PHOTOS: 7 extraordinarily beautiful ordinary men from around the world

Dan from Bogotá

To celebrate the 7th anniversary of Elska Magazine, we’ve hand-picked these seven photographic subjects for your viewing pleasure. Editor Liam Campbell has generously agreed to share them exclusively with GayCities along with a bit of behind-the-scenes commentary on some standout moments.

Year One – Temelalj C – from Taipei, Taiwan

My trip to Taipei was incredibly formative for my Elska career. It was the location for the fifth edition of Elska since the first four issues sold well enough for me to afford a long-haul flight (from my former home in London). One of my closest friends happened to find a very cheap ticket to Taipei and suggested it, adding that it’s known as the gayest city in Asia.

I was excited to take my Elska project outside Europe for the first time and to discover a new city. I was also grateful to meet guys like Temelalj who taught me that Taiwan isn’t just populated by exiles from the communist revolution in the PRC, but that there’s an indigenous Taiwanese community that frequently gets ignored. He appreciated the opportunity to use Elska as a way to share his story and give more visibility to his community.

NEXT PAGE: Mumbai, India

Year Two – S Arif & Indern N – Mumbai, India

I have often claimed that my most favourite Elska travel experience was Mumbai. It was hot, it was crowded, it was at times chaotic, but it was always fascinating. Above all, Mumbai was full of amazingly kind, curious, and generous people.

Interestingly, a lot of my memories of Mumbai revolve around tea. Like when Aarash K took me on a back-of-a-moped tour of his neighbourhood and stopped at a fancy café for a chai. Or when Vinamra S and I strolled to visit his favourite chaiwala. Or when Namit K’s mother made us a cup of homemade chai and brought it into his bedroom right in the middle of the naked part of our photoshoot!

My most lasting memories of Inder N (on the right) however don’t revolve around tea. He made a beautiful small bag that I carry with me to this day on every photoshoot. I haven’t forgotten any of the men I’ve shot for Elska, but his gift helps me remember him more than most. Thank you, Inder! And I hope to visit India again one day, if only I could choose which city!

NEXT PAGE: Bogotá, Colombia

Year Three – Dan G – Bogotá, Colombia

One of the things I most enjoy about my job, aside from travel and photography, is getting to meet so many special people. Each shoot takes a few hours and during this time we walk, we talk, and we build such a high level of intimacy that it makes us feel close. Though with Dan, I had one of the quickest shoots ever, just around half an hour. When I first spoke to him and said I was coming to make Elska in Bogotá, he was excited to take part. However, when he heard my dates, he had to inform me that he only would be able to meet me on the day of my arrival, as he had a flight out of the country the same afternoon.

Despite the rush, I still got to feel very close to Dan, and we’ve kept in touch over the years. He travels a lot, and I often see him taking extended, digital nomad-style residencies in places all over the world. I even like to tease him about coming to his new location and shooting him again, but always before I can get there, he’s gone again. I live in hope though that I’ll meet him again somewhere someday.

NEXT PAGE: Los Angeles, California

Year Four – Larry D – Los Angeles, California

A lot of the focus of my Elska work is on cities and countries you don’t often think of when imagining gay life. LGBTQ communities exist everywhere, and showing some love and attention to the less expected places is something I feel is important. I want folks to see the differences in gay life around the world, as well as the similarities, because queer people everywhere essentially want and hope for the same things.

Certainly Los Angeles is the kind of place where it’s OK to be gay, open, and out. But it’s also a city that I had a lot of (mostly negative) stereotypes about. I thought everyone would be arrogant, vain, and obsessed with perfection. I couldn’t have been more wrong, and therefore became so excited with the results of the Elska issue I made there. There was diversity, there was a refreshing ordinariness, and there was a truly beautiful level of imperfection.

I did end up meeting and featuring a few celebrities, such as Tammie Brown and Drew Droege, the only event that lived up to my expectations of LA.. It wasn’t intentional though – the city is just so full of people in ‘the business’ that you can’t help stumble over one or two!

