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(A Walk with the Hawk… with Haukur G from Reykjavík)

I met Haukur G at Úlfarsfell café in the western edge of Reykjavík. It’s a cute place – part coffeehouse, part bookshop, and it’s enough off the beaten tourist track that you might run into Björk here picking up magazines. I was surprised to see this little place selling copies of Elska (maybe Björk herself browsed one) and was even told that one cheeky customer was recently seen taking photos with her phone of some of the pages inside Elska. How very dare she?!

As I thought Haukur was in a hurry, I’d planned to just shoot him in the neighbourhood near the café… but he wasn’t in that much of a hurry, so instead we went to the edge of Seltjarnarnes, a suburb on the westernmost edges of the island, not far from the café. There we started our shoot near a hut used to hang fish for drying. The odour was horrendous, especially when we were on the wrong side of the wind. On the other side, however, was a little bubbling pot of water coming up from a geothermal ground-kettle. The sulphuric odour rising out of it was just as strong as the fish smell. I wasn’t keen on either stench, so we moved on.

A bit to the west is a little bit of land with a lighthouse. During high tide, it’s an unreachable island, but in low tide, it’s part of a peninsula. As it was low tide, we walked across, and soon Haukur began to show a side of him that’s so common amongst Icelanders. That attribute is his biophilia. 

As we walked he’d stop to look at birds, which he knew the names of, and remarked at how they’re not usually here at this time of year. Then we’d stumble across some plant, that he also knew the name of. Being so connected with nature is such a common Icelandic experience, and although at first it seems rather nerdy, it’s actually refreshing when you consider that other cultures put their spirituality straight into churches whereas Icelanders put it into nature. Just my opinion.

As we finished up shooting, he paused to notice another bird in the distance, and for some reason it occurred to me to ask if his name, ‘Haukur’, had a meaning in Icelandic. “It means ‘hawk’”, he said. How appropriate.

See more of Haukur G and read his story in Elska Magazine issue (03) Reykjavík

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(A Last Minute Addition… with Glenn W from Reykjavík)

Glenn W wasn’t part of the plan for the Reykjavík issue. We were supposed to shoot his boyfriend, Troy, but he wasn’t able to. Then he rescheduled, but sort of chickened out. Honestly I was a bit pissed off, but then suddenly he said “maybe you can shoot my boyfriend instead”… and that boyfriend was Glenn. 

​​I’d planned to shoot Troy outside by Tjörnin but Glenn wanted to stay indoors. So when I went to his home I had no plan in mind for a story, no ideas. But sometimes this isn’t such a bad thing. I looked around their apartment, searching for places and objects that inspired while Troy took on the job as stylist, going through the wardrobe choosing outfits for Glenn. 

And then we began. Troy sat on the sofa watching Katy Perry videos while I shoved Glenn into the larder, instructing him to pull down the curtain. I loved these shots but my assistant Andriy just called them “weird”. Whatever – you can see them and decide for youself in the issue and in Glenn’s Elska Ekstra e-zine. Then I had him walk all over the sofa (but these pics came out too bright). Then we played with a chandelier. Then we were in the bedroom, then in the bathroom for mirror pics, and then that was it.

It went pretty quickly and I can’t say I got to know who Glenn was. Being so last minute, there was no opportunity to build much rapport, so I was a bit surprised when Glenn’s personality revealed itself in the stories he submitted to Elska. Just from these stories I fell in love with this guy, especially after reading his Elska Ekstra story. I still wish I’d had Troy for the issue, and a series at beautiful Tjörnin… but then I’d not have had Glenn W. So not such a bad result in the end. 

See more of Glenn and read his story in Elska Magazine issue (03) Reykjavík

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(IT’S LIKE MEETING MADONNA… with GABRIEL R by LAURO JUSTINO)

When I was a naïve teenager, shortly after receiving my first camera from my old boss Yehuda, I did a shoot of my best friend Stacie in a car park, with eggs as a prop. The inspiration came from Björk’s “Venus as a Boy” video. Sounds weird, and it was. But it was a learning process.

I then got into street photography. With Anastasia in tow, we went to a bland working class suburb southwest of Chicago – it could have been Tinley Park, Mokena, Orland Park – and we took shots of regular folk eating fast food. I hadn’t yet figured out how to be stealthy so the results were just stupid. Embarrassing.  

It was years later that my tastes developed into something new, something a bit more Elska. I don’t know even what you call it, though ‘homotography’ is a term I love, borrowed from the tumblr of the same name. One of the first photographers that I stumbled across who really inspired me, and continues to do so, is Lauro Justino, whose tumblblog Sem Foco, is one of the best out there. Way back before Elska was even a glimmer of an idea, I remember bragging to friends with such utter delight when Lauro followed me on Instagram; then again when we became Facebook friends.

