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(Even Asians Don’t Like Asian Men… with Min Hyeok)

So here I am writing this one day before the official release of Elska Magazine Issue (05), our first issue to go outside Europe. So where did we go? We chose Taipei, fast becoming Asia’s unofficial gay capital for its progressive attitudes, strong LGBT rights, the continent’s largest Pride celebration, and a pretty cool president. The next two months will be filled with behind the scenes images and stories from our Taiwanese adventure, but before we get started, I want to get something off my chest.  

As you probably already know, we don’t seek professional models for our shoots, preferring to use social media to meet everyday guys. In early February when I started the search for Taipei Elska Boys, I came across the profile of a guy who happened to be a professional model. His Instagram profile had a link to his agency, so I clicked it. 

What I found at this agency was a roster of eighteen or so male models, all of whom were Western. Not even one Asian guy in a model agency located in an Asian city! Maybe it was a specialist white-people agency or something, I thought! So I decided to try another agency, and it was the same. Not one ethnic Asian model on the list. 

Ok, I’m not so naïve… I fully expected to see a lot of Western guys, but not only Western guys. I remember shooting one lad, Min Hyeok, back in my pre-Elska days and he was very wary, constantly stating how ugly he was and being incredulous about why I’d want to photograph him. At the time I thought he was just acting humble in an attempt to fish for compliments, but now I fear that he really does hate how he looks. So how did it happen? In the West we have an idealised standard of beauty that can seem impossible to attain, but at least we’re not trying to change our race. How does an Asian guy grow up with confidence in a society where all the models aren’t even the same race?

To be honest, before I decided to go to Taipei to do an Elska issue, I wondered if it was the wrong decision, if no one would buy the issue because customers don’t like Asian men. Hell, even Asians don’t like Asian men! But well, I made the issue anyway. Even if I sell zero copies, I have no regrets.  

See what happened with our first trip to Asia in Elska Magazine issue (05) Taipei

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(Small World London… with Ricardo V from Lisbon)

It was one week after returning from Lisbon. I was deep in the job of processing photos, laying out the magazine, and trying to get the texts together for the upcoming Issue (04). I tend not to work well from home so I usually go to a café to work, preferring the light buzz of others around me to the silent lull of home. On this particular day I had just parked my bike and was heading to a Prêt à Manger on The Strand to work. Yes, I know it’s not the coolest place but the filter coffee is just 99p, the wifi is free, and the tables are big – also I don’t feel guilty about using the resources of such a mega-corporation in exchange for said ninety-nine pence.

Anyway, I started to cross the road and I noticed a lad walking with a suitcase dragging alongside him. At first it was the case I noticed (I wanted it!) and then it was the boy… it was Ricardo V, who just one week ago that very day I was shooting in Lisbon.

I called his name. No response. Maybe it was some other Latin boy. I called again. This time he turned around. What a surprise! I never thought such a big city like London could yield such coincidences. He’d come here just the day before for a job interview and was on his way to the airport to go home. He had a little time, however, so we both went into the Prêt and sat down for a chat.
First on the agenda was that he hadn’t sent in his text yet and the deadline was looming. He promised to do it that very day, on his plane ride home. 

If you pick up Issue (04) you’ll see that he didn’t write it by the time I had to send the issue to the printers, which is why his text is a story written by me about meeting him in Lisbon. However, eventually he did send it, and you can find that in his Elska Ekstra. It’s hard to be annoyed at him though, for he’s so sweet and charming. Perhaps I’ll see him again, maybe bumping into him in Taipei as I shoot for Issue (05). You never know!

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(Fuck So Pretty – A Prince Story… with Kyle F)

Like everyone I was shocked and devastated to hear the news of Prince’s death. Immediately I was going through my vinyl to find every 7", 12" and LP I had of his work so I could listen and think. So many Prince songs have an individual meaning for me – they spark some specific memory, transport me to some place, or give me some emotion. Two of them in particular stand out…

“Erotic City”, b-side from “Let’s Go Crazy”, released 1984

When I was little I used to get taken along to bars so my mother could unwind after work. One of them was called O’Leary’s, on Wells Street near downtown Chicago. While my mother would drink I’d be in the back playing their Ms Pac Man arcade game. The other bar, whose name and location I don’t remember, had a fantastic jukebox. My favourite song to play was by Prince – not the big hit “Let’s Go Crazy” but its b-side “Erotic City”.

