“Bring a change of clothes.” That’s the tongue-in-cheek advice from Kirill Bichutsky, better known as nightlife photographer Kirill Was Here. The New York-based party shooter launches his Las RAGEous bash October 20 at Lavo, a photo residency based around his signature champagne facials, which involve dousing ladies in champagne and capturing the madness with his camera. The ladies with the best shots will take home cash prizes—along with some very sticky clothes.
We caught up with Kirill mid-hangover in Miami to talk Disney, blackouts and how he gets clubbers to let their guards down.
When did you first start taking pictures?
I always had a camera, because my family has always had an artsy side to it. My dad and my sister were very good artists. So we always had professional cameras, and I just toyed around with them. That was the extent.
You never did any training?
No. I think I took a photo class in high school, but that was about it.
Did you have a dream as a kid about what you wanted to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be a Disney animator. That was my only goal in life, to work for Disney. If I worked for Disney now I’d be the guy drawing all the inappropriate stuff that everyone always said Disney had. The secret little bonus.
Have you spent a lot of time in Vegas?
I have as of lately more and more. I wasn’t really much of a gambler. I guess I’m starting to become one. I like roulette, which is the worst odds you can get in the casino. Blackjack. Caribbean stud. I lose all my money. I’m not a winner.
Vegas has a reputation for being debaucherous. Do you think other cities, like New York, are actually crazier?
I’m not the best person to ask because I tend to bring out the wild from almost any market or venue or city I go to. But I think Vegas is intense. It’s a really intense party scene. New York is sort of subdued right now. It’s like the hipster craze kind of took over. You’ll go out and [the club’s] packed full of people, but they’re all just standing around looking cooler than one another. It’s like, “Just party.” I think that’s how I excelled and why my career kind of took off, because I was able to get these people to forget about being cool and just be fun.
How do you do that?
The camera has a lot of power. It’s weird. You just drink with them and you’re like, “Let’s make some fun photos. Get off your phone and stop tweeting about how fun the party is and just have a good time.”
Do people react to you differently when you have a camera?
Yes, and I think more so now than before because every time I go somewhere new, more and more people know me. They know what to expect and they know what they have to do if they want to keep up, and party with me and get their photo on my site. You instantly see girls trying to prop their boobs up a little, like, “I need to get a good photo. I can’t look ugly on that site because I’ll get made fun of.”
We do very G-rated party photos on lasvegasweekly.com, and once in a while we’ll get a call from someone who wants a photo taken down. Do you ever get those calls?
Yes, I get them several times a month. If they’re nice about it, I will almost always honor the request, because I’m not out to ruin anybody’s life. But if someone’s a dick, then no way. Then I will destroy you. I tell this story to everyone: I got punched in the face outside of a nightclub for it. I had to go get stitches and everything, because I champagne facialed a girl and her brother didn’t want the photos going online, so he waited for me outside and jumped me.
That’s an occupational hazard. It seems like drinking a lot could be one, too. Rather than documenting from the outside, you’re really part of the party.
My whole thing is that I’m there to party, too. In my head, I’m never like, “This is a job.” I just happen to have a camera in my hand. You know when a group of girls goes out and one always has that camera and is taking pictures of everyone in her clique? I try to be that girl in every circle of friends at a club. That’s the only way you’re going to get people to let their guard down. You can’t be an outsider and not drink and not party. If you become their friend for the night, they’ll grant you access to themselves. They’ll get weird, and they’ll get fun, because they won’t feel like you’re an outsider trying to use them.
Do you ever party so hard that the photos suffer?
No, it’s actually the opposite. I’ve had nights where I completely black out and don’t remember taking the photos and they’re awesome. It’s liquid courage. You can pull more stuff off when you’re not afraid to ask for certain photos or do dumber sh*t. With my site, it’s more about the content. I’m not Ansel Adams here. I’m trying to get the dope photos and show that nightlife is fun.
Your new Las RAGEous party series is all about champagne facials, where you pour champagne into girls’ faces, take pictures and give prizes to women who take the best photos. How did your first Vegas party go this summer?
