Elska to go to Afghanistan?… with Edris N for Elska Magazine

I shot this guy Edris N a few months back in London, and the picture below received the most instagram likes of any post I’d done before (you can follow us at www.instagram.com/elskamagazine). Yes he’s crazy handsome, but c’mon, he didn’t even have his shirt off!

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People always ask where’s next for Elska. There is an element of me being deliberately tight-lipped at least until flights and such arrangements are made, but genuinely I don’t have a plan of where to shoot until a couple of months before. And genuinely I’m willing to go anywhere.

Edris N is by nationality Afghan, although he told me that he hadn’t been to Kabul since he was nine years old. And his longest enduring memory is that the doors to the car they took from the airport were so thickly armored that he wasn’t able to push them closed.

But would we really shoot in Afghanistan, even if the guys were even 1/10 as pretty as Edris? Probably not.

It’s not because I’m afraid to go there. I’m not really afraid to go anywhere. It’s more because I’m afraid of what could happen to the guys that I photograph. Certainly Elska isn’t likely to be on the shelves of a Kabul bookshop, but I can’t help what goes onto the internet, nor am I able to change a society that may not look too kindly on anyone involved in a magazine that has a mainly gay audience. So I’d love to do Elska Kabul, but I don’t think I can.

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Blind Faith (Слепая Преданность)… with Joshua J. for Elska Magazine

A well known fashion and portrait photographer told me once to never overset a photograph with text. I’m not sure why exactly, but photography is full of “rules” like this.

elskamagazine_00_blindfaithUNcensored-1I don’t like rules. Yes, I guess maybe they’re necessary sometimes, but we’re talking about art.  Or are we?  Photography is not in itself art, but you can use photography as a medium to make art. Rules hold you back. They set limits on your expression.

I can appreciate that text can be a distraction, and the text here “Слепая преданность” [“blind faith”] can be conveyed without the words. His literal covering of the eyes as well as the frought position of his body as if wrestling with something in his mind, can convey this without needing it to be spelled out. However, it’s written in Cyrillic, and if you’re not a Russian speaker, it’s not text but a design.

Does this post sound like I’m defending or justifying myself?  Gosh that’s not what I intended to do. So I’ll just say that I think it’s a cool pic and I wanted to share it.

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M&S Tighty Whities, a Map, and Some Pull and Bear… with Keith Kilcommons for Elska Magazine

A great aspect of shooting in London is that nobody gives a damn around here. You can walk around dressed like a total weirdo and no one bats an eyelid. So it’s an ideal place to get a guy to walk around outside in his underwear.

I met Keith at Stratford tube station, right in front oft he huge Westfield Stratford Shopping Centre. He needed a few tops, so I popped into Pull and Bear, my sort of high street guilty pleasure from back in the days when I lived in Warsaw; he also needed bottoms, so we got some plain white briefs from Marks and Spencer.

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We left the mall and started walking along the edge of the Olympic Park, now officially prefixed with the title “Queen Elizabeth”… she’s not even died yet and already we’re naming everything after her. First Big Ben and now this!

Anyway, as expected, nobody really looked twice at Keith in his tighty whities, apart from a couple of white vans men who honked and hooted at him, in response to which Keith would strike a dudely pose such as curling a bicep or doing a strut. Someone likes a bit of attention, don’t they?!

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Un coeur en plasticine qui bat comme un vrai… with Yberê B for Elska Magazine

The title of this shoot that I did with Yberê B. means ‘a plasticine heart that beats like a real one’, a line taken from Ariane Moffatt’s song “Hiver Mile-End”. It’s one of the list of things she mentions seeing in a shop window in the Mile-End neighbourhood of Montréal, one of my all time favourite cities.

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From the shoot, this was one of my favourite images… the reflection of studio strobe lighting in his sunglasses is perhaps amateurish, but putting a positive spin on it, I’d say that it adds character to what could be a very standard beauty shot. The literal representation of the plasticine heart from the title is also its the most effective of all the things we did with plasticine for the shoot. Finally, his silver lamé shorts from American Apparel are hot but also a bit too big. It’s all a bit like we’re trying to achieve something that we just can’t, like a piece of plasticine trying to be a heart. It may beat like a real one, but real it will never be.

