New York-based nightlife photographer Kirill’s antics have attracted more than 50,000 Twitter followers and compelled Complex magazine to name him the No. 1 nightlife photographer. He’s toured with A-Trak, Steve Aoki and LMFAO, and has shot parties for YSL, Hugo Boss, Red Bull and Hennessy. Today Kirill’s globetrotting career most resembles that of a rising DJ star, now complete with his very own five-date Tao Group residency, Las Rageous, which pops its cork October 20 at Lavo.
What makes your site KirillWasHere.com different from other nightlife party websites?
I think it’s a combination of my personality—not really having a filter and not always playing by the rules—getting girls to do crazy shit, and my relationships with DJs. My site is basically a raw look at nightlife; I don’t treat it seriously like everyone else does. Nightlife has become so corporate. People are drawn to me because my brand is associated with having a good time and just letting go.
You’ve become known for shooting “champagne facials.” How was that pose conceived?
I was really bored at a party once. These girls were stagnant, not partying the way I needed to make good photos. So I poured champagne on their faces and showed them how cool the photos looked. You would think the girls would get mad. At first they were like, “Oh my God! The champagne’s in my eyes! I hate you!” I’d say, “See how good the photo looks?” And they’d say “I love it! Can you send it to me?” I started it a year ago, and that took my shit to the next level.
From your perspective behind the lens, what are the best and worst parts of Strip parties?
The best part is everyone is ready to go rage and party. The worst part is nightclubs strip that away from people when they walk up to the door. They’re judging you: if you can get in, if you’re dressed right, etc. Now the scene is so heavy with EDM and massive DJs it’s not even a party, it’s almost a concert. Which I’m not against. But for me, I want to go out … and rage and party. We’re going to make some crazy-fun memories where people aren’t standing around Instagramming DJs. Instead they’re blacking out with me.
How hard do you go when you’re out shooting?
I’ll probably get in trouble for saying this, but I rarely work sober. It’s hard to. It’s easy to work sober when I’m shooting corporate events or concerts, because there’s no pressure to drink and no one is very drunk around you. But at a party you kind of have to be at the level of people you’re shooting so you’re not that creepy, awkward, sober guy with a camera who nobody trusts.
Any other advice for aspiring photographers?
You have to have a personality to make a brand. I make jokes, I’m dumb, I’m stupid, and I relate to the general public. If I have a photo of a girl getting champagne poured on her head, I don’t [write], “That’s a cool photo,” I say something like, “I wanted to dump champagne on her face, then have another girl lick it off.” People are going to interact, like, “Oh my God, me too, bro.” You have to push the envelope a little bit.
Have you ever gone too far?
I don’t think I’ve gone too far. My online personality is a lot different than my in-person personality—I wouldn’t get a response if I were an asshole to people. One time I did get punched in the face. I gave a girl a champagne facial that she asked for, and her brother told me he wasn’t afraid to go to jail if I didn’t delete that photo. I said I wasn’t going to because his sister wanted it. He waited outside the club for me, jumped out of the bushes, clocked me in the face and ran off. I had to get stitches.
Ever been embarrassed?
I have a pretty thick skin. I dropped out of college to hang out with comedians. I’ve had my ass handed to me so many times by comedians that there’s nothing that will bring me shame, literally nothing that will embarrass me.
How did hanging around the comedy club scene help hone your craft?
They showed me that there’s humor in everything and to not really think that life is so scary, and that’s played into my personality. I don’t see anything as too offensive—that shows through my photos. I try to portray nightlife in a fun, humorous way. Champagne facials are ridiculous. They’re so funny to me, and I’m able to do that in a club.
You write on your Facebook page, “Success is like being pregnant. Everybody congratulates you, but nobody knows how many times you got fucked to get where you are.” Paid your dues, eh?
I’ve been thrown out of nightclubs, I’ve had my memory cards deleted. You just go through the shit and then you earn your place in nightlife once you’ve shown them that you’re not going anywhere. I work with nightclub owners now that [previously] wouldn’t even let me into their club, and now they’re begging me to come and take photos.
Is there a deeper Kirill underneath the online persona?
The real me is an insecure artist. I don’t want to give too much away, but take any movie that you see an actor. You don’t assume that’s him—he’s acting. This is a side of me, and I’m honest with all the shit I say, but there is the normal side to me. I talk a lot on Twitter about fat girls. But when I’m out, I’m partying with the fat girls. I’m not a dick. I don’t think anyone would have gotten this far—or anywhere—being an asshole.
Who is the most important woman in your life?
As cheesy as it sounds, it’s my mom. Both of my parents came from Russia—with no money—with me, my grandma and everyone to have a better life. I kind of went against all the rules. I was the first not to finish college in the family and branch out on this weird pseudo-artistic career. I’ve put them through a bunch of shit, and at this point they’re happy and proud of me.
What’s your perfect endgame?
When I stop taking nightlife photos, I would love to do film. Everyone on the Internet is done in five seconds—the Internet is very dismissive of art sometimes. I would want to do a show or a film that kind of puts it in your face, where it’s more permanent, not just pictures to laugh at online.