The Romance of Occupational Health and Safety… with Taras D for Elska Magazine

I met Taras D near the Royal Arsenal building in Lviv. I don’t know how we deciced to shoot exactly – it was just one of those snowball things where friends of friends of acquaintances and strangers all get tangled up together. We had chatted on FB to explain what Elska was about, but we didn’t know much about each other.

It was raining by the time he arrived so I wasn’t in the best mood, and it was getting prematurely dark due to the clouds… but at least we were shooting indoors so the rain could be knocked off my list of potential photographic disasters.

Anyway, the second thing he said to me, after “hello” was “you don’t look like your profile pic”, and I felt really offended. “But I’m not disappointed”, he added, quickly lifting me in my mid-fall into depression. Maybe it’s a photographer thing, but i hate being in photos. I always hate how I look, and so it was true that my profile pic old. Indeed it was pre-beard and with a totally different hairstyle.

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We took a long walk to the abandoned military mess hall where we would be shooting. When we arrived, the lighting was difficult for natural light photography, so I had to push up the ISO and go with a grainy look, which rather suited Taras to be honest. We climbed up the crumbled but still solid enough stairs to the top where there would be the most light. There the concrete floor was covered with scraps of paper, photographs, and old books and manuals like the one you see here (Охрана Труда – Occupational Health and Safety).

The light was gorgeous, and although we made a point before we met of attesting to our committed relationship statuses, the mood was very romantic. I even told him so (I have no filter for inappropriate comments) and he seemed to agree.

To see more of Taras D, pick up Elska Magazine, available in select shops or online at www.elskamagazine.com

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The Poles leave for England; the Ukrainians leave for Poland… with Semen M for Elska Magazine

Poland is a great country. So lovely that after every time I visited I wondered why all the Poles seemed to be abandoning it for England. According to the UK’s Office for National Statistics, Poles make up the second largest foreign-born group living in the UK, after Indians.

Now I know it’s naive to say “I went to Poland once and it was nice”, but I have lived in Poland. And I don’t mean that it was a sort of extended holiday – I had a job, a flat, a bank account, friends, etc. And I loved it. There were things I missed about London and there are things now, based in London, that I miss about Poland. Am I crazy?

So here’s the issue…

I had an OK job, nothing fancy, but it earned me enough money for a good quality of life, without a doubt a better quality of life than most Londoners have. I had a my own flat in walking distance to Warsaw city centre, I could eat out pretty much whenever I wanted, go to the cinema, whatever…  The problem came when I went back to London for a weekend visit.  Suddenly, after converting my złoty to pounds, I was poor, depressingly poor. So I get it. People want money. They want to buy stuff, travel, etc.

And also, who doesn’t like an adventure? Who wouldn’t like to go live in another city for a couple of years, especially one where you can earn some extra cash to take home with you? If salaries in Poland were even half what they are in England, I’d probably still be there. And you know, it’s not that I’m so money-hungry, but I’ve got to feed my travel addiction somehow and I don’t want all my holidays to be in the former Eastern Bloc.

elskamagazine_01_semenm-1So, this guy Semen M., who we shot for Elska Issue (01) Lviv, was in town for just a week before he was leaving Ukraine for Poland. Although not on the same scale, it seems a lot of people were leaving for the country next door. Is it nicer than Ukraine? Not really. I can only speak for Lviv and Kyiv, which both stand up pretty well against Krakow and Warsaw, respectively. So it must be money. Can you blame Semen? A boy’s got to eat, and who doesn’t want something shiny now and again?

To see more of Semen M., pick up Elska Magazine, available in select shops or online at www.elskamagazine.com. There’s also an edition of Elska Ekstra (our behind the scenes e-zine) dedicated to him, for download here: http://bit.ly/1Nh922y

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Everything’s Bound to Break Sooner or Later… with Marko K for Elska Magazine

I remember I used to hang out with this prick called Edward back when I was maybe 21 or 22. He had this santimonious sort of way of constantly saying how he was faithful to his boyfriend even just so he could mention how some guy had been flirting with him. But then he threw his monogamy away when once propositioned at his gym’s sauna because the guy was some minor celebrity. Because somehow the points scored by shagging a famous person was worth more than what he earned for being a good boyfriend.