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Florence and the Tourist / Shooting in Cemeteries… with Michał G for Elska Magazine

I met Michał at my friend and fellow photographer Emre’s house. I was helping him unwrap a load of expensive lighting kit and assisting him with trying out his new kit for the first time. Michał was his model, someone who’d not done modeling before yet was a total natural, extremely photogenic. So when Emre was done I asked if I could photograph him too. I just asked him to tell me his favourite artist so I could maybe use some of that music for inspiration. His response was Florence Welch.

I spent the next few days until we’d meet listening to the back catalogue of Florence and the Machine. Eventually I decided on “Blinding”. The line that jumped out was “a tourist in the waking world, never quite awake”, so I chose to meet at a cemetery in Battersea/Wandsworth.

Have a listen on Spotify to the gorgeous song: https://play.spotify.com/track/1vWZiSA1PDGBcnvmiC5E3e

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Cemeteries are tricky places to shoot because even though they’re absolutely beauty, there is a cautiousness and respect that needs to be adhered to. So no big smiles, no overtly sexy pouts either, just natural, sombre, and thoughtful. And you need to be careful to not get any actual mourners caught in the frame. These are peaceful places, so we want peaceful faces and peaceful sounds. It’s perfectly Florence and perfectly Michał.

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The Flora of Java and a Naked Englishman… with Joshua J. for Elska Magazine

I’d always had a geeky fascination for horticulture. One of my childhood dreams was to run an exotic fruit orchard somewhere in the southernmost parts of Florida, or perhaps Hawaii or even Thailand. Perhaps it’s why I like travel so much. As a kid who never holidayed anywhere that a car couldn’t take you, and certainly never had been abroad, I longed for something different.

When my grandparents moved to Florida, I spent a summer with them and helped my grandfather design and plant his vast garden. The nurseries were full of plants I’d never seen before, such as bananas and lemons (by the way you’ve never lived if you haven’t smelled a citrus blossom). In one nursery we picked up a book called All About Citrus And Subtropical Fruits. It’s still available on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/About-Citrus-Subtropical-Fruits-Orthos/dp/0897210654

asongofseeds-collaged-8I read that book over and over and started searching for other such books. In a library once I saw an antique copy of the 1880 book Fleurs, fruits et feuillages choisis de la flore et de la pomone de l’Ile de Java by Berthe Hoola van Nooten. It’s full of beautiful hand drawings of what must have then been never-before-seen fruits in the Western WorldYears later I found a PDF copy and used images that I superimposed with nude photos of Joshua James Hutchings, accented with folliage.

I also recall buying an album by Kate Bush called The Red Shoes more because its back cover was a collage of tropical fruits than because of the songs. I also bought it on vinyl so the picture would be bigger! One of the songs on there was “Eat the Music”, and its line “A Song of Seeds” was the title of this series with Joshua James Hutchings.

The image above is a drawing of the rambutan, a Southeast Asian standard with a hairy skin that peels back to reveal something like a cross between a grape and a pear.

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All the Kids Want to Boil His Bunny… with Rica Shay for Elska Magazine

There’s something about being on stage that is utterly sexy, no matter what it is you’re doing up there. You can be knitting socks and reading chapters from Ecclesiastes, and people will still be flooding their basements.

When I first saw Rica Shay, it was doing a rather avant garde (or just bizarre) rendition of Peaches’s “Mommy Complex”. He was writhing around alongside Ellen Degenerate, him the baby to her mommy. At one point there was a costume change to a pair of nappies, and later she was spanking him in black shorts.

You can, by the way, watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qg9xcIbRu98 

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Nowadays Rica’s rather more polished, his new self-penned music especially, but his Peachy stage rant was enough to catch my attention and want to see more. The same can be said for the shoot I did of Rica Shay at my flat. He felt comfortable to rummage around my place, grabbing my pink stuffed bunny and a pair of my partner’s pink briefs. I could have followed him and his antics around for days. This guy is compelling.

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