A look back at Elska in 2023

Liam Campbell
9 min readDec 31, 2023

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A collage of mags and torn pages, including some of our 2023 output

As another year passes us by, we're taking a moment to reflect on 2023’s Elska output. Here's a look at each of the seven issues we published in 2023, followed by a few stats and honorary awards.

Elska Lviv (Ukraine)

Published on 9th January, this second edition of what was originally the very first issue of Elska kicked off our 2023. It is officially Elska issue no.01.

The new edition was commissioned in part due to continued demand from new Elska readers keen to see how we started. I suppose it makes sense for a collector to want the first issue, right? But we felt that it was important, especially in the context of the war in Ukraine, to update the issue significantly before republishing. This involved getting in touch with as many of the original participants as we could, getting their feedback and blessing, and also gathering some new content, including images and stories from Ukrainians today.

An image of Mykola K, one of the new elskans exclusive to this new second edition of Elska Lviv

The new content included two Ukrainian refugees who I photographed, one Ukrainian living in Lviv now who my original Lviv assistant Andriy Melnyk photographed, plus a lad in Kyiv who intended to travel to Andriy for a shoot but couldn't safely do so (instead he sent some gorgeous selfies and a poem).

At the time of writing, the print version of Elska Lviv is sold out; the e-version is always available as is our companion zine Elska Ekstra Lviv.

Elska San Francisco (California)

Published on 8th March, this marked our first totally new issue of 2023. It is officially Elska issue no.41.

San Francisco is one of those epic gay cities that we always knew we'd feature, but we kept it on hold until the time felt right. So what exactly told us to finally go for it? Well, essentially we used SF to 'balance' some other planned 2023 cities that might not have mass appeal. The basic strategy of Elska is to release a mix of less-expected cities that excite us and deliver diversity (even if these sell less) with 'big gay cities' that we know are going to sell. And San Francisco would surely be a good seller.

An image of Levi B, who appears in Elska Ekstra San Francisco

The issue we made here surprised in many ways. First of all, it had tremendous diversity, not just in terms of race or age but also birthplace — I don't think there's been another Elska issue with so few participants who were actually born in the featured city. San Francisco is truly a beacon for people across the USA and across the world, and many of the stories in the issue reflected this pull, along with the act of falling in love with this city.

At the time of writing, the print version of Elska San Francisco is sold out; the e-version is always available as is our companion zine Elska Ekstra San Francisco.

Elska Almaty (Kazakhstan)

Published on 15th May, Elska Almaty became our first ever Central Asian city. It is officially Elska issue no.42.

Choosing Almaty was always going to be a gamble. Of all the cities we've released this year, and maybe of all our cities ever, this title elicits the most shoulder shrugs and looks of confusion. And indeed it became our lowest seller of the year, proof that curiosity is not the best driver of sales.

An image of Kolya K, who appears in Elska Ekstra Almaty

Yet for those who are curious, the rewards are great. It's an issue full of unique stories, beautiful men, and many surprises. It's my personal favourite issue of 2023, and Almaty is the city I most want to revisit. Do the low sales disappoint me? A little bit, but for a little-talked-about Asian city, it was something I fully expected. And in a way, I like the idea that this issue has an air of exclusivity. And I can imagine one day many years in the future, I'll hear collectors lamenting how this is the issue they can't get ahold of.

At the time of writing, the print version of Elska Almaty is still available; the e-version is also available of course, as is our companion zine Elska Ekstra Almaty.

Elska Bangkok (Thailand)

Published on 5th July, Elska Bangkok was our visit to this much-requested city. It is officially Elska issue no.43.

About a year before making this issue we ran something we called Great Big Ballot, where we asked members of our Editors Circle to nominate any three cities in the world where they'd like to see a future Elska issue made, and then the cities with most nominations went onto a ballot for a final vote. Bangkok was the eventual winner… but then the pandemic and its treacherous travel restrictions prevented us from actually shooting in the winning city until spring 2023.

An image of Om T, better known by the name Amadiva, a rare celebrity participant in Elska

I had a lot of expectations for a Bangkok issue, mainly that it would be a super-naked, super-bold, and super-debauched series. The final product certainly does have its moments of titillation, but it nowhere near lines up with the stereotype-driven assumptions that go with 'one night in Bangkok' lore. Thai people are much more reserved and modest than many outsiders would think, and I actually find it quite refreshing how this contrasts the stereotypes. Another surprising issue, and I do love to be surprised.

At the time of writing, the print version of Elska Bangkok is still available; the e-version also remains available as does our companion zine Elska Ekstra Bangkok.

Elska Istanbul (Turkey)

Published on 21st August, this second edition of Elska Istanbul saw us mark the 'city of cats' moniker on its new cover. It is officially Elska issue no.06.

In the spring of this year we invited our Editors Circle to take part in another vote, this time to choose which one of our first twenty-one old-format issues to reissue into our new format. Elska Istanbul was the winner, and so we set about remaking the mag from scratch, going into the raw photo archives to re-select and re-edit the images, commissioning a few new translations of the stories, and swapping some of the guys between Elska and Elska Ekstra.

