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 Berlin, Germany.
GayCities exclusively shares a selection of the photos along with a bit of behind the scenes commentary.
Berlin is certainly known for its intensely sexual side, which is probably part of why it’s one of the most popular destinations for LGBTQ travellers in Europe. Clubs like Berghain are legendary throughout the world, and even a boring gay like me managed to go to a naked night at the club lab.oratory (though I didn’t find the courage to venture beyond the bar and into the various darkrooms). So it’s no surprise that some of the guys we met here were a little eccentric, like Colin C. Usually for an Elska photoshoot I ask a guy to bring a selection of looks so that some of their personality can be revealed through their style, and Colin’s bag was full of silver hot pants, doggy masks, lederhosen, and a rugby uniform too (he plays for the Berlin Bruisers, Germany’s first gay/inclusive rugby team). Later I found out that Colin also does drag, under the name Gieza Poke, ‘Berlin’s only power-top pan-sexual former-Scottish-daytime-TV-fitness-sensation’! Next time I am in Berlin, I can’t wait to catch a show.
Despite Berlin’s wild reputation, some of the guys I met there wanted to stress the more ordinary side of Berlin. Like Bastian who was born and raised in Berlin and whose life isn’t all about sex parties but about family, friends, work, and enjoying the incredible city beyond nightlife. That means lazy Sunday brunches out or a traditional currywurst in the evening, incredible Christmas markets in winter and sunbathing at Tiergarten Park in summer (yes, there is a nude section). Bastian was also keen to talk about putting an end to the constant cutting up of Berlin into East and West by the media and many visitors – Berlin is a unified place these days, and we shouldn’t perpetuate divisions.
Of course it’s also important to remember the past, and Berlin certainly has a fascinating and dramatic history. Surely the most iconic symbol of Berlin’s past is in the Berlin Wall. I knew that I wanted to visit and do a shoot at the Wall but I was concerned about being respectful. I decided therefore to avoid shooting at the Berlin Wall Memorial, which is a more sombre section of it dedicated to remembrance. Instead I took Raphael to shoot at the section known as the East Side Gallery, which is dedicated to transformation through art. That’s the bit that’s full of some really famous murals, such as the one of Honecker and Brezhnev kissing, though we didn’t do a shot at that mural – not because it was too cliché but because we couldn’t get through the crowds of selfie-taking tourists.
One of the highlights of my trip to Berlin was the shoot with Emil. For that we shot at Tempelhof Airport, a site once famous as a Nazi monument, then later used for the 1948/49 airlifts, and eventually used as a regular passenger airport. When it finally closed in 2008, its grounds and terminal building were made open to the public. It’s one of my highlights of visiting Berlin and one that still not many visitors get to.
We ended up meeting sixteen guys in Berlin, more than we could fit in our main magazine, so some of them we published in a companion zine called Elska Ekstra Berlin. Included in there is Shir, a member of Berlin’s huge Israeli community. While for decades many Jews refused to visit Germany, let alone to live there, the ten thousand or so Israelis that now live in Berlin do a lot to be seen and heard, moving the city forward and healing the past.
I can’t forget to mention meeting Marc in Berlin, a guy who ended up joining the Elska team as associate editor. He’s been a huge supporter and asset to the project over the past four years and he was also instrumental in shaping our voice. The story he contributed originally for our second issue talked about an incident in a bar where a stranger told him, “You need to eat more.” I was really inspired by his sincerity, vulnerability, and willingness to speak out. Whenever I start getting concerned about what I should ‘say’ or do in Elska, whenever I get worried about things like sales, marketing, and that sort of business stuff, I just remind myself to simply be honest and just do what feels right.
Elska Berlin is out now in a limited edition print version and in an e-version. A behind-the-scenes companion zine called Elska Ekstra Pittsburgh is also available.