Elska Istanbul

Photos: Meet the out & proud men of gay Istanbul (and their cats)

Liam Campbell is editor and photographer of the indie print mag, Elska, a project that involves traveling around the world, getting to know some regular local guys, and introducing them and their city to the world through honest photography and personal stories.

The photos for this article were shot in Istanbul, Turkey.

GayCities exclusively shares a selection of the photos along with a bit of behind the scenes commentary.

Can A

The first guy I met in Istanbul for our project was Can (pronounced “John” by the way), and when he turned up wearing a Tel Aviv t-shirt I knew instantly that Turkey wasn’t the place I’d been expecting. I knew that Turkey was not going to be some ultra-conservative Islamic society where any sign of being gay or pro-Israel, or by showing this much skin, would get you into trouble. But as I discovered from talking to many of the men here, the fear that Turkey is going in that direction is very real. It means that the LGBTQ community especially is fighting hard to keep Istanbul’s legendary liberal spirit alive and let it flourish as the gay capital of the Islamic world.

Efe B

Apart from the lady in the next row as my flight was arriving into Istanbul who announced to her husband, “Oh my God, look at all the mosques,” what I noticed first about the city was the huge amount of cats. But rather than being mere strays, here the locals really care for them. You’ll find dishes of water and piles of kibble all over the streets for them, and you’ll often find people stop to pet one. And of course, lots of people have their own as pets too, like Efe here who shared a flat with around seven other people plus even more cats.

Ekin K + Emrullah T

Ekin and Emrullah are something of local celebrities, being the first same-sex couple to ever marry in Turkey. Not that it was official – even though visibility here is higher than in much of the region, including July’s annual pride march, actual rights are rather limited. But I believe that as long as there are people like these two who are willing to be seen and heard, the potential for progress continues.

Kami E

One of the most tragic and infamous chapters of Turkish history involves the Armenian Genocide, where a century ago over a million ethnic Armenians were purged from the Ottoman Empire. Today over a hundred thousand Armenians live in Istanbul, and we met a few of them, including Kami. At first I didn’t know his origins but when we got to his flat for the indoor part of the photoshoot, I noticed various clues like a chest of drawers with words carved on it in Armenian script as well as various Orthodox iconography. After the shoot I then noticed a huge portrait of Atatürk, who presided over the genocide, which hung from his neighbour’s balcony. I asked Kami if this bothered him, but he said that it’s just something you have to get used to. Portraits of Atatürk abound in the city, and there’s even one in the background of the Elska Istanbul cover.


One of the most interesting experiences in Istanbul was the shoot I was supposed to do with a guy called Serkan. He had told me that he’d be bringing a friend to the shoot to help since he didn’t speak English, and that friend was Lola. As it turned out, Lola also wanted some pics, and thought I wouldn’t mind taking some in exchange for her help with Serkan. I actually didn’t mind, and quite enjoyed the shoot. The sight of this tall leggy blond in a slinky pink dress turned heads all over town so I felt like I was doing a celebrity photoshoot. It was also great to meet someone from the local trans community, who informed me that one of the few rights in Turkey is the legal recognition of gender change.

Tema P + Sasha B

We actually shot two couples in Istanbul, the second being Tema P and Sasha B (the one behind). At first I thought their shoot would be just for me since they actually lived in Moscow. However, when I read the story they wrote for us, which explained how much they adore Istanbul, how it’s their go-to escape destination when they want to feel fully free as a gay couple, I decided to include them. I wanted to reiterate how queer Istanbul really is and hope that it encourages more queer people to visit this amazing city.

Elska Istanbul is out now in a limited edition print version and in an e-version. A behind-the-scenes companion zine called Elska Ekstra Istanbul is also available.

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