Interview for Neformat.com.ua
My name is Yuri Gryaznov a.k.a kirai on Neformat.
I’m the founder of Kirai Gigs project which started with some rear bootlegs and developed into one of the largest concert photo/video archives in Ukraine with its own mini-production.
Foals (Art-Platforma, 2019)
As for today this is probably my favourite shot – the culmination point of Foals show in Kyiv back in 2019. Unlike the other bands, which permit to film the first three tracks, Foals approve only the last three, when Yannis would go down the stage, walk to the bar to have a cocktail, surrounded by fans, then he goes back to the stage and just dives into the crowd. There’s nothing special in this shot from the technical perspective. I was waiting for this very moment and I got to the point, which appeared to be just appropriate, right on time to change the lense to Fisheye to be able to capture this immensity. I like this monumental scale and the sensation of power.
Start of a hobby
It was back in 2008 when I meaningfully took a camera in my hands for the first time. It was a cheap digital camera with zoom and fully automatic modes. Then I started studying theory, practicing more and more, and after a year I decided to give up jurisprudence (my first diploma) and go to Karpenko-Karyi university, cinematography department. Before that, I had already completed a cameraman course and found myself working at a TV channel, where I took a photo camera to each and every assignment or business trip.
Heilung (NAU, 2019)
In 2011 I finally got Nikon D7000 which could film video, and the next day I had my first video shooting. That’s when Kirai Gigs story started. To be honest, for the first 5 years I firmly believed video bootlegs had been my vocation, so I had to shoot as many videos as I could for the history. But each year getting video accreditation for foreign bands’ shows was more and more complicated, it was more difficult to organize a video crew too. When in summer 2016 I got a new camera with quality pictures capabilities at low-light, I finally decided to do more photography. The ratio changed after two years, now most of my shootings are photo only.
Fever 333 (Atlas, 2019)
Over the last 9 years I was lucky to film over 1500 amazing shows and 900 different bands, including bootlegs and official DVDs, underground bands at the iconic basement of “Malaya Opera” or “Coschey” and world famous artists at Olympiskiy stadium or Palace of Sports.
My very first collaboration was with Neformat, of course. Back in 2012 Anatolii Nook offered me to shoot bootlegs for their YouTube channel. I don’t know what would have happened to the whole story if he hadn’t come up with that spontaneous idea.
H.Soror (Mezzanine, 2018)
The next turning point was September 2012 when I met the Krobak band. Thanks to our friendship I had the opportunity to experiment with filming and get used to being close to the stage. Together with Krobak and later with H.Soror, we went on a dozen of Ukrainian and European tours, starting with total DIY conditions and sleeping on a floor, and ending with hotels and comfortable transfers to the venues. We had so many unique experiences.
At the end of 2017 – the beginning of 2018 I got the guts to send my portfolio to the agencies and the bands. They liked it and I started to shoot concerts first for the Gas Concert agency, then for HMG. My portfolio grew bigger, featuring famous bands which made it easier for me to get accreditation with other Kyiv concert agencies.
∆ (alt-J) (Art-Platforma, 2017)
My first festivals were Ukrabilli Bang in 2011-2012, then I filmed all interesting events which I could attend physically. Surely, those were mainly Neformat-related events (Neformat and Robust fests, Winter/Summer Mass, Veins Rivers, Outsider), atmospheric festivals in the woods (Electric Meadow and Burn The Scene For Fun), metal fests (Oskorei, Holy Death Over Kyiv, Doom Over Kyiv, BUMA), jazz festivals (Zaporizhzhia Jazzy 2019, Vilnius Mama Jazz 2017, Mood To Swing, Am I Jazz 2019). I shot at InshaMuzyka, Submarina, Icecream, Fight Fest, Astral, Zagata and Respublica festivals. Atlas Weekend 2018 and 2019 was a huge event and some interesting experience for me, when you live for the concerts 24/7, running from one stage to another. Last year I lucked out to be in the team of the official photographers for the UPark 2019 festival.
