Getting to know the gays of Manila
Part of what makes my job interesting in travelling all over the world and meeting gay communities everywhere is discovering the subtle differences between us through culture, style, attitude, perspective, whatever. It's something that I hope comes across when reading Elska Magazine, that readers can not only get to know them men featured in each issue but they can get a sense of a city's character and how the local society imparts certain characteristics in its residents.
That's why the photospreads I make loosely resemble a fashion editorial, partly to add interest through variation from image to image, but also to show what these guys are wearing. For example, one reader recently told me that he found it interesting how muted the clothing was in the Stockholm issue (mostly blacks and greys), compared to how colourful and casual the attire was in the Manila issue. It says something about local fashion, about climate, about culture, about how one wants to come across in a photoshoot. It also says something interesting about society whether the men in a particular place choose to go naked in a shoot or not — to compare Stockholm and Manila again, the former was much more buttoned-up and the latter much more bare.
Furthermore, how are the guys acting in the pictures? I try hard in a photoshoot to keep things natural, avoiding anything that looks too posey. Sometimes a guy likes to pose, and I'll allow it to an extent, but I probably won't choose to publish those images; rather I'll find ones where he's off-guard and print those. Nevertheless, in some cities, like Manila, people smile a bit more, they laugh, they get cheeky. In some, like Guadalajara, they get sexy. And in some, like London, they look a little miserable, or shall we say moody.
In order to understand a city's character is also why I ask the men to contribute stories that are personal and simple but detailed. I enjoy it when I hear a guy mentioning the brand of beer he orders when discussing a night out, or the name of the dish he prepared to impress a guy he was crushing on — like when Jeff M in the Manila issue mentions cooking 'sinigang', it made me want to look it up. I love that sort of thing!
I'm also interested in what topics they choose to write about in general. In some cities there are a lot of coming out stories, perhaps indicating a society that still has some trouble accepting queerness; in Manila there was none of that, which I can take to assume that Filipino culture is more accepting of queer people. One of the Manileños even wrote about how he doesn't have a tragic homosexual tale to tell, as if he expected that a gay publication would require a gay story and would expect something sensational. Maybe a traditional magazine would want something to tug at your heartstrings or try to shock you, but I adore getting to know a regular guy by hearing how regular his life is. It also reminds me again that maybe Filipino society is rather open, and that Manila is a good place to be gay.
Some issues do have a fair amount of tragic gay tales (Elska Dhaka for example); others talk a lot about sex (our next issue, out in November 2019, for example). Perhaps what may stand out in the Manila issue is the amount of stories dealing with mental health issues. I suppose you could read the issue and conclude that depression is rampant in the Philippines, but rather I conclude that the fact that these topics are being opened up about suggest that the country is pretty good at accepting mental health as something real and worth discussing. I could go on about the ways that the images and stories help in getting to know the gays of Manila, and the gay communities in all our Elska cities, but it's probably best to just grab a copy and read for yourself. Hint, hint.
Liam Campbell is editor and chief photographer of Elska Magazine. You can get the new issue at around fifty select shops around the world or for order from elskamagazine.com.