Remembering Robb

Liam Campbell
6 min readDec 6, 2023


I am absolutely crushed and devastated to share thenews that one of our dear elskans, a longtime reader, and Elska Montréal assistant Robb M has passed away.

A snap of Robb taken just before our shoot with Thierry H in Montréal’s gay Village

I know very precisely when I first met him. 9:30am on Friday, 17th September, 2021. It was outside a café called La Buvanderie, located at 248 rue Villeneuve Ouest in Montréal. I ordered coffee and then we took a seat in the back patio. We had just twenty, maybe twenty-five minutes for me to school him in the art of assisting an Elska shoot. He was clearly a bit nervous, yet everything seemed like a breeze, the only stumbling block being in how to fold the reflector disc and fit it back into its case. "You don't need to be delicate," I assured, "just cram it in!" He was determined however to do it properly; as we walked to our first shoot together he had a few more goes and soon mastered it.

I tend not to use assistants in my photoshoots — only seven of the forty-four Elska issues so far employed one. It's not that they're not useful, it's rather that I have a hard time dealing with more than one person at once. I'm already painfully shy, quiet and awkward, so even focusing on my one subject tends to put me on the brink of full social collapse. But this is where Robb excelled, he was in fact the best assistant I've ever had in this regard, because he could so effortlessly and warmly connect with each of the men we met in the city. Like when our first subject Ian M proved to be terminally upbeat and as chatty as a magpie, Robb saved me from overloading my strange little brain so I could focus on the camera. He kept up with the banter and seemed to form a real bond with Ian. And it absolutely shows in the final images.

Love this image of Robb, part of the last scene we shot before heading to our shoot with Antoine L

Another fabulous thing about working with Robb was his turn as lead photographer. You see, Robb had been so enthusiastic about this assisting job that it made me feel guilty that he'd be disappointed in how dull a task it can be. So I decided to come up with something meatier for him. That was to make some unique Polaroids in the city that would eventually be sold for charity, and I'd charge Robb with leading this.

At first he was more nervous than excited, but again I tried to reassure him, "Polaroids are meant to be rough and imperfect, you can't really do it wrong." He wasn't exactly convinced, so we made a deal that I'd approve the lighting for each scene before he would snap the picture, but the pose and backdrop would be down to him.

A moment of contemplation… just before being interrupted by some lady who wanted to know what we were doing by her garden

As it turned out, he had an innate talent for the two most important aspects of portraiture: understanding composition and building rapport. The former is very hard to teach, the latter can't be taught at all. Ultimately he shot several Polaroids in Montréal, and they even included one of my favourite images in Elska history, which was a shot of Lane B looking straight into Robb's eyes as if they'd known each other for years. (All these charity Polaroids sold out within a month, by the way, a true testament to his talent!)

That fantastic Polaroid of Lane B taken by Robb. It sold very quickly as part of our Montréal Charity Polaroids series

I also remember trying to squeeze in a moment for lunch on the second day, somewhere between the Thierry H and Maxime C shoots. We sat on a park bench with some sort of sandwich from the Tim Hortons in the Village. He said he was exhausted and didn't know how I manage to do these shoot trips. As amazing an assistant as he was, and as fascinating a time as I know he had, proved by chats we had in the following months including tales of his trips back to Montréal to retrace our steps, I decided to let him off the hook. He would bow out after the sixth shoot and spend the rest of his trip enjoying the city as a tourist.

But first, a photoshoot of him, some shots to remember the trip by, and to add to the Elska canon. Robb M would be published in Elska Ekstra Montréal and forever designated as elskan no. 572.

Another of the Montréal Charity Polaroids shot by Robb, this one of our first Montréalais elskan, Ian M

I found out about Robb's passing after receiving his copy of the latest issue of Elska returned with an 'unable to forward' sticker on the packet. It felt odd that he'd not have told me of a change of address so I texted him. No reply, message not even read. I just had the most awful feeling and so I investigated a little deeper and discovered the worst.

I immediately left my desk and hopped on my bike to try to clear my head, to try to resist descending into sobs. And then I had a minor crash less than a minute after I started cycling. I decided to just sit for a moment, and I started writing down some memories about him.

Sometimes, more often than I'd like to admit, I want to quit this job. It is exhausting, not just physically. But I get such energy from people like Robb for whom my work means so much… So I choose to hear him telling me to carry on. And I choose to imagine him watching me as I go on. And I imagine him encouraging me to make the effort to be a little warmer, more patient, and also to be as good at composition as this man with zero photographic experience was. I like travel, I like photography, I like shooting men… but ultimately I do this work for people like Robb, for the enthusiasm and enjoyment they get from my work.

The photos I took of Robb, as well as reproductions of the Polaroids he shot are published in Elska Ekstra Montréal. All profits from future sales of it will go to BuildaBridge, Robb’s chosen charity, whose mission is to engage creative people and the transformative power of art making to bring hope and healing to disenfranchised children and their respective communities. In addition, I have produced a limited edition art print in his honour. It's simply titled "Robb" and all profits from the sale of these prints will also go to BuildaBridge.

A look at the new art print titled "Robb", made in his honour. All sales will go to the charity BuildaBridge

Liam Campbell is editor and chief photographer of Elska Magazine, a project about sharing the bodies and voices of ordinary men from LGBTQ communities around the world.



Liam Campbell

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