Elska 6 Years of Photographing Queer and Trans Men Around the World
Happy Birthday, Elska!
So far, 33 issues of Elska have been published, each focused on a different world city, where the Elska team meets a rather random range of local guys, photographs them, and gathers stories from them. The selection of cities chosen for the Elska spotlight has been vast, including some well-known queer havens like Berlin, Amsterdam, and Sydney, as well as some lesser-celebrated or understood places like Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Warsaw (Poland), or Dhaka (Bangladesh). The aim is to show that LGBTQ people exist everywhere, and while the challenges facing these communities vary, we all essentially want the same thing - to love, to be seen, and to be free. The variety of cities featured helps to drive this idea home and show how much we all have in common.
The variety revealed in Elska isn’t only in the cities it chooses though. Diversity is also apparent through the men who choose to share their bodies and stories in Elska. Each issue contains around a dozen local men from different ages, races, body types, and orientations, with the only criteria for participation being that the person lives in the city being highlighted. The men are all photographed with the point of view that they are beautiful, and then they are presented equally, regardless of how conventional their beauties may be. It is ultimately this diversity and sincere belief in a wider understanding of beauty, that makes Elska unique.
“When I started Elska, all I really was trying to do was to combine two of my favourite hobbies — travel and photography — into a job” says Elska editor and chief photographer Liam Campbell. “I just grabbed my camera, hopped on a plane, and tried to find some local guys to shoot while hanging out in their city for a few days. Everyone I met I found interesting and gorgeous, but then after I published the results in what became the first issue, ElskaLviv (Ukraine), I learned that others didn’t share my perspective. Some said that the men I featured were boring, not special or even ugly! I tried to console myself by seeing their complaints as based on being conditioned by mainstream media, which has tended to focus on models and celebrities, but soon enough I was consoled by letters and messages from other readers who did share my vision, people who said that they could see themselves in Elska, and that because I reveal those men's beauty it helps them see the beauty in themselves as well. Despite those few early haters, there’s been enough love to keep Elska going for six years, and there’s no end in sight yet."
While the pandemic has made travel complicated for a publication so dependent upon travel, it has managed to keep going through a combination of careful planning, adaptability, and a mix of masks and vaccines. The year ahead remains challenging, but there are future issues already in the bag, including one in the American South and finally the publication’s second African city. Elska is sold in select shops around the world and is also available for order online. Its flagship product is its print magazine, lovingly made and collectible like an art book. In addition, there is also a downloadable e-version and a range of behind-the-scenes companion zines called Elska Ekstra. A list of stockists and details of the subscription service can be found on the Elska website, elskamagazine.com.