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Liam Campbell is editor and photographer of the indie print mag, Elska, a project centered on traveling around the world, meeting some everyday local gay guys, and introducing them and their city to readers through honest photography and personal stories. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it. (The project has been temporarily shelved during the pandemic, but here’s a look back at a pre-Covid trip.)
The latest documents a trip to Lisbon, Portugal.
Below Liam exclusively shares with GayCities a selection of photos along with a bit of behind the scenes commentary about each.
Lisbon is truly one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, and perhaps the most beautiful neighborhood there is Alfama. It’s hilly, it’s ramshackle, it’s got narrow streets dotted with charming old homes, and it’s full of colorful ‘azulejo tiles.‘ Indeed it’s these tiles more than most anything else, apart from perhaps a tin of sardines, that lets you know you’re in Portugal. I didn’t even try to feature them, they just showed up everywhere. By the way, Alfama is also a great place to enjoy a Fado performance, which is a sort of traditional Portuguese style of song, usually with guitars and a melancholic singing style. Actually, Daniel invited me and my assistant out for an evening of Fado the day after our shoot. Being a workaholic, I declined, but my assistant went along with Daniel and I heard it was a fantastic night. If I can get back to Lisbon one day, I’m going to see if it’s not too late to take him up on that offer, missing a Fado performance is one of my only regrets about my trip to Portugal.
Most of the shoots we did in Lisbon were in the city center, but we did venture out of town for a few guys. One was Jorge B, who we shot near the ferry port across the river in Almada, another was Vasco Q who we shot at a beach, and there was also Miguel A who we photographed in the neighboring town of Belém. Here you see even more tiles, just stuck to a wall inside a random alley. I had heard that Belém was a lovely town, but mostly I knew that it was famous for its Natas, a very delicious Portuguese tart, flaky and buttery and filled with custard. From what I heard the best place to get them was in Belém at a bakery called Pastéis de Belém. Because of this, I asked Miguel to meet us outside the bakery. Unfortunately, he didn’t fancy starting out with a coffee and a Nata (I suppose most models wouldn’t want to eat before a photoshoot), but we did return after the shooting was over. And they were even better than I’d been told. I also returned on my last day before heading to the airport to buy a pack to take home.
I can’t deny that 2020’s been a bit difficult year, and while the light is now visible, it’s still a rather long tunnel. Since I started Elska just over five years ago, I’d consistently managed to visit six new cities a year and publish the photos from my travels each time, but last year I just couldn’t meet my usual goal. That’s why last autumn I ran a poll among our most loyal readers to choose one past out-of-print Elska issue to reprint, and Lisbon won. But rather than just do a simple reprint, I remade it from scratch, going into my archives of photos and stories and building a brand new issue. In doing so, I added a lot of previously unpublished images, a couple of new stories, and also added two guys who weren’t published at all in the original edition. One of them is Paulo L. Our shoot was wonderful, and we got on very well too, but he was just, unfortunately, a little too late with submitting his story, the story that all the guys in Elska are meant to write. So I had to cut him from the original edition. Soon after publishing though, he did finally send that story, and so it’s in this new edition of Elska Lisbon. That story is actually probably my favorite in the issue, so I’m so glad to finally let it be read.
One of the things I always try to do with my work is to keep things positive, but even more important to me is, to be honest. I’m fortunate to say that almost all our shoots go fantastically, but a few just don’t work. Luis R was one of those rare cases of things not going well. The photo-session actually went very smoothly, he was confident and very free and easy in front of a camera, a sign that perhaps he’s one of the few guys we’ve had in Elska who’ve actually done a photoshoot before. However when Luis sent his story and it was only a few sentences long, I explained that we needed more (400 words is our minimum), but he refused to do it. Perhaps I offended him somehow, or he just never quite understood the concept of Elska. Portuguese guys can be very easy-going, but perhaps too easy-going – they might decide to do a photoshoot on the spur of the moment and then quickly lose interest. It’s sad when this happens, but it’s also just reality – I like to think of each Elska issue as containing a dozen or so “men we just happened to meet” in a city; as in real life, some will like you, some won’t. And sometimes you just don’t click, but that’s OK, as long as you do click with some others, which in Lisbon we definitely did.
One of the guys we shot earlier in the week, Pedro C, was having lunch with his friend Ricardo and told him about our meeting. Ricardo was so keen to get involved that he contacted me asking if he could possibly join. By that point, it was my second-to-last day in Lisbon and I’d had my heart set on taking some time off on my final day. But as I said, I’m a workaholic, so I agreed to meet him. I was going to be a bit lazy about it though, just shooting Ricardo on a terrace and next to a large window. It was simple but lovely, highlighting the wonderful quality of light that is so special in Lisbon. It became one of my favorite shoots ever, so I’ll always be thankful to Pedro and Ricardo, and to my willingness to always skip a day off.
Another excellent photoshoot I had in Lisbon was with Miguel G. Like most of the guys I met in Portugal, he was relaxed and open. In fact I really don’t know why I haven’t decided to visit Portugal again, perhaps an issue in Porto would be nice. Anyway, as easy-going as Miguel was, there was one hilarious moment that I’ll never forget. As usual in our photoshoots, we often start clothed and then gradually undress, it’s up to each guy how he wants to shoot. At the point where he was down to his underwear, we asked if he wanted to shoot nude as well. He said he did, but warned us first, “My penis isn’t very big, I don’t know if that’s a problem for you.” I couldn’t believe it, of course, it’s not a problem. In fact, it’s one thing I love most about Elska, that I get to show off the beauty that isn’t defined by the narrow standards of the adult film industry. We come in all shapes and sizes, and at least for me, I love them all!
Elska Lisbon is out now in a strictly limited edition print version and in an e-version. The companion e-zine Elska Ekstra Lisbon is also available.