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 through honest photography and personal stories.
The photos for this article were shot in gorgeous and queer-friendly Guadalajara, “the San Francisco of Mexico.”
Liam exclusively shares with GayCities a selection of photos along with a bit of behind the scenes commentary about each dude he came across during a recent stay.
Considering that the guys we meet are just ‘regular’ guys rather than celebrities or models or whatnot, there’s usually a bit of nervousness to deal with before doing what is for many of them their first photo shoot. Daniel was especially shy though, so we tried a few ice-breaking tactics, like taking a walk without the camera (we went to a local market – markets in Mexico, which is already such a colorful country, are especially vibrant).
Then we tried playing some music (Daniel introduced me to the sublime Chavela Vargas). And when that didn’t quite work we skipped ahead to the nude part of the shoot – nothing makes you feel more confident than when you’ve got literally nothing left to hide behind! The shoot with Daniel took a little extra time, but it was worth it, he really was one of the loveliest guys I’d met in all my time at Elska. He even gave me some handmade art cards he’d drawn, which hang proudly above my office desk.
Another really lovely guy I met in Guadalajara (actually everyone in Mexico was super nice) was Alejandro. We met in the historic 16th-century center, which with all the colonial architecture really transported me to Europe (the rest of the city looks more like Southern California). In between taking shots outside ancient churches and grand squares, we paused for churros and cervezas. He also showed me the huge amount of queer spaces in the city, with probably as many gay bars as San Francisco (Guadalajara is sometimes called the “San Francisco of Mexico” after all). For a moment I forgot I was working and I realized I need to come back here for a holiday sometime.
Everyone who takes part in Elska is offered an outdoor and an indoor shoot, with nudity an optional part of it. In some cities, like Helsinki and Reykjavík, we found that most guys didn’t want to do the naked option; but here in Guadalajara every guy except one wanted to bear all.
I suppose it’s a sign of how open and liberal people here are (not to mention the lose-my-clothing weather), and perhaps that they’re proud and just don’t care what others think of them. Tom, however, rather than just not being shy was also insanely sexy in front of the camera. I asked if he’d done shoots before, but he insisted that he hadn’t, so maybe it’s just a Mexican thing to be crazy sexy.
Most of the guys I met in Guadalajara knew a bit of English but a few didn’t speak it at all. Fortunately, I’d prepared a list of photography phrases in Spanish to help me, but when I was shooting Teo, he just kept talking and talking (actually all the guys in Mexico were really chatty). No matter how much I said, “Lo siento, no hablo español,” he kept on as if he didn’t believe me! Anyway, I actually started taking Spanish lessons a few weeks ago so next time I’ll be able to join in a bit more.
Something really special about Guadalajara is that on Sundays and public holidays, they close off some of the city streets for leisure. It’s called La Via Recreativa, and it’s where Iván took me for our photoshoot. He also kindly offered to lend me a bicycle so we could enjoy the car-free roads. During our tour, we spotted many signs of just how gay Guadalajara is – not merely tolerant but actually welcoming. We found an LGBTQ cheerleading squad practicing in a park, we saw a queer dance demo taking place in a city square, and we saw so many same-sex couples holding hands that I stopped noticing them.
Elska Guadalajara is out now in a limited edition print version, in an e-version, and in a bundle including a behind-the-scenes companion zine called Elska Ekstra Guadalajara.