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(Rethinking My Motivation… with Lucas M by Jean-Baptiste Huong)

The story that Jean-Baptiste Huong wrote to accompany his Lucas M series in the Elska Taipei issue really got me thinking. In it he discusses how he’s able to get the attention of men who he perceives to be vastly more attractive than him though the process of photographing them. It is actually a motivation for photographing them at all. It made me wonder if this ability to be up close with beautiful men is a motivation for me too.

My natural, instinctual response is that this is not my motivation. Certainly there is no sexual attraction going on when I shoot my boys, no matter how hot or how naked they are. But then perhaps that’s more because I’m too busy concentrating on the camera to give sex any thought. 

I do recall one time scrawling a text onto a model’s naked body using lipstick. He was ten years younger than me and had abs better than Jesus on the cross. There’s no way I he’d have let me put my hands on his naked body for any other reason.

And then what happened? When it came time to wash the lipstick off, I went into the shower with him to help him scrub it all off. Even then I didn’t get a boner, and it’s not that I have issues with impotency. Not yet anyway!

So I don’t know, I stand by my response. What I would say is that I love beauty and that I love to capture and reproduce it. Maybe photography is my way of being close to beauty, but it’s not some sneaky way of perving up to fit lads. Then again, perhaps I’ve misunderstood J-P Huong’s text. He’s also in it for the beauty, and is just a little bit of a pervert!

See more of Lucas M and read the story in Elska Magazine issue (05) Taipei

See more work by Jean-Baptiste Huong: http://jeanbaptistehuong.com/

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(Picked Second-to-Last for the Team… with Rhenz T from Taipei)

One of the things I didn’t like about growing up in Chicago was the cultural obsession with sports. Even when I moved to London as a teenager and saw the football culture, it was somehow different. It was possible to be a worthwhile human being and not be into sports, but not in Chicago. It was part of why I felt so out of place there.

I was terrible at sports in school, and though not picked last, I was always picked second-to-last for the team. It’s not because I had any talent, but because my somewhat bigger size made me seem like good goalkeeper material for hockey or soccer. Sometimes at the start of the school year, I’d even be one of the first picked for American football ‘cos I looked like I could withstand a tackle, but the problem was that no one would even try to tackle me since I could never catch the ball. 

There was a time when I was quite into sports, into baseball specifically. I used to watch the Cubs play with my grandfather whenever a match was on. I also used to dream about being a professional baseball player (I wanted to be third baseman). But then, sometime around the age of nine when they first let us play baseball in PE at school, I saw that I was rubbish. The coach would tell me just to concentrate, but I couldn’t with the other kids shouting at me about bringing the rest of the team down. 

Some even said that if I was just a bit more confident that I could do it. That’s what Rhenz T said about his basketball days. Maybe he’s right, but I could never overcome the stress barrier in school. A few years ago, however, I did join the Warsaw Gay Badminton Club. I was pretty bad, but I was better than I expected. And I actually enjoyed it. But these guys weren’t shouting at me, telling me how much I sucked. So maybe that was what made the difference.

See more of Rhenz T and read his story in Elska Magazine issue (05) Taipei

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(The Power of a Smile… with Joe F from Taipei)

I fell in love with Joe F almost instantly after we met. He didn’t really speak English at all, so there was little conversation, but he said a lot with his smile. And this guy almost never stopped smiling. 

I met Joe F along with Jo’i D in Tamsui. Roman, my assistant for the Taipei project, found Jo’i and then Jo’i suggested his friend Joe to join as well. The more the merrier. At first the plan was to shoot Joe nude at home, but he couldn’t use his place to shoot and I didn’t want another hotel room shoot. So, although I’d have liked to shoot him naked, we opted instead for an outdoor shoot. Plus, although I love nudes, I already had five nude shoots in the Taipei collection and don’t want too many. I didn’t want to turn the Taipei issue into another Berlin issue!

