Elska Madrid

PHOTOS: Meet the gorgeous guys of Madrid

Elska is a project centered on traveling around the world, meeting a selection of everyday local guys, and introducing their city and their lives to readers through honest photography and personal stories. Below, photographer Liam Campbell shares exclusively with GayCities a selection of photos and behind-the-scenes commentary about some of the beautiful men he met in Madrid, Spain for the latest issue…

Luis G

Luis G for Elska Madrid.

For a bit of a treat, I decided to fly to Madrid from my home base in New York with a stopover in Iceland. This would give me a chance to spend a couple of days in Elska’s “home country” (Elska was born in Iceland; the word ‘elska’ means ‘love’ in Icelandic). I intended to spend my two days hiking in the stunning landscapes, taking in the fresh air, hanging out in coffee shops, and going to a local hot spring or three (I’m so passionate about Icelandic hot springs that I even wrote a book about them a couple of years ago).

I did all that, re-energizing me for my shoot trip to Spain, but then on my last night when I was a little bored in my hotel room, I decided to go onto one of the apps and ended up chatting with a tourist called Luis who was in Iceland for his holiday. As it turned out, this tourist was from Madrid of all places, and before I could suggest meeting up, he asked if he could take part in my project. He was flying home the next day, on a flight just two hours before mine!

Skip ahead to three days later and we were meeting in his hometown, taking photos around his neighbourhood and in his home. These are the sort of “small world moments” that I live for! During the shoot, Luis was pretty nervous though, but steadily he got more and more relaxed so that by the end of it he was feeling his best model fantasy. And as it turned out, his fantasy carried on. Just weeks after meeting he asked where our next city was in case he could join us there and shoot again. And then I found he was doing shoots with local Spanish photographers. It seems that Elska created a monster, a beautiful monster.

Guille G T and Pablo S M

Guille G T and Pablo S M for Elska Madrid

My trip to Madrid had loads of funny little coincidences and unexpected moments. One of these was during my shoot with a guy called Pablo. We met at Chueca, the heart of Madrid’s LGBTQ+ community, where I found Pablo along with another mysterious man called Guille. Apparently, Guille was there to act as an interpreter… I’d actually conducted two shoots in Madrid already in Spanish, but since my Spanish is only good for talking about the camera or ordering coffee, Guille was a welcome addition. Besides, with his help I could let my brain focus entirely on the photos, using Guille as a proper assistant – carrying bags, helping with outfit changes, etc.

During the photoshoot though I noticed that this Guille seemed rather close to Pablo. There was a moment when Guille went over to remove a piece of cat hair from Pablo’s shirt, and it was done so gently, quite lovingly. So I couldn’t resist asking Pablo directly, “Guille es su novio?” [“Is Guille your boyfriend?”] – in response, Pablo pulled Guille to him and gave him a sweet embrace.

After we finished up the outdoor scenes and were back in Pablo’s flat, I decided to ask the big question, whether Guille would like to join Pablo for just one scene at the end. They both agreed, and the shots were such a highlight my entire trip, not only because a couple shoot is itself a lovely thing but because it showed a new side of Pablo, who in the outdoor shoot seemed more fierce than tender. The only downside of it all is that I wish I could have done a full shoot of Guille as well. But maybe we can in the future, with Pablo joining for the final scene next time.

Alonso R L and Juanmanuel E B

Alonso R L and Juanmanuel E B for Elska Madrid.

It turned out that Pablo and Guille wouldn’t be the only couple in the Elska Madrid series. When I went to do my shoot with Juanmanuel I found he was also at our meeting spot with a mystery man. This time his companion Alonso wasn’t there to assist or interpret (Juanmanuel’s English was perfect), but rather to just hang out, and maybe take part in the shoot if I didn’t mind. Of course, I didn’t mind!

Well, to be totally honest, photographing more than one person at a time is more difficult, because you have to ensure two people look good in each shot rather than just one. And you have to take more shots than usual in case you catch either person in a blink. But besides that, this couple was especially tough to capture because they were so excitable, especially Alonso. He was always jumping around (leading to lots of shots with motion blur) and interrupting scenes to chat (meaning there were loads of awkward mouth-agape pics).

However, working with a couple is always worth the effort. And Alonso’s boisterousness had its benefits, especially during the indoor part of our session. There he brought a lot of humour to scenes that got very, very heated. (And that humour passed on to Juanmanuel, who got in touch with his funny side as well.) In fact, their shoot may well be the hottest series ever published in Elska. But since I’m not trying to make p*rn here, the little bursts of laughter and cheeky smiles cool things down just enough to keep things, erm, respectable.

Santiago F C

Each of the men who take part in Elska don’t just do a photoshoot but they also write a story. And the stories in Elska Madrid are some of the most thoughtful and moving texts we’ve had in any of the forty-six issues published so far.

Santiago’s story was one of the highlights. In it, he writes about his experience as a doctor who came to treat an immigrant trans woman with AIDS, someone whose situation had driven her to such levels of despair that she didn’t want to carry on. The acute needs of this woman inspired Santiago to do everything he could to help her, not just in his capacity as a doctor but as a human being, a friend, and a member of the LGBTQ+ community. The point of the story however isn’t to show off some “good deed” but more about how this woman came to help Santiago, to change his life, giving motivation and meaning.

My main goal as a photographer for Elska is to let viewers feel like they’re truly getting to know these subjects, not as models but as people. And the reason I ask them to provide stories is to add further to this sense of intimacy. My hope then is that people fall in love with the men in Elska, not for their looks but for their humanity. With Santiago, I feel like this goal is achieved so perfectly.

Frobisher A

man in pink running shorts

I always knew we’d eventually make an issue of Elska in Spain, but I think it surprised a lot of people that it took us until our forty-sixth issue to finally do it. In a way, I suppose I kept it in my back pocket because I assumed it to be a breeze of an issue to make, and that I’d save it for a point where I was approaching burn-out and needed an easy ride. That would mean a place where it would be easy to find participants and where these participants would be fearless about doing an Elska kind of photoshoot and story.

As things turned out, it wasn’t so hard to find participants, but they were much more conservative than I expected. In my naïve mind, having made two previous issues in Spanish-speaking places (Bogotá, Colombia and Guadalajara, Mexico) and seeing these issues have especially open stories and rather naturist photography, I thought this would be the same in Spain. But that wasn’t the case at all. The guys overall were much more nervous and concerned about what others might think of them taking part in such a project, even if deep down they wanted to be bolder.

Frobisher was the guy who most epitomized the kind of man I met in Madrid. On one hand, he loved the idea of Elska, of bearing all without fear or shame, of sharing himself fully, and being an example for guys like him who don’t typically see themselves in such a spotlight. But on the other hand, he was sure that taking part could harm his future career and alienate certain members of his family or friends. It seemed like Madrid imparted a lot of courage, that the city had already helped him come out of his shell and embrace his true self… but he wasn’t quite fully ready. Elska Madrid in a sense is an issue with several men who were just ‘almost ready’. Perhaps a second volume would be a good idea in a few years, and if that happens, a return to Frobisher is a must!

cover of elska madrid

The new Spanish-dedicated issue, ‘Elska Madrid’ is available in a limited edition print format as well as in an electronic version. A companion e-zine called ‘Elska Ekstra Madrid‘ is also available containing hundreds of pages of bonus outtakes, behind-the-scenes tales, and five more men.

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