NEXT PAGE: Warsaw, Poland

Year Five – Sebastian G – Warsaw, Poland

Poland was one of the more difficult countries I’ve visited for Elska. I actually lived in the Polish capital in the early 2010s and I remember it as a formerly-conservative society that was rapidly modernising, with its LGBTQ community growing in confidence. Since I left however nationalism and ‘traditional values’ have struck back hard and the country is almost unrecognisable. Nevertheless, because of my love for Poland, which is probably in part due to being half-Polish, I was determined to make an issue there.

At first it seemed rather easy to find participants, but they were getting cold feet like I’d never seen before. It’s like there was an instinct to be open but then the reality of contemporary Polish society shocked them back into the closet. In fact Elska Warsaw became the first ever city I went to that failed. What I mean is that after my week was up I had so many no-shows that I didn’t have enough content for a full issue. I therefore made the difficult decision to stay longer (which unfortunately meant cancelling my next trip, and the loss of what would have been an Elska Palermo edition). The choice was correct though, and led to me meeting guys like Sebastian, whose courage can’t be underestimated. Risking the loss of a job, even family or friends, just to be in some little gay magazine. I am grateful beyond words!

NEXT PAGE: Atlanta, Georgia

Year Six – Eric M – Atlanta, Georgia, USA

My trip to Atlanta was an unexpected one. It was during the depths of global lockdowns and I simply wasn’t allowed to travel to much of the world. Continuing my Elska project required me to choose a city in the country where I lived, and to pick a place I could drive to so I could avoid the confined super-spreader environment of an airplane. I set a limit of twelve hours distance from my base in Rhode Island and started sending messages out to random queer guys I found on Instagram in various cities. I asked them what they thought of my project and whether their city could work for me.

One of the most enthusiastic responses I got was from Eric. He spoke of Atlanta as the gay black capital of America and assured me that I’d have no trouble finding local guys to participate. In fact, he offered to help me scout for guys. Soon enough I had more than enough people wanting to share their bodies and voices for Elska, and within a month I was making the long road trip down south. The resulting Elska Atlanta issue is one I’m so proud of, full of positivity, diversity, and a mad level of hotness. So although I would never say that there was anything good about the pandemic, I have to acknowledge that I’d probably never have landed in Atlanta otherwise.

NEXT PAGE: Montréal, Québec, Canada

Year Seven – Max G – from Montréal, Québec, Canada

I’m sure that the possibility of seeing naked men is a key selling point of Elska, but the truth is that nudity is never a requirement for any of the participants. It’s always up to each person, and usually nudity isn’t something we even discuss in advance of meeting for the photoshoot. I merely instruct everyone in a general information email that “the indoor portion of the photoshoot can include underwear, part-nude and/or nude images” and then we see what happens. I feel that this way of doing things takes the pressure off people, since posing naked requires a lot of courage and vulnerability. In addition, you never know how you’re going to feel on the day, and I don’t want people to feel obliged to do something that in the moment they might not feel comfortable with.

Max was a typical subject in that we never talked about how much he’d reveal, and indeed I got the sense that he was a bit on the shy side. But there was something in the air once we got together, we just had so much fun and it felt like we’d been friends for years. Before I knew it he was pulling off his undies without any bit of insecurity. It was a magical moment, and it’s one of the reasons why Montréal is probably my favourite city ever visited for Elska. The Elska Montréal issue is one the boldest editions we’ve ever made, full of daring, courageous and super sexy guys. While I can’t wait to embark on another year of Elska, Montréal almost makes me fear that I’ll never reach its heights again. But we’ll just have to keep going and see what surprises the rest of the world has!

Issues of Elska Magazine are available, both in a limited edition print version and in an e-version. Signed art prints, annual subscriptions, and a behind-the-scenes bonus zine called Elska Ekstra are also available.

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