An image of Mert E, shot in a room at SuB Karaköy Hotel, who sponsored part of our trip to Istanbul

When this issue was first made, it became a pillar of morale for us. It was our first issue made in a city that we weren't sure would work for Elska. As a majority-Muslim country with an increasingly conservative government under Erdoğan, we weren't sure how Turks would respond our call. But it turned out they were super keen to be part of our project, proving that the limits of Elska could be expanded, something we have continued to do throughout the years since.

At the time of writing, the print version of Elska Istanbul is still available; the e-version also remains available as does our companion zine Elska Ekstra Istanbul.

Elska Haifa (Israel)

Published on 25th September, this second edition of Elska Haifa was an unexpected addition to our 2023 roster. It is officially Elska issue no.14.

When we decided to reissue one of our old-format issues to the new format this year, it was because sales had been a little too good, meaning that when we decided to reissue Elska Istanbul there were only seven out of forty-three issues still available. But by the time Elska Istanbul was ready for publishing, our stock was down to just five issues. So we opted to quietly also reissue the title that had attained second place in our Editors Circle vote. That was Elska Haifa.

An image of Boris L, shot on a secluded yet rather messy beach, from Elska Haifa

Then just a couple weeks after publishing, war broke out. At first, selfishly, I was horrified about the optics of promoting an issue made in a place that evokes such emotion, that is so divisive. But then I reminded myself of the original goal of Elska Haifa, which was to show that all the peoples living in this land known as Palestine or Israel proved that they could live together and care about each other. Of course, things aren't always so easy or simple, neither in life nor in our issue, but Elska Haifa provides a glimmer of light in dark times.

At the time of writing, the print version of Elska Haifa is still available; the e-version also remains available as does our companion zine Elska Ekstra Haifa.

Elska Tbilisi (Georgia)

Published on 8th November, our final release of 2023 completes the year on a complicated high. It is officially Elska issue no.44.

Another risky issue in terms of marketability, with a title that evokes only slightly less confusion than Almaty, taking Elska to Tbilisi was also a risk in simply being able to be produced. Georgia is a notoriously homophobic country, with a society that lags far behind its political aspirations (though the recent accession to EU membership talks certainly have positive implications for change), so although Tbilisi has long been in my personal top five cities in the world, I wasn't sure I could make Elska there. But finally I decided to try anyway.

An image of Iakob M, in a very Georgian-coloured jumper that might actually be a Christmas jumper (but don't tell Iakob that), from Elska Tbilisi

Coming to Tbilisi in 2023 showed a country very unlike the one I last visited a decade prior, especially in spirit. The people felt crushed by the war in Ukraine, partly because it was a reminder of their own war with Russia, which continues to occupy a fifth of their terrirtory. Also complicating the mood of what's meant to be a project about gay life was their government's cosy new relationship with Putin and by the influx of hundreds of thousands of Russians coming to escape the war. This atmosphere, which is easily visible throughout this issue in the images and stories, made this a difficult issue to make but a fascinating one to read. And the guys are hot as well!

At the time of writing, the print version of Elska Tbilisi is still available; the e-version also remains available as does our companion zine Elska Ekstra Tbilisi.

And now for some awards and stats…

An image of Jake T, who appears in Elska San Francisco, our best selling issue of 2023
  1. Top selling issue of the year: Elska San Francisco
  2. Lowest selling issue of the year: Elska Almaty
  3. Personal favourite issue of the year: Elska Almaty
  4. Most popular elskan of the year (based on the number of comments, messages, and Elska Selfies received with/about him): Kramer E from Elska San Francisco
  5. Personal favourite photoshoot of the year: Jake T from Elska San Francisco (especially the 'Jesus Loves Sluts' scene — tongue version, which only appears in the sold-out print version of the issue… sorry, it was too scandalous to put in the e-version)
  6. Top selling Elska Ekstra zine of the year: Elska Ekstra Tbilisi
  7. Lowest selling Elska Ekstra of the year: Elska Ekstra Almaty
  8. Personal favourite Elska Ekstra of the year: Elska Ekstra Almaty
  9. Smile of the year: Efe B from Elska Istanbul
  10. Bum of the year: Nan N from Elska Almaty
  11. Dick of the year: Sasha K from Elska Lviv
  12. Top 3 favourite Elska stories of the year:
  • 'შემდეგ კი ყველა სხვა ოჯახის შეშფოთება' ['suddenly everybody started looking concerned'] by Nika J from Elska Tbilisi
  • 'terrified but also frantic with horny desperation' by Natthasit B from Elska Bangkok
  • 'я ненавидел водку, но пил, не знаю почему' ['i hated vodka, but i drank it anyway, i don't know why'] by Edward S from Elska Almaty
An image of Nika J from Elska Tbilisi, author of one of my three favourite Elska stories of 2023

Thanks to all of you who've followed and supported Elska throughout 2023. Be assured that 2024 will be another fantastic year. The first two releases have already been shot, the first of which is due for publication in mid-January.

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Liam Campbell

Editor + Chief Photographer of Elska Magazine, a gay photography + culture mag, sharing local boys and local stories from around the world.