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London conjures images of double-decker buses, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. But beyond the tourism and royal intrigue, there’s a less glamorous side that’s still beautiful yet more authentic. In Elska London, the magazine’s editor and chief photographer Liam Campbell presents intimate pictures of 15 queer male Londoners, both inside their homes and out in their neighborhoods. Many of the men share their stories of loneliness, dating and thriving in the very queer world city, showing a grittier, darker side rarely shown in media.
“One of the guys in the Elska London issue wrote a line in his story that really struck me. He said that when he was a kid he dreamed of moving to London to live the sort of ‘fabulous gay life’ that he saw on TV and in movies. Then when he actually moved there, it wasn’t so fabulous,” Campbell tells Hornet.
“A lot of queer kids moved to the big city because they feel they can’t live the lives they’re meant to live elsewhere.”
Elska is a bimonthly male photography, culture and travel magazine that bills itself as “part intellectual queer pinup mag and part sexy anthropology journal.” Every two months it features images and stories from queer men living in a different international location. In the past the magazine has covered Yokohama, Japan; Haifa, Israel; Mumbai, India; Taipei, Taiwan; Bogotá, Colombia; Cape Town, South Africa; Perth, Australia and Los Angeles, California among others.
In Elska London, one man talks about his unexpected experience with homophobia when a regular at his local pub lashed out at him. Another speaks about an unwelcome #MeToo moment at a work and how sexual assault barely gets mentioned in the LGBTQ community. Yet another discusses how his love and sex lives have played out in public places.
While the queer men’s stories can seem a bit dark, Campbell says the Elska believes in honesty and positivity. “I’ve always said that if these values conflict, choose honesty. At the end of the day, each participant in Elska can write about what they want, and it just so happens that quite a few had a certain darkness to their stories.”
Check out this preview of the queer men featured in Elska London:
London is especially notorious now following the June 2016 Brexit vote in which a majority of Londoners voted for England to remain part of the European Union (EU). The rest of the country voted to leave the EU, fueled by a racist and xenophobic campaign that portrayed non-white England residents as a threat.
Though many of the men photographed in Elska London have white skin, Campbell says, “The truth is that all our issues have diversity that reflects the local society, but sometimes ethnic diversity isn’t as simple to perceive through skin colour or ‘noticeable’ racial traits.”
Only one-third of the men featured in Elska London are actually English, he adds.
“With Elska London,” he continues, “the men come from the following ethnic origins: English, Welsh, Chinese, Latvian, Afro-Portuguese, Lithuanian, Indian, Nigerian, Italian, Spanish, Maltese, and Polish. So it’s very diverse, but just in a different way from a United Statesean perspective that I assume most Hornet readers come from.”
The Elska London issue is also available for purchase with a companion e-zine called Elska Ekstra London containing tales and images from four more London guys not featured in the main mag.