Liam Campbell is the editor of 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 photography and personal stories. Liam shares with GayCities a selection of photos along with a bit of behind-the-scenes commentary about each bloke he came across during a recent trip to London.
Even though I moved to America a couple of years ago, London is my hometown, and when I shot this issue it was my first time back home since leaving. As usual, I tend to let each of the participants choose where they want to do their photoshoots, which is most often their own neighborhood, but I hoped that one of the guys I met would be located in a place that meant a lot to me personally.
Luckily I found Darren B, who lived on the Isle of Dogs. I had spent a lot of time there, especially when I was a teenager because I lived in a flat that looked over the river at the Isle of Dogs and my then-boyfriend now-husband worked in Canary Wharf.
An interesting aspect of featuring a global city like London is that the majority of the guys I met weren’t originally from London. In fact, only five of the eighteen men were even English. It means that London is a place where you can get to know people from all over the world and no matter where you come from, you can feel at home in this city.
Since the Brexit vote, there’s been a shift in attitudes, with a lot of xenophobia and racism coming into the open, and a couple of the men in this issue wrote stories dealing with this new reality. Tommy, for example, talked in his story about guys being rude to him online, telling him, “Go back to where you came from,” etc. He also explained how when he was a teenager he dreamed of moving to a fabulous gay country like Britain to live a fabulous gay life like he saw on British TV shows such as Queer As Folk. It’s devastating that some of this fabulousness seems to be fading away.
One of the five English guys I did meet for the London issue was Harry. We had a fun time making jokey pictures next to red phone boxes, double-decker buses, and St George’s flags; and we also had a funny and rather awkward time doing nude pics while his mother was meant to stay in the kitchen (she didn’t) and not bother us (she did)! It was one of the most fun shoots of what was often a stressful and difficult week, but there sadly was a bit of gloom at least in Harry’s text. Similar to how racism is on the rise in Britain, anti-LGBTQ sentiment is also ascendant. Harry talked about dealing with an aggressive homophobic patron at a local pub when trying to have a relaxed evening with his partner. He was shocked, saddened, and a little scared.
Even though I spent most of my life in London, making this issue gave me the opportunity to discover corners of the city I’d never been. Northwest London, for example, was always this huge gap on my map, but I got to see part of it when with Kamil. I remembered how wonderful it is to just walk around this city and discover, to just pick a tube station at random, go there, and spend a weekend afternoon exploring. Kamil showed me some secrets to his local area, like this random funfair in a little park. It was closed at the time but some of the workers let us walk around and do some shots there. It definitely brought some brightness to an otherwise gloomy day.
An absolute highlight of my trip to London was spending time with Victor in Queen Elizabeth Park, which is the site of the former London 2012 Olympic Park. If you were around in London during the Olympics, you would have seen the best of Britishness – people enjoying the outdoors, showing their curiosity and appetite for discovery, and maybe drinking a little too much! Somehow in this park that spirit remains. During our shoot we ran into families picnicking, couples cycling, and pubs full of people chatting and drinking Pimms in the sunshine. Victor also was such a lovely chap, really cheering me up and making me more homesick than I felt during my entire trip.
Even with all the tough times in Britain these days, my afternoon with Victor gave me some hope and showed me that the Britain I loved is still there somewhere, perhaps under a cloud, waiting for the sun.
Elska London 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 London.