How Elska's first charity endeavour went down

Last September as I was preparing to shoot our Elska Montréal issue, I started to worry about what I was going to do with our assistant there. In the first year of Elska we always had an assistant at each location, but after a few years of lone-wolfing it, the thought of having an assistant again seemed more like a hindrance than a help. I had gotten used to doing things on my own, and used to not giving up any control, but I decided to try to find a balance. I would give myself permission to share duties and I'd also try to find some other work for the assistant to do, something for them to really sink their teeth into.

After some brainstorming I settled on my plan. I'd pick up a Polaroid camera, a 16-pack of film, and charge our assistant with taking some unique shots during our trip (in the end assistant Robb Muse took thirteen of the snaps and I took the other three). What I'd do with these Polaroids, I didn't know at the time, but when the subjects asked I said, "Maybe I'll put them up for charity."

I'd never done a charity endeavour before with Elska. I had definitely thought about it — in fact, from the beginning I always imagined that if we'd ever turned a significant profit that I'd give that away, making Elska like a non-for-profit company. In reality Elska has always been a non-for-profit, but only 'cos our margins were always so razor-thin. The bank balance has steadily plumped over the years though, so I really could afford to take a risk.

My only real worry was whether they would actually sell. It would simply be an embarrassment if I were to put sixteen Polaroids up for sale and none of them went. What then would I do with them? And what would I do with my ego?! I decided to add a signed copy of each volume of the issue to sweeten the deal, and then launched the sale.

Fortunately I didn't have to contend with any such humiliations. Within two days of putting our Montréal Charity Polaroids up for sale, all but three of them had gone. Suddenly gripped with the fear that there might not be even a single leftover, I bought one myself, and our Montréal assistant bought one as well.

After a month went by, there were just two remaining, the sad little runts of the litter. Then suddenly one sold, and with just one remaining I decided to buy the last one myself and make the donations.

In the end we raised $1,098.53 (USD) from this endeavour. Not too bad, eh?

I selected two charities to share the proceeds: Rainbow Railroad and the Peter Tatchell Foundation. I also offered each person who bought one of the Polaroids the choice to nominate what proportion of their donation would go to each charity. I choose not to divulge exactly how the money was split, but Rainbow Railroad did get somewhat of a larger slice. It's no shock — Peter Tatchell has always been a divisive figure, and that's part of why I admire him!

I am so happy (and relieved) that this charity project worked. Whether we do one again, I don't know but I certainly hope so. It may not be another Polaroid project, but then again, I do own a Polaroid camera now so I ought to use it sometime!

P.S. That last Polaroid, the second one that I bought, I decided to stick it inside the back flap of a random copy of Elska Montréal. It will eventually end up in the home of some future customer.

Liam Campbell is editor and chief photographer of Elska Magazine, a project dedicated to travelling the world, getting to know LGBTQ communities, and revealing all the diverse beauty that's out there.

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