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(Spice… with Shane H)

For some strange reason, the Spice Girls kept popping up during the Elska trip to Canada. The first guy we shot, Bryan P, was wearing a Spice Girls t-shirt during the shoot. Actually it turned out it was a t-shirt from the 1996 film ‘The Craft’, but I’m pretty sure that movie took inspiration from the Spice Girls anyway.  

Then we had Shane H, who pulled out of his bag an actual Spice Girls shirt. I shot him in that with a rainbow-painted tunnel as a backdrop, and I loved it. I was even very tempted to put him on the cover… but alas an image of Tate S got the final nod.

Finally, at one of the lad’s houses, I got forced into watching two back-to-back episodes of “America’s Got Talent”, which features Mel B (Scary Spice) as a judge. It is, by the way, one of the worst pieces of television drivel ever produced. It’s not even bad in a “so bad it’s funny” way, but just purely dreadful. 

My first memories of the Spice Girls came with a “so bad it’s funny” mentality. I remember driving in my friend Anastasia’s car and blasting out “Wannabe” and b-side “Bumper to Bumper”. We sang along ironically at full volume and kept the windows rolled down for full “annoy the neighbourhood” teenage realness. And then, as a joke, she bought me the album. I liked it. Not in any kind of hilarious way, but because it was actually pretty good… apart from “Wannabe”. Then for Christmas I got some sort of documentary + music videos compilation on VHS, which I guiltily watched more times than I’d like to admit. 

So immediately after that third Spice encounter, I put together a mixtape of Spice Girls and solo Spice tracks, and used it as an alternate Toronto mixtape, keeping things motivated and positive throughout Toronto shoot week. And, you know, I really needed it. As the first issue to be made without any assistant, I got kinda lonely out there, so it was good to have some upbeat music to help.

P.S. Take a listen to “Bumper to Bumper”, here: https://play.spotify.com/track/4pMxscJWCWu5HjnomOGaa7

See more of Shane H and read his story in Elska Magazine issue (08) Toronto

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(A Yemeni and then an American… with Joejoe F)

Cardiff shoot week didn’t get off to a great start. I arrived into the city on a late Tuesday afternoon and had one shoot already planned for that evening. I Übered it from the railway station to my hotel, the lovely Maison Galles, freshened up and then crossed the street for a coffee and a slice of wienerbrød at Brød Danish Bakery. There I’d relax a bit before starting the first shoot. But then I got a message from that first boy that he was cancelling due to red eyes from hayfever. Whatever!

I was worried that this was a sign of what was to come, that Cardiff would be a place full of flakey people and I’d have a lot of cancellations. So I felt no choice but to go and try to find a last minute replacement. Jamil was the first to come to my rescue. ​

Jamil was part of the large Yemeni community in Wales, or rather his father was from Yemen and his mum was from Scotland. He was up for a shoot but just a bit nervous, claiming that his legs might not look good on film… so I asked him to show me. He stripped off into his underwear and, well, he had fantastic legs – thick, strong and hairy… So I told him not to worry, that the camera would fix whatever he imagined was wrong with them and that I had no interest to make him look anything but beautiful.

Satisfied with that, we sat down to have him read and sign the model release form, and then he freaked out. There’s a line in it that says his pictures can be used for Elska Magazine “and marketing of Elska Magazine throughout the world”. That “throughout the world” part freaked him out. Suddenly he was terrified of his Arab family finding his pictures and not understanding, especially since Jamil wasn’t out to his family. While I highly doubt Elska’s gonna turn up in Yemen, I can’t promise it, so we called it off. Instead we hung out a bit while I looked for someone else. And then came Joejoe F.

Joejoe was originally from Los Angeles but came to Cardiff to attend university, and was in love with it. He said he felt much more at home there than in LA and already was thinking of ways to stay on after finishing his studies… perhaps by finding a British husband?! He was initially less sure about the shoot than Jamil was. But Joejoe did bring a bottle of wine, some very sweet rosé that eventually relaxed him enough to decide to shoot. And no, he wasn’t drunk, and I never got any “I didn’t know what I was doing, please don’t use the pics” message of remorse. The only problem was that I was a bit drunk, ‘cos I get drunk very easily, so a lot of the pics were rubbish. Oops – another lesson learned!  But there were some decent ones too.

So that’s how Joejoe F became the first Cardiff boy shot, a non-Welsh lad but local boy nonetheless, someone who wasn’t born in Wales but loved it just the same. And I’m glad I found him, though I wish I had Jamil too. 

See more of Joejoe and read his story in Elska Magazine Issue (07) Cardiff.

