One of the men we shot for the Berlin issue was Roman T, a Russian native who’d been living in Berlin for several years with his German husband. He cooked a meal for four for after the shoot, serving me, Andriy, himself, and his partner Dirk. It was a Russian table – some gorgeous homemade shchi (cabbage soup) followed by meatballs, bread and salad. Dessert? I can’t remember.
We got to talking about one of my favourite topics – where Elska would be headed for future issues – and naturally the topic brought a discussion about the possibilities of a Russian city. Somehow Moscow didn’t appeal (I’d been once before and it didn’t grab me), and Saint Petersburg seemed too obvious. We got to talking about Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk… but I kept thinking of Magadan. I haven’t seen any photobooks there, a town in the furthest reaches of northeast Siberia, land of gulags and probably full of the descendants of political prisoners and compelling dissident types. Obviously budget is an issue, but aside from that, why not? I’m really attracted to the unknown.
Here’s why not. I would love to go to Magadan and do an issue. Seriously, like more than an all expenses paid trip to Tahiti including a week just relaxing on the beach with daily massages and coconut smoothies on tap. But it just feels dangerous to shoot in Russia.
And I mean dangerous for the subjects as well as for me. I’m 99% sure that no shop in Magadan or even anywhere in Russia will be selling a print version of Elska, but the internet doesn’t keep anything outside borders. Whether the guys in the magazine are gay or not, just being in a magazine with a mainly gay audience is incriminating. This is a terrible thing.
But Elska isn’t here to do political battles. We just go to a city, shoot some guys, print their stories. Done. Some like to think that there is an agenda, and I certainly have opinions that can be construed as politically biased in some way… but even if I keep my mouth shut, there will be those who interpret a political position. In Russia this might be dangerous.
However, if there are some people out there who think it can be done without harm, let me know. But we just really need to be sure, and we’re gonna need some help to do it. Я очень любил бы ехать до России!
To see more of Elska, visit www.elskamagazine.com