I remember that it had this power to attract single ladies to the dance-floor who couldn’t resist a dance with this cute little boy with the dirty mind. I recall a lot of high heels, tight dresses and huge hair, and me in the middle. Mostly I was oblivious to the song’s lyrics, apart from the stand-out line from the chorus:  "we can fuck until the dawn, makin’ love ‘til cherry’s gone". But as I grew older, I grew more and more into this little boy with the dirty mind, the guy who was kinda nerdy but had the naughty streak that always shocked and surprised. 
But here’s what’s so meaningful about Prince’s naughtiness. I don’t feel like he did it to shock. He wrote about fucking ‘cos he was just really into fucking. Know what I mean? It was authentic, not business-orientated. A true artist, he did what he was feeling. And that was a great influence to me, constantly worrying that I’m maybe doing the wrong thing but doing it anyway because it feels right and authentic. 


“Little Red Corvette”, from 1999, released 1982

Another filthy little song but whose sexyness was mostly in its delivery. There was a time when I was a musician, almost as prolific a song-writer as Prince, but without even close to the level of talent. Like Prince, I wrote a lot of sexy songs, but my lack of confidence and self-esteem made me too self-conscious to perform them. 

I remember preparing to cover “Little Red Corvette” for a live show, and struggling to let myself go as I practiced. Prince’s delivery is so fucking hot, I practically get a hard-on every time I listen to it. And for me, if I wasn’t getting my audience hard or wet during the performance, then I wasn’t going to bother. 
Eventually I did perform it at the club Alchemia in Krakow, Poland. Despite the constant voice in my head saying “you can’t sing these sexy songs because people will laugh at you – they’d never believe anyone would want to have sex with a guy like you”, I performed one of my most explicit shows. And I included “Little Red Corvette”. It was the last live show I ever did, as if being able to unleash that real, honest sexual side of me finally in public was the release I needed. It was a breakthrough. Prince was another little boy with a dirty mind, but he didn’t care what people thought. He had confidence, conviction and a lot of courage.

Shocked to see Prince go so young, and I wanted to write something about what his work meant to me. 

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(Bloody Grindr Never Works!… with Andre G from Lisbon)

I arrived on a late Friday afternoon in Lisbon for shoot week. I went down into the metro station next to the airport and rode the twenty minutes or so to Rossio station. There I alighted, emerged to see a beautiful old European square, and crossed it to find my hotel, My Story Hotel Rossio. After check in, I unpacked, showered, gazed out at the beautiful view from my window, and then entered the hotel wifi code onto all my devices. 

Andriy, my assistant, was coming on a later flight (he was travelling from Ukraine; I from London). Our first shoot was scheduled for the next morning (Daniel T at 9am), so I had some time to get out and explore the city. Yet all I wanted was to get to work (a good sign that I enjoy my job I suppose). So I turned on Grindr and messaged several people in case there’d be someone up for taking part and available immediately. Andre G answered that call.

He arrived in under fifteen minutes, and we got straight to it. But somehow I wasn’t feeling the vibe. Even before I looked at the pictures I felt like they weren’t going to work. But ultimately I never looked through the pictures ‘cos Andre never submitted his Elska story. So it was only today before writing this that I had a quick glance through the reel to find an image for this page. 
I’ve had this issue before. Bloody Grindr never works for Elska shoots! For the Lviv issue we found two lads via Grindr (Artur M and Sasha M) – both got cut from the issue. For Berlin we had Alessandro G, and he didn’t make it into the main issue either. Perhaps it’s the fact that these last minute arrangements don’t allow for any rapport to be built before a shoot. Or perhaps it’s just Grindr people themselves. Glenn W was a last minute find for the Reykjavík issue, but he worked out great. He however wasn’t found on Grindr but via personal recommendation. 

