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(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.

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(Foreigners are Allowed, or Should They Not Be?… with Oliver D)

I had an interesting conversation with a friend recently, who casually asked how the Cardiff shoots went and what sort of progress I was at in making the new issue. I told him, and mentioned that I was currently working on the spread for Oliver D, a Catalan chap we shot in Cardiff. 

My friend was perplexed as to why we’d shoot a Catalan guy in Cardiff. “He lives there”, I explained… "we don’t go to Wales to shoot only ethnic Welsh people, nor did we go to Berlin to only shoot ethnic Germans; it’s just anyone who lives in the city.“ 

"I understand” he said, “but I just think it’s weird to buy a Welsh issue and find a Catalan. It’s not what you expect and I think the readers don’t want that.”

Perhaps he’s right, but here’s another instance of where I arrogantly use my editorial control to say that I don’t care. Some cities are more multicultural, and I want to show that. In Berlin we only actually shot maybe five Germans. In contrast to that, Cardiff was quite homogenous! Issue (01) Lviv, however was the most ethnically ‘predictable’, but then that city genuinely wasn’t as multicultural as others. It’s not like I was purposely trying to do a ‘Ukraine for Ukrainians’ edition.

So I’m ultimately happy to feature a Catalan, but if I’m 100% honest, I will admit that I probably wouldn’t have considered putting him on the cover. For that I did choose a native Welsh lad, but that’s not to say that next time I won’t put a ‘foreigner’ on the cover. That’s up to my editorial control.

See more of Oliver 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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(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.

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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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Today marks the release of our latest edition: Elska Magazine Issue (07) Cardiff (Wales)

It also marks the first issue of the second Elska year, having released our first edition, Issue (01) Lviv (Ukraine), exactly one year ago. As a UK-based publication, it was great to finally set an issue in Britain, but on an island(s) so full of big cities, it was so hard to choose which one to focus on. In the end I went for the Welsh capital for three reasons: 1) I’d never been to Wales so it had the most to discover; 2) my partner is half Welsh and I was always curious to see his roots; 3) I love the local accent, which kinda even turns me on!

We met a lot of ‘local boys’ in Cardiff, so many that this became the hardest issue ever to edit down. In the end it’s the longest edition too, at 164 pages, and features sixteen photospreads, each accompanied by a story. Most wrote in English as it’s the native tongue of 80% of Cardiffians, but a few wrote in Welsh (Ceri V, Orrie M, and Dave R) and one even in Catalan (that’s Oliver D, a postgraduate student at the university). Plus, seeing as Brexit just happened before we shot, the impact of this is reflected in a few of their stories.

The Cardiff issue, besides being the biggest, is also the most diverse in terms of body type and age. As usual, we just turn up in a city, post a load of messages on social media and photograph everyone who responds and wants to be in the issue. There’s no scouting for particular guys or types of guys. Rather it’s a spontaneous and authentic operation. This usually results in more diversity than the average gay mag, but Cardiff took the cake! Beyond the ‘textbook-hot’ muscle boys, there’s skinny guys, thicker guys, and definitely a rugby player or two, as you might expect from Wales. But most striking of all is the age spread – from 19 (that’s Jon D) up to 75 (that’s Bruce B). 

If you haven’t yet seen the full Elska experience, I hope you’ll pick up a copy and join us for our latest journey. Head to the main site, http://www.elskamagazine.com, to buy one, to see a list of stockists, or to subscribe to a year of Elska.

Diolch, Thank you!

xx

Liam

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(“If you don’t know where you are going any road can take you there”
…with Michael B from Taipei)

Every time I plan an Elska issue and start contacting boys to take part, I often get a reponse like “I’m not Icelandic – is it okay?” or “I’m not born in Taiwan, so I guess you won’t want me”. Haven’t people heard of multiculturalism?  Of course it’s ok. The issues aren’t meant to be ethnically exclusive but just a portrait of a city’s residents. It doesn’t matter where you were born or what’s in your blood, but just that you live in the city.

Michael B is obviously not ethnically Taiwanese (which is a complicated thing to define in itself). He’s originally from Canada, and ethnically I have no idea, but he’s not First Nations… or at least he doesn’t look it. But he lives in Taiwan, one of the cohort of English teachers, and that makes him ‘eligible’ for the Taipei issue. 

I also taught English for a year, not in anywhere as exotic as Taiwan, but rather in Poland. Still, it was a cultural adventure, with a new language to learn and various hurdles to cope with. I went because I needed a change. I didn’t know where I was going in life, and I don’t know why I chose Poland, but it didn’t matter. Michael also had no particular reason to choose Taipei, but I suppose he needed a change, or an adventure, or something. 

Is it brave? Sure, but (no offense – Michael) it’s not that big of a deal. Things have a way of working themselves out anywhere you go, and the challenge of it helps you grow. And if it’s a disaster then at least you’ll leave with interesting stories to tell. Who wants to be boring and stagnant?

Michael’s story in the issue related to Alice in Wonderland. After I read his text, I got myself a copy of the Lewis Carroll book and read it myself. Could you say that Alice was ‘brave’ to jump down the rabbit hole? I wouldn’t say that, but she did it anyway. As gallingly useless as she is, I admire for that. The problem is that I keep jumping down them, still looking for my home.

See more of Michael B and read his story in Elska Magazine issue (05) Taipei