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(On the edge of indecency… with Julien P from Lisbon)

I can be very sensitive about people assuming that Elska is or contains porn. It’s not that I have a problem with porn. I even use it sometimes. Yet I don’t like to think of Elska as porn, as if it’s a dirty word (blame my nine years of Catholic schooling perhaps).

For me, nudity is not sexual but just simply honest and beautiful. Maybe some people do get off looking at certain pics in Elska, but it’s not my intention to make a wankzine. Hmm, I kind of like the idea of a wankzine… Truly, if I wanted people to buy Elska so they could get off, then it would be porn, but that’s  not my intention.

My shoot with Julien P really tested my notions of what was ‘artistic nudity’ and what was ‘pornographic nudity’. I’d done many nude shoots before but it was different with Julien. Why? Well, he got an erection, and rather than tell him to get rid of it somehow, I shot him anyway. The choice I made later, however, was to not show his erect penis in the main print issue, but to save those instead for Elska Ekstra.

But why does hard dick = porn? Does an erection automatically transfer something from art to porn? Actually, I don’t think so, but I worry that others will, and that’s why I didn’t put those in the print version… because I don’t want Elska on the top shelf next to Playboy. I want them next to all the other photography, art and LGBT mags and zines. Ultimately, an erection is a part of life – it’s just as honest and authentic as a soft penis – and it’s authenticity that is my main goal for Elska.

See more of Julien and read his story in Elska Magazine issue (04) Taipei

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(Small World Lisbon… with Daniel T from Lisbon)

After doing the Reykjavík issue, set in the capital city of a country with just 325,000 people, I saw just what a small world it could be. I ran into several of the guys we shot by chance in the street, at the mall, whilst driving; not to mention on the pages of the dating apps we all like to glance at from time to time. So I thought that doing an issue in Lisbon, a city with twice as many people as the entire country of Iceland, would be more anonymous.

But I was wrong. The day after shooting Andre G (he didn’t make it into the final issue), I saw him near the river carrying a McDonalds bag and too enrgossed in his conversation to hear me saying “hello” to him. The evening after shooting Luis L, I eyed him buying cigarettes in a shop in Rato. Biggest coincidence of all, though it hardly counts, is seeing Miguel G walking down The Strand in London with a suitcase in tow less than a week after shooting him.

And then there was Paulo L, providing another interesting signal of Lisbon’s small-worldness when as I met him he mentioned that he was the cousin of Ruben S, a guy I’d be shooting later that afternoon. And finally there was Daniel T who I’d run into flashing his todger to the guy in the next urinal at a public toilet in Bairro Alto. 

Ok, that last one was a joke. Daniel T was someone I’d not spoken to ‘til we met, but we’ve kept in touch since the shoot. And I’d like to think we’re friends now, so he probably won’t mind me saying the above comment (and if you read his story in Elska Issue (04), you’ll see why). 

Daniel T was found by my assistant Andriy, so I didn’t know much about him ’til we met. A lot of the pictures I took of him looked rather nervous, and I blame myself for it. I know that if we’d done the shoot now, since we got to know each other a bit better, there would have been a lot fewer angry-looking photos. Plus, he’s a shy guy generally, and with people like Daniel, it takes time to crack the shell.

This brings me to a decision to change some of how I make Elska. In the past, I let my assistant Andriy handle finding the boys, mainly because it was something he really enjoyed doing. But I have realised that making a more personal connection is something that I need to do. Meeting the boys is always a highlight of each trip, but building rapport before I arrive in the Elska destination city, is a new focus. All part of a mission to keep making Elska better and better, one city at a time.

See more of Daniel T and read his story in Elska Magazine issue (04) Lisbon

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(Jealousy… with Adrian L by Elías Barajas)

A bit over a year ago I went to Mexico City, or D.F. as it’s known there. I don’t really know why, but I felt like I needed to see another side of Mexico. Until then I’d only ever been on a day trip to Tijuana, hardly a good example of true Mexico. Though I suppose, like any capital city, D.F. isn’t exactly Mexico either.