Maybe the real issue with Andre though was something that happened the next day. I was walking home from dinner and saw him coming up the street toward me. He was with another guy, both carrying McDonalds bags. I tried to say hello but was totally blanked. I messaged him later with a ‘WTF’ sort of message and he said he didn’t see me. So maybe that’s why there was awkwardness, why he didn’t write his story, why I didn’t even want to look through the pictures. I probably should take a lesson and just delete the app from my phone. Mind you, I have done that before, but somehow I end up reinstalling it time and time again. 

See the other boys and read their stories in Elska Magazine issue (04) Lisbon

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Seven Months in Bangkok… with Quentin V by Anton Shebetko

Anton Shebetko, the photographer of one of the Elska Dehors series from the Elska Lisbon issue spent seven months living in Bangkok. While he was there he met various other travellers and expats who he photographed, chronicling his time there and keeping a sort of photographic record of it. His shoot of Quentin V was one of those.

The idea of living abroad for several months has always appealed to me, and Bangkok especially. Yes, it’s extremely hot and humid (which I despise), but it’s also a cheap place to live, while still modern and connected to the world. I suppose in a way what Anton did is what I do with Elska, but on just a different time scale. Rather than several months in one place, I just spend a week, though I’m trying to spend more time as budget allows. 

Since I started Elska, I’ve met more and more people who have this gypsy lifestyle. A lot of them are artists. Travel and exposure to other cultures gives a lot of inspiration, something I really discovered during my time working as a flight attendant. The more and more places I went, the more my appetite for travel increased, and the more I wanted to spend more than the one or two nights allocated for our layovers. In each city we stopped in, I’d find a local guy and photograph him. Eventually I wanted to make this travel-meet-photograph pattern the job itself, which is why I left the airline and started Elska. I really love it and am determined to continue it for years to come.

See more of Quentin V in Elska Magazine Issue (04) Lisbon

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(O Gago e O Seu Objecto de Desejo [The Stutter and his Object of Desire]… with Paulo L from Lisbon)

Paulo L’s text arrived just after the deadline for the issue, and so couldn’t be included, but it is here for you now…

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[ORIGINAL IN PORTUGESE; ENGLISH TRANSLATION FOLLOWS] 

Era início de uma noite de inverno friorenta e eu caminhava apressadamente para o Bairro Alto ( um bairro bem castiço da zona de Lisboa e o meu local favorito para sair à noite  ). Não, não ia exactamente para me divertir, mas sim encontrar-me com um amigo – O Meu Objecto de Desejo – um colega de licenciatura, uns cinco anos mais velho do que eu. Foi a minha primeira verdadeira paixoneta por um homem. Na altura eu tentava ser uma espécie de bissexual platónico que só se envolvia com raparigas (Confuso eu sei!). O Meu Objecto de Desejo era a síntese de tudo o que eu queria realmente ser ou honestamente, a síntese de tudo o que eu era, mas no momento não sabia … independente, idealista e altamente sedutor (na verdade ele era um excelente manipulador). E para reforçar ainda mais esta “obsessão” ele morava no Bairro alto! Para um teenager de dezanove anos suburbano ter um amigo que morava num bairro super cool   era  motivo de orgulho (pura inocência ou mera estupidez?).

Há alguns dias atrás, ele tinha-me feito uma proposta algo inusitada que imediatamente recusei sem pensar duas vezes. A ideia era muito simples, teria que ler algo para uma câmara de filmar, e o objectivo seria captar essencialmente eu a gaguejar (sim, sou gago.) No Inicio recusei, pois achei a ideia vazia e algo exploradora de uma característica tão pessoal, apesar de ser perceptível aos olhos dos outros. Mais tarde comecei a achar a ideia desafiadora e ideal para testar o meu controle a falar e subverter (contrariar)  o plano do Meu Objecto de Desejo de me usar como uma cobaia de um experimento pseudo-artístico.

