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 gotta do it!
The latest documents a trip to Toronto, Canada.
Below Liam exclusively shares with GayCities a selection of photos along with a bit of behind-the-scenes commentary about each.
Whenever I travel to a city, I like to keep an open mind and let each of the men I meet in the city guide me. But I can’t help but fantasise a bit about what I might see and what sort of images I might be able to come away with. When I was imagining Toronto, there were two things that got stuck in my head. One was the skyline, and especially the CN Tower; the next was the coffee-and-doughnut chain Tim Horton’s, which is seen on practically every main street across Canada and is as key to Canadian culture as McDonald’s is in the USA or maybe Pollo Campero is in Guatemala. Lucky for me, both became part of my backdrop with Tate’s shoot. We took pics outside his local Tim Horton’s for a few cheeky images and then went to the rooftop of his apartment building for the most perfect skyline views. We also did some shots of him shirtless at his rooftop pool, proudly revealing his mastectomy scars, and put one of those images on the back cover of our issue.
Each of the guys I met in Toronto wrote a story to accompany the photos I took of them. Funnily enough, three of the guys happened to mention the same place in their stories, Centre Island. And one of them, Jonathan, was so keen on that location that he begged to go there for our photoshoot. I didn’t know what to expect, I just followed, but it turned out to be the most glorious place to get a perfect skyline view of Toronto (even better than Tate’s rooftop). And it was also a wonderful way to escape the summer heat of the city. Even so, it was still sticky and humid when we visited, so much so that by the end of our shoot, Jonathan was sweating through his clothes (you can notice some little wet spots in one of the photos in the magazine). Noticing this, I reminded Jonathan of something that one of the other Toronto guys wrote about in his story, that of a nude beach on Centre Island called Hanlan’s Point Beach. Since Jonathan’s clothes were wet and that he had no more clothes with him, we could solve that problem with a few pics there. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t time though. I had to get back to the ferry and on to my next photo shoot. But we can leave what might have been to the imagination!
From the moment I started my photography career I was introduced to a little anxiety monster that taunted me during every shoot that my camera will eventually break, and that it probably will happen in the middle of a shoot trip when I’m far from home. That’s why the real photography pros bring more than one camera with them on a job, but that’s just something I could never afford to do. Fortunately I was able to keep the anxiety monster at bay for years, but finally, I had a major malfunction during my Toronto trip. Luckily however that anxiety monster was met with a rescue angel in Adam Z. During the shoot before him my camera was having loads of problems, but I decided to go to meet Adam anyway, and when I arrived I discovered that he was himself a professional photographer. In fact his apartment was also his studio and it was full of equipment for me to use just when I most needed it. Adam of course was also able to show me where to go to get my camera repaired quickly, and I ended up not missing out on any shoots in Toronto at all thanks to him.
One of my most everlasting memories was meeting Mitch, or to be precise, meeting his parents. I remember arriving at his suburban house on a Sunday morning, ringing the bell, and then some woman answered. I instantly felt that I’d gotten the address wrong, but I asked anyway, “Is Mitch here?” and she answered, “Oh, are you the photographer?” She told me that Mitch was still getting ready, but invited me in to have coffee with her and her husband. It was so awkward sitting there soaking up these protective and suspicious vibes while answering questions about what exactly I was planning to do with her son. I didn’t know to be fair, most of my photoshoots are done on the fly, so it would be up to Mitch. So I certainly didn’t tell her that we’d be heading upstairs to shoot him in his underwear, or in three pairs of underwear at once (why he chose that look, I still don’t know, but I love it). Fortunately I didn’t have to answer too many questions before Mitch rescued me, and once we started shooting I got into the flow and forgot all about the worried parents downstairs.
I’ve always been proud of the diversity in my project, and Toronto had some of the greatest age diversity of any issue I’ve done. At the youngest we had Mitch D (just 20) and at the most senior we had Richard W (a respectable 75). But despite being at the opposite ends of the age spectrum, their personalities had a lot in common, specifically their daringness. Coincidentally they both chose to write their stories about Toronto Pride. Mitch’s was about the craziness that ensued after going to his first-ever Pride, and Richard’s was about marching fully naked at Pride decades ago. I wonder if he still goes to march at Pride, and if he still strips off too. I also wonder if Richard and Mitch will ever cross paths there – maybe Richard could set an example and encourage Mitch to join his as a naked marcher one year.
The last guy I met in Toronto, after a whirlwind week of sixteen photoshoots, was Daniel. By that point in the trip I was exhausted, and as much as I enjoyed the city, I was feeling ready to put the lens cap back on the camera and head home. But Daniel really reinvigorated me. Part of this was due to the fact that he asked to meet in a neighborhood called Kensington Market, an area that became my favorite part of the city and made me wish that I’d discovered it earlier in my trip. It was bohemian, colorful, and chock full of interesting places to eat (I opted for a post-shoot snack at an authentic Swedish café and bakery called FIKA). But probably my awakening was mostly due to Daniel himself. We just got on so well, chatting for ages about all sorts of topics, from holidays in Ukraine to how to walk in heels. It also didn’t hurt that he was incredibly sexy! By the end of our meeting I just didn’t want to leave, not Daniel, not Toronto either. This Toronto issue was made before the pandemic, but I’m excited to hear that Canada has finally on 9th August reopened its borders after seventeen months of closure – I can’t wait to go back to the country and see what else I can do. Elska Montréal perhaps? We’ll see, on verra!