During the quarantine I managed to shoot backstage and live photos for Intercity Live 3 and 4 – the international music festival in Ukraine that was streamed online.
My favourite shots are the ones where one can feel the concert’s atmosphere even if they weren’t there, even if the shots aren’t perfect in terms of composition, might be blurred or overexposed. At big events, those are the photos which convey the scale of what’s happening, reveal the artist’s image, capture the unique moment which will stick in a concert goer’s memory after the show is over.
Skillet (Stereo Plaza, 2019)
I like the photos looking at which you understand the night was worth it, even if you weren’t able to make more interesting shots that evening. It does not happen as often as I’d like it to though.
Mother Witch & Dead Water Ghosts (Volume, 2018)
No matter how interesting the photo might seem to be now, after a year or two I usually look at it sceptically.
Inspiration and working environment
As anyone else, I’m most inspired by the music and the energy that comes from the stage which is also an insurance of a good shot. What keeps me going is the reaction to my work. To be able to do what I like and to be tangentially related to what influenced me so many years ago is the main reason why I keep doing it.
Perturbator (Atlas, 2019)
The most typical problems for photographers: little light, a lot of light, no photo pit, only photo pit shooting permitted, too much fog and strobe lights, the rule of the first 3 songs, the usage of photos without credits etc.
The non typical one: at the Manowar show at the Palace of Sports it was allowed to film just the first 30 seconds (!) from a sound engineer’s spot located dozens of meters from the stage.
Watain (Monteray, 2019)
For me personally the main difficulty is my introversion and diffidence which at first got me close to panic attacks and I could not force myself to come close to the stage if there were only a few people there because everyone would “see me”. For those who want to grow and develop as a photographer, confidence, sociability and the skill of presenting oneself are as much important as the portfolio itself, and when it comes to getting accreditation it heavily depends on personal contacts. I still can’t make useful friends, though I try to fight the rest of my problems. The fear of face to face communication with strangers makes it difficult for me to take pictures of the audience. I even had to decline the offers from interesting projects to make photo sessions because they required communication or some kind of organization from my side. I never cultivate musicians’ acquaintance and I don’t hang out backstage, which might seem to be an obvious bonus for a concert photographer.
Another, I wouldn’t even call it a difficulty, but rather a genetic distinction, is a kind of a color blindness, or daltonism that I have. Like those people from YouTube whose relatives present them special glasses and they start crying when they see the “real” color shades of the tree leaves or of their kids eyes. I can’t say this characteristic affects my work anyhow. The glasses make me curious though, I’d like to put them on and look around, but only if I don’t need to worry about a subconscious attempt to adapt to the “normal” after I see the colors, not the way I used to see them since I was born.
Bring Me The Horizon (UPark, 2019)
Now I use a Canon 6D camera and the lenses that cover the focal distance from fisheye with 15mm to 200mm, which is enough for almost any filming conditions and locations. When it’s a big venue or I can only shoot from the FOH in the middle of the concert hall, I rent extenders. I’d like to have wider aperture optics with sharp response capabilities. Sometimes it’s very upsetting when I miss a good shot because of my equipment limitations.
Sasha Chemerov & Hyphendash (UBK, 2020)
I always experiment with reflections, exposure, shutter speed, lense flares, double exposures and everything that can distort the image. I have an ever-growing collection of more than a dozen different prism glasses creating unique optical effects. Not so long ago I came across an article about the process of the first Pink Floyd album cover creation and a prism glass that was used by the photographer in order to get the psychedelic effect. I ordered the same one right away. I also have a couple of Lensbabies, a monocle of soviet Gelios. For the first 18 months I filmed most of the videos using Jupiter-37 и Arsat-11 manual telelenses. I plan to collect manual vintage optics with unusual images. A balance surely has to be kept in order not to provide a coverage full of experimental shots, but still it’s a good way to make it diverse.
