In the autumn of 2018 I went to France to shoot what would become the twentieth issue of Elska Magazine. Ever since I started my Elska project back in 2015 I've had a real thing for featuring cities one might not expect. For example I chose to highlight Yokohama (instead of Tokyo), Haifa (instead of Tel Aviv), and then Lyon (instead of Paris). I've done my fair share of more 'obvious' places too, but there's definitely a special satisfaction at spotlighting places less expected.
My trip to Lyon was a highlight of my career. It was one of the most beautiful cities I'd ever been to and it also introduced me to some of the most easy-going and open guys I've met anywhere. This certainly led to some photography that I'm especially proud of, including the kind of nudity that I'm particularly attracted to, that is guys who don't over-trim (or trim at all) their body hair. This francophilia (and trichophilia, I suppose) has meant that a return to France was something I've looked forward to, and finally at the start of this year I decided to go for it.
This time rather than selecting the city myself I decided to invite our most loyal readers and fans to choose for me. I call these people the Elska 'Editors Circle', and membership is given to all deluxe annual subscribers and Patreon supporters. I didn't however let the vote be totally open; instead I made a shortlist of eight cities across l'Hexagone, including 'the obvious one', Paris, and excluding the one I already visited, Lyon.
Honestly, I fully expected Paris to win, and I was more than happy to focus on the capital. But it turned out that my readers are as keen on the 'less obvious' as I am. Here's how the vote panned out:
- Marseille (26%)
- Nice (19.7%)
- Strasbourg (11.8%)
- Paris (11%)
- Toulouse (9.7%)
- Bordeaux (8.7%)
- Montpelier (7.1%)
- Nantes (6.3%)
Alongside the vote I did get some comments and messages. Most of these were just personal anecdotes ("I went there in my gap year and loved it"), some were warnings ("Be careful not to get robbed there"), and a few were quasi-racist pokes that made me a little nervous ("Can't wait to see the hot Arab boys you're gonna find there").
These latter comments were all connected to Marseille, and this expectation for an Elska issue full of one certain demographic almost frightened me into not doing Marseille at all and heading to the second-place city, Nice. But Elska's never been about trying to please people, and we've never gotten involved in scouting for any specific type of person. Everyone is welcome in Elska, and if there turned out to be no "hot Arab boys" then so be it. Bring on the complaints. I'll do Marseille anyway and I'll do it my way. Anyway, I don't really fancy Nice. Sounds too posh for me!
So… I can officially announce that our shoot trip to Marseille will be from 18–23 May, 2022. If you or someone you know lives in Marseille and would like to take part in our issue by doing a photoshoot or story for us, then please fill in your details at bit.ly/elskamarseille.
Liam Campbell is editor and chief photographer of Elska Magazine, a project dedicated to travelling the world, getting to know local LGBTQ communities, and revealing all the diverse beauty that’s out there.