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Remembering last year’s shoot with Austin W, who became the cover boy of our Elska Taipei edition. Seen here with our Taipei assistant Roman Tanitchev, evening out his backpack straps, ‘cos you know he’s meticulous like that.

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(Justin Trudeau… with Harvey S)

Our shoot with Harvey S was a bit unusual. It started with him opening up a box of wine and then lighting a cigarette, because he needed both of these to relax. He didn’t mind me snapping images as he got his calm on, but he warned that it’d be a while ‘til he would really be ready. And it did indeed take a while. So we took our time, chatted, and listened to music.

We did a few shots in his flat and on his balcony, but he was still feeling a bit shy for the nudes, so we went up to his roof for some clothed shots first, including a some gorgeously lit pics of him up there wearing a shirt that he designed, under the HarveyStewart label.

We then went back to his flat, and now feeling suitably relaxed, he takes all his clothes off and then throws on a vest depicting some handsome man riding a moose with a load of geese flying around him. “Who’s that cute guy on your shirt?” I asked. It was Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister and Prime Hottie of Canada. He then went to find some underwear and I protested. We needed some dick with the PM!

I suppose you’re wondering why the pic’s not posted here, eh? You need to go buy the issue to see it!

See more of Harvey S and read his story in Elska Magazine issue (08) Toronto

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(Cutting is the Worst… with John H)

One of the worst jobs of editing Elska is having to cut guys from the issues. It’s been a necessity in every issue so far.  In Issue (01) Lviv, two boys were cut. The images sort of lacked character, a result of having only met these guys via Grindr just hours before shooting, with no time even for conversation. Lesson learned. Or rather, that mistake was made again for Issue (02) Berlin, where another last minute addition also resulted in dead-looking photos. Lesson definitely learned now. 

​Guys have also been cut because they never submitted a story. We’ve tried to get guys to submit stories before the shoot, but it’s not as easy as it sounds and lots are reluctant to put in the work of writing before meeting us. Lisbon and Istanbul were particularly difficult in this regard, but Taipei and Cardiff were easy. In Cardiff, more than half submitted before the shoot, and all did eventually.

The problem with Issue (07) was that I still needed to cut someone because there just wasn’t enough space in the issue. The first decision was to put ‘Elska Dehors’ on hiatus to make room. Next we added pages to make this the biggest issue so far. But still I needed to cut someone else, and unfortunately it was John H.

The reason was simply because his story was the last one to be submitted. Perhaps not fair but I didn’t know a fairer way to do it. And since none of the Cardiff boys pissed me off with diva attitudes (Lisbon – I’m thinking of you), I had to cut a genuinely nice, interesting, and cute guy. At least I put him and his story in Elska Ekstra if you’d like to check him out. And if you’re ever in Cardiff, I’m sure you might see John around, either at work in the St David’s Centre (I won’t be more specific than that) or online.

See more of John H in Elska Ekstra (7.1): https://elska-magazine.myshopify.com/

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(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

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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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(The Quiet Ones… with Luke C from Cardiff)

Luke was one of the most up-for-it of the Cardiff boys. He was the first guys we found (I think on Instagram), the first we scheduled to shoot, and the first to send in his story. He also really helped spread the word, inviting two guys from his circle – Robert G and Henry C – to be part of the Cardiff issue. He was also super kind, recommending locations for shooting and even offering to drive us around in his car. 

But when we finally met in person he was so quiet – perhaps nervous, perhaps shy, perhaps just slow to warm up to new people. Initially when confronted with such quietness, I worry that the shoot won’t work, that the guy will be frozen, devoid of expression and incapable of movement. But in front of the camera, Luke was at ease. It’s like that typical artist thing where person is timid only until the spotlight shines on them. Personally I hate being the centre of attention, but if you put me on stage, all the worry drifts away. And when we got back to Luke’s place for the naked shots, he was even more at ease. 

I also felt like Luke and I might have a lot in common. A look around his flat and seeing the books and art he had and hearing the music he played while we shot made me want to know him better. But I felt like there was some barrier. That’s why more than anyone else in the Cardiff issue, I’d like to shoot him again. As much as he let go in front of the camera, I really think he could let go more. We see Luke in the issue for sure, but there’s another level of Luke that was unreachable. I want to try again.

See more of Luke C and read his story in Elska Magazine Issue (07) Cardiff

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(My Cardiff Crush… with Radek P from Cardiff)

For the past two issues I’ve done a “My Crush” blog post, so I figured I should do one for Cardiff too. The trouble was that in Cardiff I liked everyone (well, maybe not every single person), so it was hard to single out anyone in particular. But since I gave myself the challenge to make a tradition of the “My Crush” post, I decided to give the “honour” to Radek.  ​​

It was actually a bit difficult to crush on Radek since his partner was there with us during the shoot, and well, mine was there as well assisting. But perhaps in a way this fact made it easier to feel at ease with him, because there was no tension, no awkwardness, and indeed I felt really comfortable with him. I even stayed on after the shoot for a coffee, something that’s actually quite rare.We also had a lot of things in common. First of all, he’s rather overeducated, particularly with regard to foreign languages, which meant we could talk about stuff that most people roll their eyes at in boredom. He demonstrated his Welsh knowledge, I blurted out my rudimentary Portuguese, he spoke a bit of Polish, and I taught him how to write his name in Georgian. Oh, and he also had a Polish poster on his wall which impressed me no end (if you haven’t ever checked out Polish movie poster art, you’re really in for a treat).​​

And then there was something more personal we had in common. He knew it what it was like to arrive in a new country, feel very at home and then suddenly feel uncertain of his place there. For someone who calls Britain home but wasn’t born in Britain, the Brexit vote had a profoundly depressing and confusing effect. We both thought we lived in a progressive, inclusive, and open country, and we were proud to be part of that. Brexit shattered that and forced a division in society whereby we’d need to discover who’s who, i.e who is for Remain, and who wants us to get the hell out of the country. Such divisions are of course not ideal, but at best they bring some of us together, fortunate to find each other and take solace in our shared points of view.

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