(Kitchens… with Henry C from Cardiff)

I hate shooting in kitchens. When we do indoor home shoots, usually we just walk around and find various areas to use as backdrops, but I avoid kitchens. Somehow I just don’t find toasters, kettles and dirty pots and pans very sexy, no matter who is standing in front of them. But sometimes I end up taking a shot or two there anyway… and inevitably never use those pics!

See more of Henry C and read his story in Elska Magazine issue (07) Cardiff (Wales):


(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.


(Tea… with Dave R)

When Elska did its first shoots a year ago in Lviv, Ukraine, I believed a tradition had started. For that first shoot week we rented an apartment right in the city centre. And since we’d be self-catering rather than in a hotel, I brought loads of tea bags (English Breakfast and Earl Grey) along. Well, actually I stole them from the airport lounge in Heathrow (sorry)! Oh, and I also brought boxes of traditional shortbread biscuits for each of the boys, plus some for the apartment.

The plan was that all the boys we shot would come to the flat first for a chat and then we’d go out to take the pics. We ended up have a cup of tea (with milk as is the English way, which they all wanted to try) and a biscuit before the shoot, and sometimes more after the shoot. It was a cute custom that helped us bond with each of the lads. And I hoped it would become a tradition for future Elska shoot weeks. ​

For Berlin I also procured a load of tea bags before arriving, but the city was just so huge that it wasn’t convenient for each guy to come to our apartment. But even those who did meet us at our place seemed to not be keen on hanging around. Maybe it’s the hustle and well, unfriendliness, of a large city, but it was nothing like Lviv.And what was worse was that even when we went to other guys’ homes to shoot, nobody offered us tea. Maybe it’s not a German custom to offer a drink to visitors, or maybe they just considered the Elska experience more of a “strictly business” situation. The only person who was truly hospitable was Roman T, who even made us dinner and offered not just tea but Sekt! But then, Roman isn’t a born-and-bred German – he’s originally from Russia. And even if it’s not politically correct to compare Ukrainians to Russians, they do share a knack for hospitality in common.​​

In Reykjavík, Lisbon, Taipei, and Istanbul too, tea was rarely offered. But I thought that in Cardiff it might be different. I’d never been to Wales but in every home I’d ever been to in England, I was offered tea before I even took my shoes off! So when I went to Dave’s place I was disappointed that he didn’t offer us a brew. Maybe it’s not a Welsh thing, I don’t know, but my hopes were dashed.And then only ten minutes after I left I got a text from Dave. He was apologising profusely for not offering a cuppa. It was the nervousness of being shot nude for the first time that distracted him. His apology made my day, and it renewed my faith in British hospitality. There would be lots more tea after that, and hopefully in more Elska cities to come.

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


(Elska x Maison Galles)

I didn’t know exactly what to expect from Maison Galles, or rather my expectations were far exceeded. In my mind, it was going to be a typical apartment rental, something you’d expect from Airbnb, but the place had so much style and grandeur. When I arrived I expected to be ushered into my bedroom, handed a key, and left alone… but as the owner toured me around I discovered that I had the full run of the house rather than just a bedroom. There was a sumptuous living room and dining area, a full kitchen, massive modern bathroom, and even a garden to enjoy. And although the house is imposing at first, it has just four bedrooms, making it still feel rather intimate – perfect for Elska.
Most impressive was the character of the place, with a strong a French sensibiity that was apparent throughout the property – (‘Pays de Galles’ is the French name for ‘Wales’). Various pieces of furniture are French antiques, there’s a big ‘bienvenue’ word sculpture in the lounge, and little pieces of francophilia could be found everywhere. But there’s also Welsh flavour in the art (my favourite being some sheep-themed pop art in one of the bedrooms.
I had planned to do a shoot outside in the area (it’s right opposite the wonderful Danish Café Brød by the way), but so special was Maison Galles, that I had to do some shots inside too. So I invited Joejoe F over. There were some lovely images created, but frankly a lot of wonky ones too… something about the atmosphere of the property ‘forced’ us to get a bottle of French wine, which somewhat impaired our photographing and modelling abilities. But then I suppose the images at least were authentic, ‘cos Maison Galles just made us feel so relaxed, too much in a holiday mood to do actual work… so I guess it was a good thing that I only spent two nights here, even if I could have stayed forever.



(Accents – Too Welsh… with Orrie M)

Years ago when I was at uni during a linguistics class, the lecturer played a series of recordings where scripts were read out in various accents of Britain. At a most basic level it showed how vast and numerous are the different accents on this little island, but also how unsubtle their differences are. After the class, a bunch of us hung around to compare which accents we liked most and least.

Some, like the Brummie (Birmingham) and Black Country accents were universally derided. Others like all those from Scotland and Ireland were loved. Then a few stirred very much Marmite-like feelings, with people taking ‘hate it’ or ‘love it’ positions… Cockney (East London), Scouse (Liverpool), and Geordie (Newcastle) were the three most commonly fought about. But my favourite was one overlooked by most – the Welsh accent. 

To my ear, there was just one Welsh accent, but after spending time in Cardiff to make this Elska issue, I realised that there were at least different levels, or strengths, to it. In Cardiff the accent was as lovely as I expected, and the one I was most used to (having relations from Cardiff) but once you get deeper into the valleys that surround the city, the accent gets thicker, almost too Welsh. Perhaps in the north and west it’s another story, or level, again.

Orrie was the first valley boy I shot for the issue. He lived in the Rhondda Valley, the most famous valley of them all. When we met, his accent was so thick that I could hardly make out a word he said. Yes, he also mumbled a bit, but even so I had to ask him to repeat himself constantly. 

But perhaps his accent was extra Welsh because he’s a fluent Welsh speaker. Indeed when you hear someone speak Welsh, the accent makes total sense. It fits so perfectly with the vowels and cadence of the language; when you then transfer that accent to speaking English, the Welsh sing-songyness moved along too. I was mimicking it the entire time I was in Wales and for a week after I got home, not out of mockery but out of infatuation. The Welsh accent is such a lovely thing. Absolutely lush.

See more of Orrie M and read his story in Elska Magazine Issue (07) Cardiff


(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