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(What Wes Taught Me… with Wes S from Cardiff)

Because we don’t hire professional models at Elska, pretty much every guy you see in our issues are first time models. However, a few have done some sort of modelling before, or have done acting or other artistic performance – this is to be expected as the sort of person who’s up for being photographed before may have already discovered an enjoyment of being in front of the camera. But for the most part, the guys we meet turn up pretty nervous before we shoot. Wes was no exception, although he tried to mitigate his nerves by bringing a friend for moral support. That was Jody, who’d done professional modelling before herself, and who even ended up assisting on our shoot. It’s not a bad idea to bring a friend along, but even without Jody, I do my best to make people feel at ease, which I think I’m pretty good at.​​

Since I’m not after “poses”, there’s not much to worry about, but sometimes people are just a bit stiff. My first tactic is to imitate to them how to move, and then let them follow my example.  If that doesn’t work then I can maybe give some ideas of something to think about (rather than just staring at me). And if all else fails, we just talk to each other and I snap a ton of pictures and hope for some good ones caught between blinks and open mouths. But even after a year of making Elska, I really learned something from shooting Wes. 

The first set of pics we did, based around his first look, just didn’t work. There were probably a hundred shots of him in his leather vest and headband, but only one was decent (you can find it in the magazine). I learned that almost always the first set of pics is the worst, so: 1) just keep shooting until you get a good result; 2) save your favourite outfit until the last shoot and leave your least favourite look for the first set. In the end, 90% of people do get into it and relax (of course some never do, unfortunately), but even with Wes, it got good after the first set, and then really good. By the sixth set he was well into it, and one of those shots is what made it onto the cover. Cheers, Wes!

See more of Wes S and read his story in Elska Magazine issue (07) Cardiff

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(Ég elska velsku…with Ceri V)

‘Velska’ – that’s the Icelandic word for Welsh, which is coincidentally so close to the name ‘elska’, which is the Icelandic word for ‘love’.  And I do love Welsh. The accent has always been my favourite of the accents of Britain, but when I got to Wales and actually heard people speak Welsh, I was truly smitten.

Ceri V was the first guy I met during the search for Cardiff boys who was a native Welsh speaker. I secretly hoped I’d find at least one guy for the Cardiff issue who spoke Welsh and would write their story in Welsh, but of course I wouldn’t force it. It’s important to me that Elska be spontaneous rather than curated, so I wasn’t going to do a “Welsh Speakers Wanted” advert no matter how cool I thought it would be to have an issue full of Welsh stories.  

In South Wales, English is by far the main language and you rarely hear Welsh spoken on the streets. In Cardiff only around 20% speak Welsh. Still, even at those levels, that adds up tens of thousands of Welsh speakers in Cardiff plus more in the rest of the country, particularly in the north and west of the country. That makes the Welsh language the strongest of all the Celtic languages. Irish, Scots Gaelic, Manx, Cornish… these aren’t doing so well at all. While some of those languages indeed have many speakers, only Welsh and Breton have a very high number of NATIVE speakers. Even if over a million people can speak Irish, only around 50,000 were raised with it as their mother tongue. For Welsh, the number of native speakers is over half a million. 

Anyway, when I arrived at Ceri’s place, he was actually sitting in the living room writing his story on paper. He apologised for not having written it yet, and quickly scrawled it down as I set up for the shoot. When he finished he tore off the paper and handed it to me. Later when I got home I tried to type it up it but I couldn’t make out his writing at all, especially difficult because the Welsh words just looked like jumbles of random consonants. So I got one of our Twitter followers, Jack Murphy, to help out. He deciphered the writing, fixed the spelling mistakes (sorry, Ceri, you’re not the best speller), and did a translation. Thanks Jack!

In the end we got three guys who wrote in Welsh. Out of sixteen guys, that represents almost 20%, so the statistics about Welsh in Cardiff are correct, at least in our Elska ‘research’. By the way, if anyone in London fancies giving me some private Welsh lessons, let me know. I’m up for it. I just love how it sounds.

See more of Ceri V and read his story in Elska Magazine Issue (07) Cardiff.

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(Inside Cardiff Castle… with Jack S)

Jack S met us at our hotel, Cathedral 73, and the plan was to shoot outside in the neighbourhood (Pontcanna) and then do some shots inside the room. But when Jack arrived he had another idea… “If it’s alright with you, I thought we could shoot in the castle”, he said.

I assumed he meant ‘at’ the castle, not ‘in’ the castle, meaning outside it, in Bute Park with the castle as a backdrop. So I asked him to clarify. “It’s ok, I can get us inside. I’ve worked there for six years. It’s no problem." 

I was pretty sure that lighting would be tricky, so we might get some grainy pictures (I wasn’t gonna bring flash equipment inside as we’d have to keep a low profile and stay out of the way), but I wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to get inside a castle. So we took the ten minute walk to the castle and we entered through a back door, up a steep and cramped spiral staircase, and found various rooms to shoot in, waiting for tour groups to vacate them so we wouldn’t disturb anyone.

On more than one occasion we were spotted though and fiercely shouted at by security and one particularly angry tour leader as to what we were doing and who we were. Usually this happened when Jack was hiding in a cupboard changing clothes. "We’re with Jack” I’d cry, then get excused with a sort of look that said they were dying to cart us off in handcuffs just for some rare excitement. 