And now, most recently, I have the joy of having his work submitted in Elska Issue (03). It’s like meeting Madonna or something to have even spoken to someone you long admired. And here we are working together. What a dream it would be to actually meet someday. Perhaps after the 2016 Olympics are done, and if there is budget for flights, I can go to Rio to do an Elska issue in Lauro’s home territory. And then maybe we can even do a shoot or two together. 

See more of Gabriel R and read his story in Elska Magazine issue (03) Reykajvík

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(Next Time in Akureyri… with Oddur T from Reykjavík)

So as is the remit for Elska, all the guys we shoot for each issue live in the city of the issue. That is, aside from the “Elska Dehors” series, where other photographers from around the world submit their works and stories for us. But beyond those special features, all the guys are local. That’s the point, right? It’s what it says on the tin… “local boys, local stories”.

But sometimes we bend the rules a bit. In Issue (01) Lviv there was Ivan T who’d come up to Lviv for the day on the train from Uzhhorod… but in fairness Andriy never told me that he came from so far. I only realised when I met him that he wasn’t a Leopolitan. Then in Issue (02) Berlin we had Diego S, who is planning to move to Berlin but at the moment works way out in Hamburg and just spends the weekends in Berlin. And then finally with Issue (03) Reykjavík, our odd-man-out was Oddur T, a Reykjavík born chap who now lives in Akureyri. He drove down on the last day of shoot week to meet us, a long drive that was six hours but can be longer when there’s snow. 

Akureyri is Iceland’s second city and largest town outside of the capital region, but at 18,000 it’s hardly a metropolis. I’m drawn to the place. As if Reykjavík itself wasn’t exotic enough, there’s something even more exotic about the far north. And I hate the idea that after only three issues, I’ve already ticked Reykjavík off the list of Elska destinations. I’d love to do Iceland again, but where else is there? The obvious answer is Akureyri. And obviously there’s Oddur, but are there enough other local northern lads to do an issue? It will be a challenge but it will be done. Not this year. But one day.

See more of Oddur T and read his story in Elska Magazine issue (03) Reykjavík

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(From Sofa to Bed… with SIGURÐUR H from Reykjavík)

Sigurður was the twentieth lad we shot in Reykjavík shoot week, and when we met it was toward the end of a long day of indoor and outdoor sessions. But his arrival sort of revived me. 

First Andriy put on a pot of coffee, using a gorgeous blend from Te og Kaffi (I’m not putting the link as an advert but because I genuinely love this company, and one of other boys from this issue also happens to work for them). Then as we drank Andriy set up the lights and Sigurður and I went into the bedroom to look through the suitcase of clothing that he tipped onto the bed.

Sigurður is a well-known Reykjavík drag queen but specifically didn’t want to do the shoot in drag. Nonetheless, out of his case fell two pairs of high heeled shoes. I suppose that’s not a drag thing, just a fabulousness thing. 

I was knackered and the room was uninspiring, so I decided to just shoot him plainly with a sofabed as a prop. He’d be photographed in the different stages of the furniture’s transition from sofa to bed, as a sort of literal representation of a man’s transformation to drag queen. 

At some point we ran out of clothes and I joked that he should do some naked. There really was no intention to do nudes with him (honestly the previous Berlin issue had so many naked pics that I wanted to tone it down a bit for Reykjavík), so I think I asked more just cos I wanted to get him naked. And well, he did get naked. But fortunately Andriy’s job as photographic assistant was also transformed into chaperone, ensuring that I didn’t molest my model. One must always stay professional!

See more of Siggi and read his story in Elska Ekstra 3.6

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(When Someone Will Go.. with ÓLAFUR H from Reykjavík)

It was a cold evening and Andriy and I were tired from the three hour each-way drive we did that morning to Vík and Seljavallalaug in South Iceland to shoot Sindri M. Luckily Ólaf lives right in the centre of Reykjavík, a stone’s throw from Hallgrimskirkja (Reykjavík’s famous pointy-roofed church). Even more lucky for us was that we were greeted by Ólaf to the sound of a popping cork. A drink was well-needed and well-deserved after the long day. 

​​Normally we get to shooting pretty quickish, but it was nice to relax and chat first… and Ólaf’s a guy with loads of stories to tell. The one he submitted to Elska, by the way, is the longest we’ve ever published, but ever word is gold. I suppose being that Ólaf’s the oldest guy we’d featured so far, he has more to tell than the average 20 year old. But still, not every 54 year old’s gone through such a life, which in his Elska story got split into three chapters: “Straight”, “Bi”, and “Gay”. 

One of the most touching subjects of his life is about his husband who tragically passed away in 2012. As I sat on his sofa, the picture of his husband was directly on the wall opposite. All the while as Ólaf told his stories, I was looking into the kind eyes and handsome face in that portrait. As I stared, I was filled with sadness and shame, for I realised how jaded I’ve become, how much I take people for granted, how much I should cherish those special and beautiful people in my life. You never know when someone will go away.

See more of Ólaf and read his story in Elska Ekstra 3.5