Ao chegar à casa dele, já algo inquieto, como se suspeitasse de alguma conspiração contra mim, deparei-me com a namorada do Meu Objecto de Desejo completamente alucinada(e a inquietude era cada vez maior), deu-me um inesperado beijo na boca e pediu-me para, ficar em tronco nu, eu melindrado, mas preparado para o jogo do rato e do gato (aparentemente eu era o rato) tirei a camisola. Imediatamente, ela pôs-me um cachecol à volta do pescoço e pediu para sentar – me num banco ao centro da sala de estar como uma replica raquítica da escultura O Pensador de Auguste Rodin. O cenário já de si deprimente piorou ainda mais quando O Meu Objecto de Desejo pediu-me para declamar um poema qualquer em francês. Estava completamente à mercê de dois sensacionalistas, com estranhas pretensões artísticas, no entanto eu tinha o poder da minha voz… Não gaguejei em qualquer momento, as palavras ecoavam lentas e seguras. O pretendido pelo Meu Objecto de Desejo foi completamente destruído e o seu intento de cineasta experimental também. E tal como Buñuel e Dali, os nossos egos chocaram violentamente e cada um seguiu o seu caminho. Eu segui vitorioso pelas estreitas e calorosas ruas do Bairro Alto, orgulhoso de mim mesmo, pois tinha conseguido impor a minha voz em todos os sentidos! Agora, sim estava preparado para me divertir e beber uns copos com os amigos. – Paulo L.

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[In a frosty winter´s night, I walked hurriedly to Bairro Alto (my favorite nightlife place and a very traditional neighborhood in Lisbon). No, I didn´t go necessarily to have fun there, but I went to meet a friend – My object of Desire – a colleague from graduation, a little bit older than me. He was my first crush for a man. At the time, I´ve tried to be a kind of platonic bisexual that only involved with girls (It´s confuse and contradictory, I know). Actually, my object of Desire was the synthesis of everything I really wanted to be or, honestly, the synthesis that everything I was, but at that moment I didn´t know… independent, irreverent, idealist and very seductive (but in fact he was an excellent manipulator). And to highlight even more my obsession, he was living in Bairro Alto! For a suburban nineteen years old boy, having a friend who was living in a super cool neighborhood was something to be proud (pure innocence or foolishness?)

A few days ago, he proposed me something unexpected that I immediately refused. The point was very simple, I would have to read something to a camcorder and the objective was, essentially, to capture me stuttering (yes, I´m stutterer). How I said, I refused in the beginning, because I considered an empty idea and somewhat exploited about a so personal feature, although it is a characteristic completely visible to everyone. Later, I started to think about this challenging idea and the ideal thing to test my controlling to speak and also to counteract My Object of Desire´s plans, using me as a guinea pig for a pseudo – artistic experiment.

Arriving at his house, and feeling something strange, like a conspiracy against me, for my surprise I came across My Object of Desire´s girlfriend, completely hallucinated, when, suddenly, she kissed me on the lips and asked me to take my shirt off. Although I was embarrassed, I was prepared for that cat and rat game (and apparently I was the rat), then I took my shirt off. Immediately she put me a scarf around my neck and asked me to sit in the center of the living room posing like a rickety replica of the Auguste Rodim`s sculpture – TheThinker. The scenario was depressing enough, but got worse when My Object of Desire asked me to recite a poem in French. I was in front of two sensationalists in a weirdo artistic claim; however I had the power of my voice… I recited and didn´t stutter at any time. The words sounded safe and slowly. The intentions of My Object of Desire were completely destroyed and his experimental filmmaker intent also. And as Buñuel and Dalí, our egos clashed violently and each one followed their own way. I followed feeling victorious by the narrows and friendly streets of Bairro Alto, very proud about myself, especially because I imposed my voice in every single way! Then, I was prepared to have fun and have a few drinks with friends.] – English version by Paulo L.

See the other Lisbon boys and read their stories in Elska Magazine issue (04) Lisbon