When we got back to the hotel, the lighting was superb, sun streaming in through the many windows, and the picture quality was all the better for it. But the castle pics were just too special which is why they take centre stage in the main mag. The indoor ones were lovely though, and I wanted to show them, which is why Jack S got an Elska Ekstra e-zine to his name. Definitely this experience was a highlight of Cardiff shoot week, really unforgettable. Thanks, Jack!

See more of Jack and read his story in Elska Magazine Issue (07) Cardiff, available at www.elskamagazine.com

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(Missing Istanbul Boy No.1… with Ali K)

I met Ali on one of the gay apps on the second morning of Istanbul shoot week. I proposed the idea of him taking part, and he was open. He certainly didn’t know what Elska was and even at the time we met, I’m not sure he’d taken the time to check it out. He just fancied meeting up, trying something new, having a sort of adventure.  ​​SMLXL So we met that same afternoon by Üsküdar port on the Asian side of Istanbul. We walked along the shoreline to his place, which overlooked the sea and Maiden’s Tower (where a crucial scene of Bond’s ‘The World is Not Enough’ was filmed). It was an apartment way too big for him, and most of it was empty of furniture. I don’t think he felt settled there, and indeed after talking he revealed that he recently moved there from the European side, feeling more at home there and nearer to friends and entertainment. But Istanbul as a whole didn’t feel like home to him. He was wanting somewhere a bit smaller and a bit closer to the beach. By the time this is published he could already be gone. 

Ali K wasn’t published in Elska Magazine Issue (06) Istanbul. Some of the others were cut because they didn’t submit stories on time, but Ali did submit a story, but it was just too short. I asked him to add a bit but he ignored my request. I think that indeed he didn’t really want to be in Elska. He just was bored that day and thought a photoshoot could be fun. It’s a shame, but these things happen.

Anyway, if you would like to read his story, I’ve posted it below. Sorry, I haven’t had it translated though – no point spending money on a translator for something that won’t be fully published, but you can always do a cut+paste into your favourite online translation site… – Liam C.

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Bazen tarihi yarım adaya bakarken evimin balkonundan durup durup hayallere dalıyor kız kuleine baktıkça orada kimler tutsak edildi diye düşünürken, istanbulun muazzamlığı beni farklı hayallere götürürken sonra bir anda kendime geliyor ve diyotum… ben buraya mı aitim yoksa köklerimin derinlere daldığı incim izmirime mi aitim? bazen nefret bazen sevgi sanırım Istanbul… ama her ne olursa olsun Burda farlı yasamlar farklı insanlar insanın ufkunu acıyor.kendime daha cok baglanıyorum farklı hayatlar tanıdıkca.iki yakada da yasamak bana daha cok sey kattı avrupa tarafındaki kalabalığı keşmekeşi Asya yakasındaki sessizlik mutasıp hayatla değistirdim..mutlumuyum? bilmiyorum.ama tek bildiğim birsey var bende cok sey aldı bu şehir(Istanbul)…kültürümün  adetlerinden nefret ettiğim Kadar bazende seviyorum ve inadına yasıyorum..Garip ama sanki kültürümü terkedersem kendimi terkedicem gibi hissediyorum..sanki bana kalan tek güzel set bu gibi.ama bilmiyorum işte..ilginc bir paradox içindeyim..ama yinede herseye rahmen seviyorum bu hayatı.. – Ali K.

See more and read more from the other Istanbul boys in Elska Magazine

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(Writing Is Easy, Isn’t It?… with Selim B from Istanbul)

People often tell me how lucky I am to do this job, to travel and photograph men… and although it’d be nice if it actually paid a salary yet, I agree with them. I’d rather be poor and do something I love than rich and miserable. But money isn’t the biggest worry. The toughest obstacle is getting the boys to write.

For Elska, the ‘local stories’ are as important as the ‘local boys’. When I approach a guy to be in Elska, I let him know that he needs to write a 400 word story from his life in the city, written in any language. Once I get the OK, we schedule the photoshoot. Occasionally he will write the story before we meet, but sometimes it’s hard to find guys far enough in advance to give them time to write. I like to give them a week or two, but often the deadline passes with no story sent.

For every issue there have been guys cut because they didn’t send a story, but there’s always been enough ‘extra boys’ to fill the pages. And some cities are worse than others. With Berlin, Reykjavík, and Taipei, only one didn’t write. With Lisbon it was five. Perhaps it’s that old stereotype about southern Europeans being lazy, but whatever the reason it’s a nightmare. Selim B is one of five Istanbul boys who didn’t write.

But what I don’t get is that writing is easy, isn’t it? I’m always saying this to friends and nine times out of ten they disagree. So maybe that’s the problem, that I expect it to be easy for others what is easy for me. I should try to accept this and deal with it but I don’t know any other solution than to shoot even more guys with the expectation that perhaps 25% won’t write and I’ll have to not use the photos. Which is a shame.

The most worrying thing of all is that the city meant to be Issue (07) is missing so many stories that it may not be able to come together as an issue at all. It’s already being postponed and I’m trying to organise an “emergency” shoot week to make a replacement issue. There’s still time to see if it can be salvaged… I’ll let you know!

See and read from others in Elska Magazine issue (06) Istanbul