I’m gonna rush over to meet him right now. It begins.    

Welcome to Los Angeles!

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Today we launch the latest issue of Elska Magazine, this time made in Los Angeles, California. It's our eighteenth city-zine, and our second to be made in the USA. It's also our biggest, comprising 184 pages and 17 local men, all shot in the city and in their homes, and each accompanied by a personal story. 

For us, making an issue in LA was about challenging stereotypes. As is often the case, some stereotypes are true - which is why you'll notice a lot of palm trees, sunshine, big roads, and petrol stations. Yet most stereotypes are false - the guys we met were not at all self-obsessed, body-fascist starfuckers, and as usual this Elska has a diverse range of men presented equally and as equally beautiful and compelling.

That being said, although Elska doesn't normally feature celebs, considering that LA is the centre of the entertainment industry, there are a few pretty well-known guys who ended up taking part in this issue. But we're not going to emphasise them over any of the other lads, so you'll just have to pick up the issue and see if you recognise anyone!

Elska Los Angeles is available now in a classic print version or in a download version. Also available is our companion e-zine, Elska Ekstra Los Angeles, containing behind the scenes content and stories and pics from five LA guys not featured in the main mag.

Head to our shop now to order: bit.ly/elskashop

Spotted: Elska in Australia

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Did you know that in Australia a Big Mac is called a Big Roo? And it's served upside-down? And they also serve Vegemite alongside other condiments like ketchup? Oh, and if you go to the McDo on William Street in Perth CBD, you can buy Elska at the Boffins Books next door. 

In full disclosure, only the final statement is true, thanks to pics sent in from Aaron. The others are just fabrications, but I suppose they could be true.  

Elska was born in Korea... with Min-Hyeok

Even though I studied photography in school and at college, it wasn't until I took a job as a flight attendant that I really started using it. On average, I'd be in two different countries every week, and would use our 1 or 2 day layovers to explore and document. At first I was more into street photography, which then turned into portraiture, which then turned into a desire to turn this photography stuff into a career.

In my mind, the most sensible career prospect was fashion, so I started to build a portfolio. I'd do this by contacting amateur models during layovers or even modelling agencies and asking to shoot their "fresh faces". These were both men and women. It did work, and soon I was able to use this portfolio to secure jobs in fashion when back home in London, though usually they were hardly glamorous assisting gigs. 

Sometimes, however, I'd just contact a guy on an app for a non-portfolio shoot. For example, one time during a layover in Korea, even though I did have a shoot booked with a 'proper' model the following day, I was itching to shoot as soon as the plane landed. So I turned on Grindr and found this guy Min-Hyeok who lived near our crew hotel. We met, we chatted, and I photographed him. The pics we took wouldn't work for a fashion portfolio - they were too intimate, too imperfect, and he was too much 'not like a model'. But I enjoyed these pics more than the others. I loved the honesty and earnestness of them. Here, in Incheon with Min-Hyeok, the seeds of Elska were sown. Elska was born in Korea.

No spoilers, but we might be going to Korea to make a full Elska issue soon. Maybe we'll even find Min-Hyeok.

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