Elska, a project dedicated to showcasing the bodies and voices of LGBTQ+ communities around the world, has travelled to Tbilisi for its latest edition. Inside the magazine, readers can get to know a cross-section of everyday queer men from the Georgian capital through intimate photographs and personal storytelling.
A total of 15 locals feature in the 196-page publication, along with its companion zine Elska Ekstra Tbilisi. The subjects posed in their homes or in the streets of this intoxicating former Soviet Union city, revealing their style, mood and bodies to the camera. Each also wrote their own statement to accompany the photographs, bringing readers closer to them.
The personal accounts touch upon different topics, from Omo T’s meditation over whether his 30th birthday marks the point he should finally settle down to Nika J’s childhood recollection of the day Russia started bombing his country and started a war that resulted in the occupation of 20% of Georgian territory. Nika P recounts a visit to a traditional bathhouse on a day when a fight broke out, while Iakob M explains how dance saved him from being bullied in school, and Dmitrii G writes about the hardships of fleeing conscription into Putin’s army by moving to a country that is unwelcoming towards Russians.
“I imagine that making a gay publication on Tbilisi, a place few in the wider world know much about, might seem like an odd choice, but it’s a city I have always wanted to feature for this project, one of my top five favourite cities in the world,” says Elska editor and chief photographer Liam Campbell.
“However, the reason it took us until our forty-fourth issue to come here is because gay life in Georgia is notoriously difficult. Despite a rather progressive post-Soviet government that passed many ‘European’-standard laws to protect the LGBTQ community, a highly conservative and Orthodox society has had other goals, meaning that regardless of the legal situation, local gays have felt little safety.
“To name just a few examples, a local LGBTQ magazine had its offices raided by police for bogus charges, the same happened to a community centre, and several Pride marches have seen their attendees greatly outnumbered by violent counter-protestors,” Campbell continued.
“Yet the LGBTQ community kept marching anyway, they kept creating more spaces, and in greater numbers every year. With this spirit I decided that if local gays could find the courage to assert their existence, we could at least back them up by highlighting that homosexuals do indeed exist in Georgia and deserve our attention.”
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Elska Tbilisi is purchasable from select shops around the world, as well as online from the official website. The accompanying zine is also available, featuring four more local men, hundreds of pages of outtakes and a behind-the-scenes diary from the making of the Georgian series.
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