I didn’t go there for a holiday but to do a bunch of photoshoots of local guys, part of an effort to build a fashion portfolio. Eventually after a few professional experiences in the fashion industry, I realised it wasn’t the right landscape for me, so I changed tact. The experiences in D.F., however were still important steps on the road to Elska.

One of the guys I shot in D.F. was originally from Zacatecas, and was mutual Facebook friends with a Zacatecas based photographer, Elías Barajas. We ended up starting a chat and it got a bit flirty I suppose. I never met the guy in person so it was hard to judge what was sarcastic and what was not, but when he asked me to move to Mexico and marry him, it seemed pretty genuine. And although I didn’t take it seriously, it was one of those things you put in your back pocket…

Then, you know, time passed, and we fell out of touch. Our wedding never happened. Then suddenly a few months ago I got back in touch and he now had a boyfriend and offered to submit some pictures of him for Elska.  That boyfriend was Adrian L., and his photoset is featured in the new Lisbon issue. 
When I saw the images, I was instantly filled with jealousy, not only because Elías is a damn good photographer but also because Adrian L was pretty damn gorgeous. And he took away the man who was supposed to be my new Mexican husband. But after reading Adrian’s story in the issue, I couldn’t hold it against him. I’m happy for them both and they make an absolutely beautiful couple.

See more of Adrian L and read his story in Elska Magazine issue (04) Lisbon

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(He said I was a fraud… with Luis R from Lisbon)

Luis R was one of the guys who entered the Elska Lisbon project at the last minute. I found him on Planet Romeo in the morning, and that evening he’d be coming to our hotel, the gorgeous and intimate Casa Amora. We hadn’t much time to chat but I pointed him to the Elska website, asked him to bring some different clothes, and told him that he’d need to write a story from his life in Lisbon. I also emailed him two sample stories, one from Marc Y (from the Berlin issue) and one other in Portuguese that hasn’t been published yet. He didn’t have many questions, which maybe should have raised some alarm bells, but I figured he was just an easy-going guy, and I was too body to take much notice. 

As we shot, it became apparent that he’d done this before. The way he so easily moved from one expression to the next, the fluidness of his body movement, his attention to sources light… all of this suggested he’d modeled in the past. So I asked, and he said he had indeed modeled professionally. Of course we tend not to use professional models in Elska, but I didn’t know he was one ‘til we met.

Anyway, skip ahead a week, and he submitted four lines for his story (not the 300 words all are asked to do). I hated to complain, but I had to tell him that he’d need to write more. Also, the story wasn’t the right style at all, just a sort of “hi my name is Luis and I live in Lisbon” sort of thing. In response he said he would not write any more, that what he did was sufficient. So I said that I unfortunately wouldn’t use his photos, to which he said I was a fraud. Models, eh?!

Just kidding. Models are lovely.

See the other boys, the ones who did write stories in Elska Magazine issue (04) Lisbon

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(I Only Have Black and Grey… with Pedro C from Lisbon)

I hate getting my picture taken. It’s actually the most terrible thing in the world for me to be photographed. I don’t even like mirrors for f*ck’s sake. So I wasn’t too excited when, just as we finished the shoot with Pedro C, he got out his camera and asked to take my picture.

​​What happened next was the most awkward scene from me – “I don’t know what to do”, "where am I supposed to go?“, "should I take my glasses off?”, “what should I do with my face?”…

It’s actually pretty common that someone usually behind the camera is rubbish at being in front of it. Pedro is a photographer himself (check his stuff out at http://www.pedro-celestino.com). His photo shoot was one of the most difficult actually. I took 741 images in all, and most had the same expression, one that I’d describe as “reluctant and awkward”. The one here is not one of those!
As with all outdoor shoots, I ask the guys to bring about six ‘looks’. Although it’s not fashion photography, I like there to be some variety in the pics beyond background and expression. Plus it gives a fuller view of the guy’s personal style. With Pedro, when I asked, he said that he couldn’t really bring 6 looks – “I only have black and grey”, he said, “and maybe one navy shirt”. “And everything I own is Fred Perry.”  Fair enough. 

