Who doesn't want to make a living doing what they love to do? Nightlife photographer Kirill created an unfuckwithable brand and following through Kirillwashere.com after meeting DJs in comedy clubs. Whether frequenting nightclubs in NYC, launching Champagne Facials.com, touring with A-trak, or being flown to France to shoot for Hennessy, it's obvious that Kirill is and has always been a true hustler. Would you expect anything less from our #1 Nightlife Photographer?
I found myself drawn to DJs in the same way that I was drawn to comedians.
How did all of this start?
I was raised in New Jersey and born in Moscow, Russia. I've been drawn to standup comedy my whole life — not doing it, but just to the comedians themselves. I admired their craft. As soon as I got out of high school and went to college, I started going to comedy shows in NYC.
Once I got a first taste of live NYC standup shows, I was hooked. I knew I had to get into the scene somehow. I was going to college for graphic design, animation, and film, so I made friends with a kid throwing comedy shows. His name is Patrick, and he runs a site called Cringe Humor, which is basically a site showcasing and supporting the dirtier comedians.
At age 19 I was hanging at the best comedy clubs with the funniest people. It was in that scene that I tuned my own sense of humor that you see today on Kirillwashere. I saw that it was ok to say anything.
Once I got into the comedy scene, I realized I didn't need college. I was doing graphic design for a lot of the comedians in NYC, from Bill Burr to Dane Cook to Patrice Oneal. That really explains the sense of humor within KWH.
In terms of how I got into shooting, one night while working at Carolines, we had a private event with a DJ. The DJ and I struck up a conversation, and we instantly become friends. His name is Nick, DJ NVM, and he is still my best friend to this day. At the time we met, I had a shitty camera that I was just using to take random photos at comedy clubs.
As Nick started taking me out to clubs, I found my place in the DJ booth. I would get drunk, party, and hang with girls, but mostly I would snap pictures of Nick and other DJs for their MySpace pages.
I found myself drawn to DJs in the same way that I was drawn to comedians. This was when DJs played open format, made mash-ups, and scratched, unlike this house music garbage that's hot right now.
So one night three years ago, I got shitfaced and decided to leave the safe zone of the DJ booth and went to explore the dance floor. When I got home, I was impressed by the photos I took, and Nick asked me "So what are you gonna do with these?" I didn't have an answer. He told me I should put them online.
So the next day, we sat down along with my friend who does web development and built Kirillwashere.com.
I always had an eye for graphic design and marketing, so I knew if I was going to build this site correctly, I would have to focus on a strong brand presence in clubs, hence the bold logo, the cards, the stickers, the watermark on all the photos, etc.
For some reason, when you're holding a camera and a bottle of champagne, people listen to anything you tell them to do.
On that note, in terms of branding, your site has always been user-friendly and included social media integration. What trends and strategies have been most important to you in getting people to share your work?
My goal with the site from the very beginning was to give people what they came for — photos. When I started, a lot of nightlife photo sites weren't as concerned with delivering a good product as they were getting emails to blast people about upcoming parties.
My goal was to keep it simple. Photos. That's it. I shot you. You got a card. You went to my site. You saw your photo.
I had a day job working at a comedy club when I started, so money wasn't the driving force. I think that's important in any successful career. Don't let money drive your brand. I didn't need money to make KWH work. I just went out to the best parties I could find and shot.
Within weeks, my photos were all over Facebook with my little watermark in the corner.
I never ran ads. I never will. I think that keeps people loyal. They see a very grass-roots approach. The formula hasn't changed, and it never will.
Let's talk about Champagne Facials. It's blowing up. Have you had the idea for while? Did someone suggest it?
This is an interesting story. So I started shooting brunches about a year ago. Just like the rest of the world, I had no idea that NYC does brunches much differently than any other place.
When I tell people that some NYC brunch parties are the sloppiest, wettest, and most drunkest shitshows I've ever been to, they are blown away.
I was shooting these brunches, and I found that sometimes I needed to spice up the party in the beginning. I'd steal a few bottles of champagne from the bar and just offer free champagne to girls. I'd tell them I was going to pour it in their mouths, and they may get wet.
For some reason, when you're holding a camera and a bottle of champagne, people listen to anything you tell them to do. So I had this little collection of champagne facials.
It wasn't until recently when I joined Instagram (before I got kicked off for posting too many boobs, I now have a new account), that I started posting a few of these facials on Instagram and started getting a HUGE response. They were by far my most popular photos.
So on a whim at like 11 p.m. on a Thursday night I decided, "Fuck it. I'll build a Tumblr page just for Champagne Facials. I kid you not. Within a day, I had people asking me to facial them at parties. Within a week, Champagne Facials surpassed the traffic on Kirillwashere.
I get it. It's a very viral, social site. It's beyond huge. It's gone worldwide — France, Brazil, Poland, Denmark, etc. It gets about 3 tweets an hour. Glamour Paris did a write-up on it. I mean, the thing is a fucking monster. I barely do any promo for it on my social networks.
So now I keep it in the back of my head every night I shoot to get a few facials, so I always have fresh content. It's not hard either, because at this point, girls are literally asking to be facialed. Last week at a party, I was talking to the bartender, and I heard a girl behind me say to her friend, "You think Kirill will give us a facial tonight?" The end result of this project is to do a book.
I thought, 'When else am I going to be in Guadalajara AND with Lil Jon?'
AMAZING. Have you gotten an offer to do one, or you have decided to do it either way?
I haven't yet. I think the site needs more growth. I put it online on May 29, 2012. In only two weeks, I've gotten offers to advertise on the site. I will definitely do a book either way, but I have my hopes high that someone wants to do one with me. It would make a killer coffee table book. Urban Outfitters — call me!
