Elska Magazine, a publication dedicated to revealing the bodies and voices of gay communities around the world, has put the spotlight on Belfast, Northern Ireland for its latest issue. Inside readers are invited to travel virtually to the city and get to know a cross section of ordinary local LGBTQ men through intimate photography and personal storytelling.
Belfast is a city that is often understood and misunderstood based on politics, religion, and sectarianism. While these areas still inform much of Northern Irish society, they are by no means the only factors making up a rich and multi-layered culture. Particularly with regard to LGBTQ life, Belfast has a bourgeoning gay scene, taking off at long last perhaps in part due to having finally won some battles toward equality. Of particular note, the adoption of same-sex marriage earlier in 2020, six years later than the rest of the UK and five years later than the Republic of Ireland, this is truly a time to celebrate Northern Ireland. This issue serves as a way to help mark Belfast’s bold and queer future.
“I am always very interested in stereotypes, both how they are true and untrue," says Elska editor and chief photographer Liam Campbell. “I knew about Northern Ireland’s unique political legacy but wanted to see beyond it. In reality though, this legacy still has a strong impact, and indeed most of the men I met here brought up the topic in some way, usually decrying how it has held back the LGBTQ community.
"I also encountered another stereotype though, after I started getting loads of messages on social media from people saying they hoped the issue would be ‘full of gingers.’ It annoyed me because of the fetishisation of a particular hair color and because it simply isn’t true that the island of Ireland is all gingers. But then during one shoot with a ginger guy, he talked about how proud he was of his hair because of how much he was teased at school for it. He proudly filled my camera with his long, red hair, and one of those images became the cover of the issue. The cover was in part me saying, “You want ginger? Here you go!” and also a way of honoring this man and his pride.”
Elska Belfast is divided into 11 chapters, each dedicated to a different Belfast local and filled with a selection of photos taken in their neighbourhoods and in their homes, dressed in their own style and sometimes nude. Their chapters also contain a personal story contributed by the men themselves. Some of the stories reflect how Belfast’s gay scene is growing, leaving behind a discreet, ashamed scene of the past; some discuss politics and conservative social norms, revealing how heavy a burden shame still can create; and some stories are more frivolous, such as the provocative antics of a legendary drag queen, or a night out of drinking and eating chips. Elska Belfast is 196 pages. It is sold in select retailers around the world or from the Elska website in a classic print format or in an electronic version. A companion e-zine Elska Ekstra Belfast is also available exclusively from the website, featuring behind the scenes tales, outtakes, and three extra men that there just weren’t enough pages for in the main mag. A list of stockists and details of the subscription service can also be found on the Elska website: elskamagazine.com.