This is going to be short and sweet – well, maybe splendid. Fashion Week is making me weak and it’s just starting. I shoulda, woulda, if I coulda attended the Ami James Pop-Up Tattoo Shop thing at the Empire Hotel yesterday but I was otherwise distracted. Besides, I will be at the Empire Rooftop tomorrow night DJing, and being north of 23rd street two times in a week is… problematic for a BBurger like myself. I’m opening for the fabulous Mel DeBarge. Mel and I have a long history of being in the same room and other things more times than I care to discuss. He is a great DJ and I am honored to be mentioned in the same breath and invitation with him. Kirill is taking pictures and he somehow always manages to shoot me on my good side -not an easy accomplishment. I’m on from 9pm to 11pm, although the invite says doors open at 10pm. Either that’s an error or someone has heard me DJ before or they want me to provide rhythm for the wait-rons as they set up. I’m excited about this and Fashion Week in general.
Maybe you first heard of stealth nightlife photographer Kirill because he snapped evidence of your drunken lesbian makeout session, or because his raunchy site, Kirill Was Here, makes you swell with the queasy-proud feeling that there really is no place like New York City. Either way, it’s obvious that the Russian-born, New Jersey-raised lensman has lived up to his catch phrase, capturing some of the city’s most sexed-up nightclub denizens at their naughty best. I chatted with Kirill to get the lowdown on his shooting style, his favorite spots, and his fear of being “that creepy guy.”
How did you get started taking pictures of people out in NYC? I always had a camera with me and I would hang out with my friends, who were DJs in the DJ booths, and just shoot them for fun. One night I got really drunk and I shot the crowd on the dance floor instead. When I came home and thought, ‘What am I going to do with all these photos?’ My roommates and I decided to build a site.
Had you studied photography formally? I dropped out of one photo class. I wanted to be an animator, graphic designer, filmmaker; I guess this is just one aspect of my art career. Everything else I just learned and fucked around with.
Do you prefer to shoot celebrities or just club-goers? I personally don’t give a shit about the celebrity aspect. I won’t go to a party because a celeb is there. Guys like LMFAO or Lil John that are actually in the party scene, they’re just going to rage and be part of the party and they just happen to be in the shot. But most of the traffic, or people that come to my site, come to see photos of themselves or of drunk girls partying.
Are your photos ever posed or are they entirely candid? At this point, it’s a little bit of both. In the beginning, it was a lot of candid. I shoot a lot – that’s the beauty of digital – I can shoot 2,000 photos in a night and only put up 150. If someone is about to spray champagne, I’ll shoot 50 photos in a row and one of those 50 photos will be the one where the champagne hits the girl in the face at the right time. Now, people know the site and know me, so they won’t pose; they’ll just party and they know I’ll get the shot that I need. So people know who you are and what you do? At this point, a lot of people know my face. Which is funny, because there are times when people don’t and girls will be like, ‘No, do not take our photo.’ Then they’ll see me take some other girl’s photo and hand that girl my card, and then the girls that rejected me will say, ‘Oh, you’re Kirill! Take our photo!’
Do you think of taking your photos as work? It is work for me, but it is also a lot of fun, which is why I’m out five nights a week. I don’t like to shoot sober if I’m at a party because I want to party with the people – otherwise, I’m just an outsider looking in and that can get awkward. It’s like if you go to a party with your best friend and take photos of each other. I’m just that kid at every table; I’m the best friend of every person in the club, taking their photo and drinking with them. If I’m at a concert gig – like the A-Trak tour – I pretty much stay sober the whole time. I didn’t really need to interact with drunk people, I was just shooting photos of the artist.
What do you think is unique about New York nightlife? The ability that if a party sucks, you can leave and go somewhere else. What other city can you hit five clubs in a night? In LA you have to drive everywhere, and all the other cities don’t really have as many clubs or as much going on. New York City has such a good party scene because they [the clubs] have to step the party up because people can just leave and go somewhere else.
Where do you like to go out and shoot? One of my favorites is GoldBar. Riff Raff’s is one of my new favorite spots because it’s different; I like that it’s kind of anti-bottle service. GunBar (in Meatpacking) is cool. I love SL East in the Hampton’s a lot. The girls are hot and they party, which is rare. It’s rare to find hot model chicks that get down. Those are pretty much my spots when I’m in town.
Do you think you’ll ever stop taking pictures? That’s something I ask myself all the time. I don’t want to be that creepy guy in the club when I’m 35 or 40. But then again, I don’t think I’ll ever stop taking photos. Hopefully I’ll transition to something new…maybe go the Patrick McMullan route. I guess I’ll wait until the alcohol and the partying catches up to me and I’ll keep shaving my face so I look younger and younger.
Follow Kirill on Twitter (@KirillWasHere).