And I remember once we were hanging out at my place, playing piano, and between songs he stared at me for a bit and said “you know, I can tell that you’re not going to age well”. What the fuck?! I think he was trying to encourage me to take better advantage of my looks while I still had them, rather than being the shy, self-hating guy that I was. I don’t know, but it was a dickish way to compliment someone.

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I look at a guy like Marko K., who we shot for the Lviv issue of Elska, and I wonder how he will age. I’m useless at visualisation like this. But if I think of people I knew when I was a teenager and look at them now, they all pretty much look the same. Maybe they got heavier, took on more lines, lost some hair, or whatever, but they still look like the same people. If they were beautiful then, they are beautiful now, but just in a slightly different package.  I do believe this… about others, but not myself. Blame Edward perhaps, though I’m sure it’s just my fault for being too sensitive. In any case, they say we should love ourselves first, but how do we do that when others put us down? All I can do is try not to put others down, to show them the love that they may lack within and encourage that love to grow, or at least not contribute to tearing it down.

To see more of Marko K., pick up Elska Magazine Issue (01) from select shops worldwide, or order online at www.elskamagazine.com.

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Everybody Hates Putin… with Sasha K for Elska Magazine

The graffiti that Sasha is happily sticking up a finger to essentially translates as “Putin, fuck off”. When we were walking around Lviv’s Old Town and saw this, we had to seize the opportunity to get a shot with it. It turns out that we ended up using one of the “ПТН ПНХ” images for the cover our Elska Issue (01) too.

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As we walked around Lviv, this wasn’t the only piece of anti-Putin graffiti we saw. It was pretty commonly tagged on walls throughout the city, and there were also anti-Putin t-shirts for sale in the market, Putin-shaped chocolates to bite the heads off of, and even toilet paper with Putin’s face on it! (I don’t recommend buying it though – I was told by my friend Matt, who accompanied me for the Lviv shoots, that the only the first few layers of sheets have his face printed on them and the interior paper is blank).

While I’m generally pleased to see such political liveliness in a culture, I worry about how much anti-Putin sentiment turns into anti-Russian sentiment. Whenever I directly brought this up, people were quick to assert that they of course knew the difference between people and politics. But it depended how I asked the question. If I just said something like “bloody Russians!”, I’d get almost universal agreement. Few made a point to clarify that their anger was toward the Kremlin specifically unless I pushed them into that direction. This is nothing spectacular. We all love to hate our neighbours as a collective, and then only change our tone when the collective becomes an individual.

Ultimately my choosing of a “Fuck off Putin” image for the cover was a controversial choice, but I chose it because Ukraine – the country dedicated to Issue (01) – is in a war with Russia, and there was no better way to set both place AND time. Personally I have faith that anyone with half a brain and half a moment to think about it will realise that my cover is not anti-Russian. Frankly most who see it on a shelf won’t even know what it means. It’s just a cool picture of a cute guy with some foreign looking letters behind.

But for the record, I do wish Putin would fuck off.

To see more of Sasha K., pick up Elska Magazine Issue (01) Lviv, available in select shops worldwide or for order at www.elskamagazine.com

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The Two Sword Edges of Photography: Intimacy and Loss… with Eugen K for Elska Magazine

One of the great things about photography, particularly portrait photography of the Elska style, is the intimacy created through the working relationship between photographer and subject. It is a necessarily personal relationship, required because a model needs to feel comfortable in order to be photographed and because a photographer needs to feel enough at ease to get close without feeling obtrusive. Awkwardness is absolutely perceptible to both the casual and trained eye, so rapport – even friendship – needs to be built.

Forming friendship is a great thing of course, but it’s one edge of a double-ended sword. For a project like Elska, where we shoot each issue in a different city, hundreds or even thousands of miles away from the previous one, friendships are doomed. My shoot with Eugen K for the Lviv, Ukraine issue is a great example of this duality.

