abdul kircher photographs the things society doesn’t talk about

Whether it’s Wendell, the guy who’ll smoke any bit of dirt he finds on the floor hoping it gets him high, or a wheelchair bound couple kissing on the sidewalk, Abdul Kircher tells the stories of the people most wouldn’t want to ask about.

by Felicity Kinsella
Mar 6 2015, 3:56pm

Abdul Kircher is the 18-year-old photographer with one green eye and one blue eye, who's probably experienced more of the real world than you. A documentary photographer rather than a fashion one, the subjects in his pictures all have their own harrowing, dark or inspiring stories. Whether it's sitting down to chat to a homeless man or sparking up with an addict, Abdul gets those stories out, because what's the point of picture that doesn't say a thousand words? He finds beauty in the wretched and brings the cast off underbelly of society to life. He's landed his own modeling contract, popped up as the face of Diesel and photographed the Next Models showpack, but Abdul's first love is getting on the same level as the people he photographs and finding out their life stories.

Where are you from?
I'm a native of Berlin and am of Turkish descent.

What do you do?
I connect with the people society usually casts away; I talk to them, listen to their stories, try to build relationships with them. They aren't just "subjects," or people that I shoot: they become a part of my life.

Where do you meet all the people you photograph?
It's all by chance, which is why some months are slow, especially in the winter since no one's outside. I never go outside and hunt for people to shoot, it's all natural. That's what makes it so difficult because you can go on for weeks without meeting someone.

Do you know their stories before you photograph them?
I know most of my subjects personally. Usually I comment on something a person might be wearing, or something else that intrigues me about them. From there, I'm able to see how open a person is to talk to me, to tell me their story—and then boom: the rest is magic. You've just got to go with the flow, you know. It has to happen authentically. So if you're photographing a homeless person, make them feel like you're right there with them, sit on the floor, have a drink with them, do whatever you can to make them feel comfortable around you, because if you don't have their trust, the photograph won't have the same emotional intensity—for me at least. It's all about the stories, more so than the actual photographs themselves. Sometimes I look back at my old photographs and see a lot were "story-less," so they don't really hold any sentimental value. You may think the photograph is amazing, but to me it's worth nothing if I can't tie a story back to a certain image, I have a hard time being proud of it.

What's the most inspiring story of someone you've photographed?
There was this teenage homeless couple I met. From the way they met to how they've overcome their obstacles is inspiring. George and Louie messaged each other on Tumblr, asked each other for their numbers and began texting all day and FaceTiming every night. Both were aspiring models hoping to land that big modelling deal. They agreed to meet in New York City since there is no better place to fulfil that dream. George said "I didn't tell my mom I was moving to NYC. I told her I was going to stay in this expensive model apartment, knowing that I was going to come to NYC to nothing. I had no idea where I was going to be staying." After a year of working at Walmart, George finally saved up enough money to purchase a one-way ticket to the City. Louie's mom kicked him out of the house because he and her husband didn't get along and her husband would always threaten "either I leave or he leaves," so Louie came to NYC. He was staying with his photographer friend and George, with his agent, who he couldn't stand living with. 

George said, "I ran into some Buddhist monks and they just took me to this place and told me to start chanting, and I started chanting, 'Man I hope K**** [photographer] lets me stay at his place,' and the same night he said I could stay with him." After living with the photographer for a month, complications began to grow, leading him to kick them to the curb without notice. No money, jobless, and no place to go. Louie recounted, "It's 1AM when he kicks us out, so we sat at the corner of his block and these people that bring homeless people to shelters drove up to us and took us to a shelter for teens, but it didn't open until 9AM. So we went to Central Park and slept on the grass until the next morning." Louie was working at Ann Taylor but didn't get paid until next week, so they ended up staying at the shelter. Meanwhile, George began working at Topshop and catered their events. After saving up for a bit, they still didn't have enough money to get their own apartment, so they returned to their mothers. Both mothers provided the rest of the money in order to rent a single bedroom for $200 a week in the Bronx. 

I'm not sharing their story to show signs of failure, but to show how brave these two men were to move here on their own and follow their dreams; and to show that every dream comes with hardships that you must break through. So I truly wish them the best. Keep striving and inspiring, don't give up.

What's the most heartbreaking story of someone you've photographed?
This is definitely one of the saddest transformations I've witnessed while documenting the homeless in NYC. Bobby was living with a guy in the early 90s on Dyckman Street who later told him that he had HIV. He then moved to the Bronx with his beautiful girlfriend Glenette, who he was with for a few years. They never had sex. Then everything changed, "One night I was really, really, really fucking horny and I was like 'baby please' and I begged her so much and she was going to give me sex… [but then] I said, 'Do you know what? I can't do this to you… If I have sex with you now, I will rearrange your whole fucking life… fuck the sex." Suddenly, his words began to slur and tears flowed down his face, getting trapped in his beard. Before parting ways, he told her, "I can't lay next to you every night and not want to make love to you." 