Girls came out in droves to sign up to get champagne poured on their faces, and we named two winners. We had ponchos, funnels. It literally felt like a house party. It didn’t feel like that whole EDM, Vegas, everybody-put-your-hands-up partying. And that’s what I like. I like when people just let go.
Do you pour the champagne?
It’s hard to pour and shoot, especially the drunker you get. So I’ll delegate it to friends. If a guy’s spending a sh*t ton of money and he wants to pour champagne on his girlfriend, I’m not going to say no. And I’ll take the photos. It’s an experience. You have to do one yourself, pour it on someone. It’s the most liberating thing. You feel like you have so much power by just dumping a bottle of champagne on a girl’s head.
That part I get, but not being the one getting poured on. I just imagine feeling gross and sticky afterwards.
I get it. On paper it’s probably the most awful thing you could think of to be gross and sticky for the rest of the night, especially when you’re in Vegas trying to get laid. It falls into that 15 minutes of fame thing. These girls want to end up on the site. They want to just have this cool photo. You’re young, and you’re just like, “F*ck it.”
Do you see parallels between this and Girls Gone Wild, where you have girls going crazy and maybe doing things they’ll regret because they want to be a little famous?
I’d say it’s very close to that thing. I’d try to claim that it has a little more art to it. To me, what I’m doing with the facials, I think they’re just beautiful photos. Capturing all that champagne. And then it has that sexual, playful side, which obviously helps sell the idea of them. But I don’t think what I’m doing is flat-out taking advantage of girls and selling it as porn. My whole thing is just trying to show that nightlife can be fun, because I think nightlife has become very corporate and strict. They strip you of your identity and all your fun the minute you walk up to the door. And I’m trying to bring that back to the party and remind you of why you came out in the first place.
Do you ever get champagne facialed?
Oh yeah. I am not a hypocrite. I got one last week, and they dropped the bottle on my head. I’ve got a huge cut and bruise on my head right now.
What does your mom think of the whole Kirill Was Here brand and champagne facials?
You’re talking about my mom and dad, who both have master’s degrees from Russia in chemical engineering and electrical engineering, and I dropped out of college to pursue a career in partying. In the beginning, like any parent, they worried. But they get it. They’re an artsy family and they came to America to help find the American dream, so I guess I’m kind of trying to do that. They’ve always supported it. They helped me buy my first camera, and they’re proud. I think my mom wears a Kirill Was Here hat once in a while to work. It’s weird.
You’re 29. Do you think this career has an expiration date?
For the sake of your liver or to not be the creepy old guy, is there a point where you have to take your career in a different direction? I 100 percent agree with you. I definitely don’t want to be creepy old guy in the club with a camera. But I think the way I’m trying to set up the brand is so my followers and everyone will follow me to the next step, whatever the next part of my career is. I want to start doing the more artsy side of photography, sell my prints and do art shows. We’re talking about doing a coffee table book. This stuff is awesome on the Internet, but there’s no shelf life. You see a cool photo and you move on. So, it’s very different when you present these shots in print form and when you position them as art.
In your years of doing this, is there a party that stands out as your most epic night ever?
I mostly don’t remember those. I’ve had some stuff that gave me milestones in my career. One time, A-Trak asked me to go shoot his party at a bowling alley, Brooklyn Bowl, and then Kanye came out and performed. I was the only one allowed to be onstage, and I have these crazy rare Kanye photos that kind of blew me up for a minute. I was no longer the kid who just shot drunk girls. I don’t really have these crazy, crazy memories of crazy, crazy parties, because those I usually don’t remember, but I do have these little milestones that mean a lot to me in my career.
How would you tell someone to take the perfect photo?
I think the perfect photos are the ones that are candid. How many times have you seen a guy or a girl posing with the bottle of Grey Goose that they bought? You’re like, "Dude that’s not your f*cking night. Your night is your face melting off because you’re so drunk and laughing with your friends.” Those are the moments I love capturing, because there’s energy and life to it, as opposed to here’s me with my proof that I spent $1,000.
Kirill Was Here Presents Las RAGEous October 20, 11 p.m., $20 men, $10 women. Lavo, 791-1800.