Anyway, we were happily taking photos around Tamsui and then just as we walked past a quietish alleyway, Joe stopped to whisper something to Jo’i, who then translated to me that Joe wanted to go into that alley for a few stripped down pics. You can see the whimsy on his face, which I snapped just when a group of four old ladies happened to walk by and spot Joe with his trousers down. 

​Although I couldn’t chat to Joe, I still felt connected and like a friend. Everytime I looked at him he would smile back, and it melted my heart, making me feel safe and encouraging a serious bastard like me to smile too. A smile is a powerful, wonderful thing, and I think Joe may be the smiliest boy in Taiwan.

See more of Joe F and read his story in Elska Magazine issue (05) Taipei

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(Mitigating Culture Shock with Food… with Joseph W from Taipei)

I’ve heard several people tell me that they never go to McDonalds at home, but when they’re visiting another country they make a point of having a meal there. It’s to see if there’s any unique and country-specific items on the menu, and also just to find out if it tastes the same (somehow it always does). I suppose also a trip to McDonalds can be a way to mitigate homesickness. 

Taipei is well-known especially throughout Asia as a culinary wonderland. Most Asian tourists to the city go primarily for the food – for Chinese breakfast at Yong He Dou Jiang, for xiao long bao at Din Tai Fung, for gua bao at one of the city’s tantalising night markets, and for a bubble tea in the place where it was invented. But even with all this amazingness, there comes a point when a Western dude just wants a burger and chips – you can’t eat Chinese food every day, can you?! And even though Taipei has the best coffee in Asia, there’s something guiltily comforting about the familiarity of a Starbucks.

Sometime during the seventh day of Taipei Shoot Week was when I cracked. Two things happened. The first was that Roman, my assistant for Taipei, left to head back to Berlin early… so I didn’t feel the pressure to be “cool” and “adventurous" anymore. With no one there to judge me, I could swap Taiwanese fried chicken for the Kentucky variety. The second thing was that Joseph W invited me to stay over at his place for a couple of nights since he was going to Paris. So I’d be totally alone to indulge.

The first thing I did at Joseph’s place, a beautiful apartment with great views over the city, was to find British comedies on his Netflix. Then I popped out to 7-11 to get fresh milk so I could English up my tea. And next I went to McDonalds for McNuggets and a pineapple pie (they also had a sort of "surf and turf” burger with one beef patty on top of a fried salmon fillet… but that was beyond my adventure levels). 

Once back at Joseph’s I brewed a cuppa, cued up a marathon of “The IT Crowd”, and had my Western pig out. It genuinely was comforting. The funny thing was however that the very day I got back home to London, I was desperate to have Chinese food for dinner. And the very next day, I used a recipe I found online to make homemade shui jian bao, which I’d tried in a Taipei night market. So here I was, a few days after being homesick for England in Taiwan, being homesick for Taiwan in England.

See more of Joseph W and read his story in Elska Magazine issue (05) Taipei

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(Why Calgary?… with Chris C from Taipei)

Ok, so I’m aware it maybe verges on cheating to have included Chris C in the latest Elska issue, since he doesn’t actually live in Taipei anymore. He is a native though, and only moved fairly recently from Taiwan to Canada, but does he still qualify as a ‘local boy’?​​ 

I met Chris while he was back home visiting for the Chinese New Year holidays. He was kind of a last minute addition to the roster, following several cancellations of other guys. So at the time I was willing to overlook his residency status ‘cos I just needed someone, anyone. Then after meeting him in person, there was no way I would even consider cutting him from the issue. I really liked this guy, so I made an executive decision and declared him a ‘local boy’.

We kept in touch after the shoot and I was curious why he chose to move to Canada. And why Calgary? I’d only ever spent one night there, just passing through on a road trip. It had some tall buildings and a Tim Hortons or twelve, but that’s all I really found out about it. I also had heard it was the Texas of Canada, though, so I wondered why a gay man would choose to move here out of other places in Canada. 