She was wonderful, keeping him off the streets and away from alcohol (he started drinking at 14 and was completely addicted by 18). He had been sober for a while since he began treatment. But one night, he said to himself, "Just one drink." Of course, that one sip of alcohol got him right back into the rut. Out of nowhere, Bobby began selling all of his punk clothing in order to feed his addiction. He said to me, "every time she pops into my head, I push her away and I try to think of another thought; I don't want to think about her, so my mind focuses on the alcohol instead." It hurts me to even talk about this. The saddest part is that every time I see him, he can't remember my face: it's as if his mind presses "restart" when he blanks out. It's the same stories, same everything. He always says, "you're the only one that actually sits down with me and has a full conversation with me." Last time I saw him—feces oozing out of the bottom and back of his pants—he told me, "I got a habit, I got to feed it: it's calling me, it's in my brain, it's screaming 'Bobby, come get me,' and I'm going to get her." As he stands, a visible stain is left on cement from his excrement. He begins crying: "I want to call her… I love her with all my heart: she means everything in the world to me. She's always stood by me. That's my girl. I don't like to talk about it, it gets me stupid. You should've never brought her up." Thinking I was going to shoot up with him, he warned, "You're not using my needle though—you have to get two sets. I'm not letting you use my needle. I have The Virus, you know."

You've photographed the party scene - kids drunk, taking drugs etc., were you a part of that scene or did you just document it?
At the time I was dating this girl who was really into the house party scene. I didn't really have friends in my high school, but through her I was introduced to everyone in our grade, the party thing, you know, the whole nine yards. From sophomore year to senior year, my camera was used mostly as a diary; since I was never really good at partying, I took advantage of using my camera to document what was going on. Once I started putting them online, the feedback was crazy, especially from kids outside of New York. They were just going to these crazy parties to get drunk and have a good time, but when seeing these photos, they finally saw things that they were never aware of within themselves. Louis Althusser argues that you can't analyse a culture that you're in, but since I wasn't a part of that culture, it was easier for me to see the beauty in the partied-out kids.

Why do you think so many people are fascinated with the idea of tragedy and debauchery being linked to beauty?
Finding beauty in tragedy allows you to find the light in the darkness. The beauty isn't necessarily something that's outright gorgeous, but it's what transforms tragedy into triumph. It's taking what's meant to be seen as sad, evil, or malicious and turning it into good. And what's more is that it allows you to look into your own personal darkness and find the light in it.

Photographing the Next Models showpack is very different to what you normally do, but you still made it your own, what was the idea behind that?
I worked very close alongside Peter Cedeno, a senior manager at Next, and from the start, we knew that we didn't want it to be a fashion spread. Instead, we came to a consensus that the project would challenge upheld conceptions of beauty. I think merging my and the models' images on top of each other made the viewer question his/her definition of beauty.

Does fashion photography attract you?
Honestly, not particularly. When I first began photographing, I tried convincing myself that I wanted to be a part of the fashion industry. But as I began interning and doing test shoots, I noticed that my aesthetic didn't really fit: my work was always very dark and raw, and many models wouldn't even be able to use any of my photos. Once I understood this, I took my photography into the real world and started meeting people I actually cared about.

What does beauty mean to you?
Beauty comes from within; if you're beautiful on the inside, it will reflect on the outside. Sure, you can be pretty, but it's the inner self that counts.

Is photography what you want to do with the rest of your life?
Yes, but I'm not sure it'll be the same kind of photography. I feel like it's energy depriving to constantly document people who are going through hardships in life; since I like to get to know my subjects personally, their vibes start to rub off, and I begin to take on some of what they're going through. Sometimes you've got to remove yourself from certain art forms and explore new ones in order to gain greater insight on what it is you want to do, which is why I'm trying to take a break from photography and refresh my view on it.

Who are your favorite photographers?
I'm really into photographers that combine photojournalism and art seamlessly. I feel like if you can use subjects that you've found and gain their trust in order to work on art pieces with them is just amazing. Joel-Peter Witkin is a huge inspiration when it comes to this; he uses dismembered body parts to create a blood-curling aura around his work. I also like Brenda Ann Kenneally and Diane Arbus. But as a whole, I try to stay away from other photographs as much as possible when looking for inspiration.

What would you be doing if you weren't a photographer?
I'd love to be a painter or be in a heavy metal band! But I suck at coordination, so yeah.

What are your three life rules?
Live in the moment, question societal norms, and most importantly, love your mama.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?
I live day by day, so whenever the future creeps into my mind, I get really depressed.


Text Felicity Kinsella
Photography Abdul Kircher