That would be an amazing collab. So you've done significant touring, shooting for Hennessy, and other ventures outside of nightlife photography, right? How have A-trak, Aoki, LMFAO, and others approached you about coming on tour with them?
To this day, I am still amazed that people want to pay me. I mean, I understand why now, but I still get really excited when someone hits me up. There have been a few real milestones in my career.
Within the first 2 weeks of starting the site, I shot LMFAO and Kid Cudi in a pretty much empty room in NYC. They were just getting hot. LMFAO hit me the next week and asked to use the photos for their debut album. We've been friends ever since. They're fucking huge now, so we don't talk as much, but when they're in town, I try to make a point of linking up with them.
I actually met Lil Jon through them. He and I struck up a relationship revolving around tequila. He's probably the only person that can drink me under the table. He and I went to Guadalajara together with the Don Julio team to see how their tequila is made. It was definitely the best moment of my life. I thought, "When else am I going to be in Guadalajara AND with Lil Jon?"
At this point, I was getting booked for a lot for club gigs and parties, but I always stayed true to the idea that money will not drive my business. I always chose a better party that may not have money over a paid gig.
In the fall of 2010, I crashed the Fools Gold block party in NYC. I talked my way in, shot it, and tweeted the photos to A-trak, Chromeo, and whoever else was there. In a few days, A-trak emailed me. He loved the photos. I was in awe. I mean, this guy's a fucking legend.
Ever since then, he's been family. He's always had my back, and I'd do anything for him. He believed in me. His brother Dave of Chromeo has been super supportive of my career, too.
The Aoki hookup was funny. I saw he was playing in NYC in the spring of 2011. I hit up a few friends that knew him, but nobody could nail him down to get me a pass. 24 hours before the show, Aoki Facebook messaged me, asking me if I'd come to his show in NYC and take pics. Woah. I obviously did. And since then, he's been fucking with me, too.
Over the years though, my site has become more about the fans, the drunk girls, and the people at these shows. It's less about the artists, which is funny when people are impressed that I can shoot other stuff.
Hennessy is my family. I love them. They've treated me as an artist from day one. A lot of corporate people hire you for who you are and then try to tell you what to do, which never goes well. Hennessy is different. They saw what I could bring to their brand, and at the same time, give them dope photos. They've taken me everywhere to shoot their parties and events, from LA to Miami to throwing me on a private jet to France twice.
I'm sure so many crazy things have happened to you on the job, a lot of which you've already mentioned, but if you could pick one moment, what's the craziest thing that's happened to you while you've been doing Kirillwashere?
I'm not gonna name names, but this basically describes how shitty nightlife is or how bad it can be when art meets business. Two years ago, I shot a party. Afterwards, my friends told me to come down to this other club, drink with them, and take photos. I show up, get in, and start drinking and shooting. Within 15 minutes, security swarms me and says I can't shoot. Two seconds later, the owner comes over and tells me he has to format my memory card. There is no photography at his club. i'm blown away. It's me versus security and the owner. They take my camera and wipe it. A year later, the same owner was begging me to come shoot this same club.
That's the story of my life in shooting for nightlife. Every club in NYC has said no to me and turned me away. Now they see the value in my brand, my following, and what I've built. They see how I've been cosigned by guys like A-trak, Aoki, Lil Jon, and other brands. They don't see me as someone intruding their clubs, but as someone helping their brands get exposure as well.
I guess what I do is art, but to me I'm just getting drunk and taking pics of what I see.
Let's talk about art and design. What graphic designers, artists, musicians, and other cultural figures do you like or admire? Are there any that directly inform the way you shoot or your website?
Ok, so this is gonna make me look really dumb, but I don't care. I hate museums. I find them terribly boring. There's art that I like. I don't really follow the careers of any artists, which is funny, because I can quote any joke by almost any comedian working today, but I couldn't tell you shit about the art world. I like what I create. I don't really draw inspiration from any other artists. I know it makes me sound shallow or conceited, but I just don't have anyone that I look up to in that way.
I respect artists, what they do, and what they've done. Terry Richardson is dope. I think he's a genius to have built a brand like his. I love animation. I love Disney. My whole life, I wanted to be a Disney animator, until I tried it and realized how fucking boring and unfullfilling it was. I know a lot about Walt Disney and his original team. I have a lot of books about him. Other than that, I don't really follow the art world.
I guess what I do is art, but to me I'm just getting drunk and taking pics of what I see. Maybe that's why it works; I don't overthink it. The minute you get too high and mighty and start preaching about how your shit is art is the minute it becomes bullshit.
I went to art school. Art is bullshit. In painting class, you paint something in all blues because you only had blue paint and were too lazy to buy other colors. And everyone sits around and tells you how much they love it, and that you must have been sad when you painted it, and they find all this deeper meaning. It's like, no, I was just fucking lazy and used blue paint. Maybe that's why I don't really follow the careers of artists. I love a lot of art, but it's all random shit.
That's an honest answer. So besides the Champagne Facials book, are there any other endeavors or big things you want to do in the future, building on the great foundation you have now?
Everything I've done has been organic. It's never been too planned out. Like who the fuck launches a new blog at 11PM on a Thursday night? It's what I feel at the moment. I definitely wanna do a KWH book, but I don't feel it yet. When the time is right, I will. I'd love to do more "artsy" shit. Maybe I'll get back to painting and incorporate my photos. I wanna do music videos. I don't have any boundaries. KWH.com is a photo site, but KWH is a brand to me. It has no limits.
When I think of the next project, I'll let you know first. You guys have been behind me since the beginning. Joe La Puma would get 3 a.m. emails from me a few times a month, with links to my new photos, and he'd take the time out to send them around to his media friends.
Complex has done a lot for my career, so yeah, when I get my next big idea, I'll give you guys a call.