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I felt immediately comfortable with him, a soft-spoken artist who had the hospitality to have prepared tea and cakes for my arrival. After the shooting was done, which occurred slowly over the course of conversation, I wanted to linger. I wanted another cup of tea… but I had to get back for the next shoot. Eugen suggested a walk in town that evening, and I said that I would try to, even though I knew my schedule made it unlikely. I suggested meeting during a small gap in my schedule the next morning, but he had to work.

Of course I’m glad to have met him and spent time with him at all, and I should count myself lucky that I have a set of photographs that will aid my memory when old age starts to need a reminder. But it’s also a tragedy, because I may never see him again, and this sense of loss would never have afflicted me if I hadn’t met him in the first place.

To see more of our shoot with Eugen K., subscribe to or buy individual issues of Elska Magazine, available in select shops or online at www.elskamagazine.com

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I Dreamt of a Man… with Vyacheslav K for Elska Magazine

“I dreamt of a man / He fed me fine food / He gave me shiny things”. It’s one of the lines from the PJ Harvey song “Plants and Rags” that inspired this shoot with Vyacheslav K for the Lviv issue of Elska Magazine. But it’s not the line I went with for the title of the shoot. That was “The sun doesn’t shine down here in the shadows”. But why this old song at all?

When I first saw this apartment where I’d shoot Vyacheslav K, the array of pot plants caught my eye and rather literally I started thinking of songs with “plants” in the title. Rather simple and uncreative perhaps, but the mood actually suited the situation very well. Furthermore, he wanted to be nude but not fully exposed, so they made a more natural cover than clothes or a hand or a crop.

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Vyacheslav is a hopeful young man, expecting perhaps more from life than he’s been getting, but maturely accepting his fate day by day whilst not yet abandoning hope. It’s a song that to me is rather macabre but still dreaming, like this lovely Ukrainian boy. There’s a sadness that I hope will fade with maturity, as well as a freeness that I hope no one can take away from him.

See more of Vyacheslav K and also read what he wrote for us in Issue (01) of Elska Magazine, available in select shops or online at www.elskamagazine.com

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Але Тілу Хотілось Гріха (But My Body Wanted to Sin)… with Sasha K for Elska Magazine Issue (01)

Usually the inspirations for shoots come from songs I’d been listening to in the weeks prior to heading to a new location, but the song that lended itself to this sexy shoot with Sasha K. only entered my head the night before. My friend Matt, who was staying with me in Lviv, had Ukrainian MTV on and a rather cute, cheeky track called “Meine Liebe” by ТІК came on. Despite its title in German, it was sung in Ukrainian. Neither languages are my forte but I wanted to use the song, so I hoped that somewhere in the lyrics there’d be something appropriate, something that could lend itself to a visual-photographic story.

After putting the lyrics through a translator and getting Matt to proofread Google’s work, the line that struck me was “Серцю дуже хотілось любові, aле тілу хотілось гріха” [My heart so wanted to love, but my body wanted to sin]. Perfect. I wasn’t quite sure how I’d use the line, but I’d find a way.

(By the way, check out the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jSyUpc1Fjz4)

web_elskamagazine_boys-1When I began the nude shoot of Sasha K, after he stripped his clothes off, I kept focusing on the crucifix dangling around his neck. Even when you strip a man naked, the cross remains, as if it’s just as much a part of his body as his hair or skin.

Now I don’t want to suggest at all via the lyrical title of the shoot that Sasha is in any way sinful. Certainly nudity is as beautiful and natural as anything, but there are others who see it differently. There are those people who consider nudity as absolutely connected to sex, and therefore almost automatically as connected to sin, e.g. via fornication, pornography, what-have-you. But really it’s a bit of a playful title, not a political or ethical statement.

Perhaps it does make you think, but the truth is (and I’m not afraid to give up notions of artistic grandeur) that I chose this line because I wanted to include this sweet song on the Elska (01) Lviv Mixtape. And it was that cross next to Sasha’s naked body that reminded me of that particular lyric.

See more of the Sasha K. shoot and more of Lviv in Elska Magazine Issue (01), available in select shops or online at www.elskamagazine.com

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