Dakh Daughters (D12, 2020)
The disadvantage is that the equipment is getting more and more heavy and it’s difficult to bring it all to the venue especially using public transport. It’s inconvenient and hard to move around the venue with all that stuff and sometimes you don’t even have time to use it all. And I don’t even mention one more camera that I’ve wanted to use to save time on the lense change! Who knows, maybe sometime in the future I’ll be drawn by minimalism and I’ll start using only one mirrorless prime lens camera.
Lera Lynn (Сaribbean Club, 2019)
To be honest, I persistently look through the reports only by the photographers I worked with at the same show to note some subtle aspects, or if I film a touring band’s show I check the reports and watch their YouTube live videos in order to understand what to expect from the show and to notice their particular thing or movement during the show.
There are lots of great photographers with their signature style in Ukraine. The ones who had inspired me even before I seriously got down to photography, were Artem Pronov in the underground scene and Andrey Maximov in more popular genres.
Septicflesh (Bingo, 2019)
Post-metal, post-rock and screamo have been my favourite genres for a long time, but all of these scenes are almost gone. I’d say my favourite artist of the past years is Matt Elliott, a singer-songwriter. It was so great not only to see him live performing in Ukraine at the wonderful venues of Odessa kirche and Kyiv sound-recording house, but also to take part in their recording.
Shortparis (Circus), The Hiraeth (Bingo), Cigarretes After Sex (Atlas) 
There’s one more point. Ever since I started filming numerous concerts I’ve had less time just to listen to the music for pleasure. When you edit the video all day long and replay 5-seconds clips dozens of times, and then you go to a show in the evening, you just want some silence in your free time. That’s why I mostly listen to the music in live format.
– Cinema and cinema literature. For the last 15-20 years I’ve collected about 2000 DVDs and 800 books about the history and theory of cinema. I even have some items that were published over 90 years ago.
– Vinyls, most of which were brought from the tours and journeys abroad
– Homebrewing, craft beer and wine with their festivals, degustations and bottle sharings
– Video shooting and editing, which started it all
God Is An Astronaut (Bel’Etage, 2017)
With whom would you like to work with
I’d love to finally get to film at a big festival somewhere abroad. I’d like to shoot the favourite bands of my youthhood before they break up. It would be great to film music videos backstage, avoiding staged promo pictures. I did that just a few times.
A pipe dream is to make “Ukrainian KEXP”, which would be based on some radio/TV channel. Or at least I’d like to find a sound engineer for Kirai Gigs in Kyiv, someone who’d be as enthusiastic as us, so that we’d be finally able to record quality sound for the live videos.
Crowbar (Sentrum, 2017)
Plans for the year and quarantine
We had great plans and tickets to the 5 concerts of our favourite bands in Europe this summer. Obviously, none of that happened. So while staying at home, I want to go over the backlog and publish some archive concert photos and videos. At the end of 2019 when I was thinking of leaving my main job, I had an idea of having all the videos filmed by Kirai Gigs published by the 10th anniversary of the project in 2021. The idea seemed to be unrealistic, but now the odds are getting higher.
Vovk (Bingo, 2019)
I hope the venues, bands and bookers will survive these pandemic times and we all will get back to the live shows this year.
Dimmu Borgir (Stereo Plaza, 2019)
As we learned for the last 6 months since the original version of the interview had been posted – the quarantine and the restrictions became our new reality for an undefined period of time. After the total calm in the concert life, the new forms of live concerts emerged – “vertical” concerts with the audience at the hotel’s balconies and a band performing on stage in front of the hotel, “distant” concerts with seats, online shows, more open air performances. Fingers crossed, these new forms of live shows will help bookers and bands to survive these hard times.
The Castle (Vienna Waves Online Showcase/Atlas, 2020)
Kirai gigs social media:
https://flic.kr/s/aHsm1fiyQT – photo portfolio
https://kiraigigs.com/ – web catalogue
https://www.flickr.com/photos/kiraigigs/albums – photo archive
Other publications in this category: https://www.neformat.com.ua/rubrika/fotomoment