So we did this shoot on a roundabout – kinda not the picturesque postcardy scene you expect of a Lisbon photoset, but this is Lisbon too, albeit a bit duller than usual. And he had clothes in all the same colour. And he had the same expression almost everywhere… but you know what – that’s Pedro. And that’s the goal here in Elska – to show the real boy, not some avant garde fantasy version of him. In the end I think the awkwardness made me like Pedro more. He’s damn sexy, and his bits of grey hair go so well with his grey wardrobe. And what’s more sexy than a guy so ‘un-vain’ that he doesn’t know how to pose for a camera? Oh Pedro…

See more of the lovely Pedro C and read his story in Elska Magazine issue (04) Lisbon

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(I Already Had Hair On My Chest… with Ruben S from Lisbon)

Do you remember what it’s like to be a kid and to be in some way different from other kids? The ridicule that any difference can encourage from the ‘normal’ kids… it can be cruel and unrelenting.  I suppose in some ways I had a lot of things that made me stand out, but this story is about hair.

So… I was thirteen years old and I already had hair on my chest. The P.E. changing room was a place I feared, knowing that if I wasn’t quick enough to change my shirt that there would be a riot of teasing, pointing, and laughter. But I was so lucky that there was another kid, Joe (I don’t remember his surname but it had a Polish ‘ski’ at the end of it), who had even more hair on his chest than I did. We’re talking a Ruben S level of hairyness, but on a 13 year old!

Yet somehow Joe had this way of turning the teasing around on itself. He was able to convince the other kids that it made him somehow more experienced than the others. At a time when sex to us was some vague idea of ‘humping’, when we didn’t understand what actually we were meant to do with breasts, and when no one had actually ever seen a naked woman before, Joe was a fountain of knowledge. 

I need to stress that back when I was a kid, the internet wasn’t so fast or widespread, so kids didn’t have much access to porn, except for those who knew where Dad hid his “Lesbians from Mars” VHS tape. I recall when Joe told a group of us lads, in a quiet corner of the playground, about blow jobs, that this other kid, also called Joe, yelped in disgust – “gross!” And when he said something about ‘fingering’, loads of lads loudly declared that they would never ever do such a thing. 

One afternoon after school I was at Joe’s house – I used to go there sometimes to play video games – but this time we watched a movie starring Christian Slater. I don’t remember what it was called but he played a radio deejay, and there was this scene where he was pretending to masturbate… and that’s where I learned how to do it. So I guess Joe did a lot for me, not only taking the heat off me in the locker room for my hairy chest, but also for teaching me how to play. 

See more of Ruben S and read his story in Elska Magazine issue (04) Lisbon

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(“I’m getting too old to live like this”… with Michał G)

When I first arrived at Michał’s place I was astonished. It was insanely flash and posh considering that Michał works in a restaurant, and he’s not even a head chef or anything close to a Gordon Ramsay. Of course, he did share the house with a few others, and it was a bit far from Central London, but still I was impressed. He’d recently moved there from a room in a council tower block in Oval… “I’m getting too old to live like that”, he said. I know exactly how he feels.

For Londoners, it’s perfectly normal to be over 30 and still share an apartment with two, three, four, five, maybe six others. It’s just the reality of the cost of living, and we deal with it. To ever buy your own place has become impossible in the past decade, and if you want to rent your own place and don’t earn more than £80k a year, it’s going to have to be beyond zone 6, probably well out of London altogether. 

About five years ago I moved to Dallas, Texas, where I worked as a high school French teacher. To be honest, part of my desire to go was that I could live in a whole house, a detached one, with a garage, a decent car, big rooms, and a garden with a pool (well, I had a hot tub rather than a pool). And it cost me 1/3 what my little flat in outer London cost me. Insane. Yet I only stayed two years and then was desperate to leave.

Dallas isn’t London, and the several million of us Londoners who love to complain about how crowded, expensive, and unpleasant our city is know that there are other reasons why we remain. It’s that vast array of experiences on offer and the many kinds of people to meet. Like most of us living in the capital, I hate London, but I also love it.