For Chris, the decision was about learning English and integration. There was no way he was going to move to Vancouver or Toronto, he told me – there were too many Chinese people there. Indeed the proportion of Toronto’s population with Asian heritage is 35%; of Vancouver’s it is 43%. That makes Vancouver the most Asian city outside Asia (data found here). So I fully understand and admire his choice.

And actually it makes me curious about Calgary. I even was thinking of doing an Elska issue there so I could get a closer look (and perhaps meet Chris again). In the end, I did decide to shoot the future Elska Issue (08) in a Canadian city. I won’t reveal which one it is yet, but it isn’t Calgary. There’s still time for that one day though.

See more of Chris C and read his story in Elska Magazine issue (05) Taipei

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(“But I’ll Still Have Sex Wiv U”… with Han L from Taipei)

“Lookin fatter n grey haired now m8 but I’ll still have sex wiv u”

That’s the message I woke up to this morning. I don’t know who it came from – the Hornet profile had no pic or any details except that the person was 2538 metres away. I’m genuinely upset. Firstly this person was watching me and knew who I was. Secondly, it was a horribly indecent thing to say to someone. Thirdly, it’s another piece of fuel for this growing fire telling me that I don’t want to live in London anymore, that people here are just not very nice. 

I know there’s a lot of posts showing nasty stuff written on Grindr, some even from the authors themselves who are proud of their bitchiness. And I know these posts don’t only come from Londoners. I think they do tend to come from big cities though, where people are able to hide effectively behind anonymity. When I lived in Poland I actually met nice people on gay apps and sites. And when people said they were looking just for friends, it wasn’t a lie. I reckon it’s because the society was a bit smaller and people felt less beyond reproach, so they were forced to behave. That’s not such a bad thing, even if it does mean that people are in your business. 

In Taipei, even though guys I spoke to expressed the same problems with social media, such as in the piece written by Joe F in Issue (05) Taipei, I still found people much kinder than in London. The city is after all ¼ the size of London, so only ¼ as mean I suppose. Guys like Han L actually offered a hand of friendship. We had good chats before our shoot and stayed in touch after, so he could complain about work or try to encourage me to come out and eat desserts with him. 

Maybe it is time to get out of London. I suppose if I wasn’t so fat and grey-haired then I wouldn’t get messages like that in the first place… so it’s my fault, not London’s. But I’m not going to change myself just to avoid creepy people sending me rude texts, and I can’t change other people either. But I can change the place, and see if maybe it helps.

See more of Han L and read his story in Elska Magazine issue (05) Taipei

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(Sometimes I’m Just in a Photographing Mood… with James B)

Sometimes guys in London will ask if I’m up for a photoshoot, and usually I decline, saying that I only shoot for the magazine in whatever city its issue is in. Of course if it’s a paid job, I’m not going to turn down £€$ no matter what it’s for, but those don’t come around often enough. However, on the morning I met James B, I’d received three requests from guys and all were amazingly from London – one found me on Instagram, one found me from the magazine itself, and one found me from I don’t know where. But on this day, instead of declining, I offered to shoot them. Sometimes I’m just in a photographing mood!

The Instagram boy was keen, but then he relented, saying his boyfriend would be too jealous. The magazine boy was too much of a diva, expecting me to hire a studio and stylist out of my pocket because I should be so lucky to photograph him. Whatever. And the third boy was James B. He was up for whatever, except full nudity, and he was just a ten minute cycle ride from my flat. I could work with that!

So I went over to his place. He seemed a little uncomfortable with me, like he couldn’t wait for me to leave, because he didn’t even offer me a cup of tea. But maybe it’s ‘cos he was nervous – he seemed to alternate between awkward poses and thought-out poses. In the end we got some good shots, and although I can’t use the pics for the magazine (there’s no London issue planned), at least I can stick them on the blog, on Instagram, on twitter, etc. Plus it’s always good to get the camera out of the drawer and use it in my own city for a change. 

Read and see more in Elska Magazine