Dan, 26, Illustrator, Date: Drinks at HiFi, East Village
It was about an hour and seven minutes into the first date, when in the crowded din of an East Village bar, Kirra Cheers asked the 26-year-old illustrator across from her, “May I take your portrait?” He laughed quietly, agreed, and told her he was flattered to be considered. Up until that point, the date has played out as many good ones do: navigating bar menus, teetering around career conversations, pregnant pauses, and surreptitious first kisses shared in a corner. It was Cheers’ 17th first date in the last two months. She’d found this one on Tinder, the swipe-right-if-you-like-what-you-see app, just like the 16 before him.
Photographer Kirra Cheers’ latest project, Tinderella, is a photographic journey through her experiences using Tinder and the people she meets, their adventures, and the connections they share. The Australian-born photographer hoped to take portraits of her practically anonymous dates to capture the dynamic, balance, and attraction intrinsic to our modern dating rituals — a connection that often begins online. A co-founder of the Brooklyn Collective, a fine art photographer’s community, Cheers was curating a group show depicting Modern Romance. “I wanted my take on the theme to have more of a personal approach, casting myself in the role of Tinderella and documenting my experience, in the hope people could compare it to their own,” Cheers explains to me.
The conceit of Tinderella was simple: Cheers would go on as many authentic Tinder dates as she could, let her date dictate the adventures of the often 5-10 hour dates, and at the end of the evening, ask to take their portrait. 11 of her 17 first dates were receptive to the project. Using her Nikon D800 and a 35mm 1.4 lens, the results are a gritty, raw, and revealing portrait of early connection. Influenced by New York City itself, Cheers claims the brutal streetscape of the city defines her work. Drenched in flash, the men and women Cheers photographs, backed by various warehouses, grass, and benches, become vulnerable through her lens. “Most people wanted me to confirm my interest in them as a person and not simply as an art project. In this way, I saw it as a swapping of traditional gender roles – posing the question that perhaps men and women aren’t all that different. Change the power dynamic and you achieve the same result,” Cheers explains. From blatant stares to subtle grins to charming self-awareness, the portraits depict a special connection Cheers formed through the process. “I was essentially bringing them into my creative world,” she says.
Accompanying these snapshots of moments are avatars of the dates Cheers didn’t get to shoot, Tinder conversations Cheers felt underlined some of the inherent problems with the app, and an hours-long audio recording of one of the dates — easily the most voyeuristic part of the content. In that audio component and even in the photographs, there is an almost chilling sense a familiarity to the dialogue. Modern dating brings about a ritualism Cheers was unaccustomed to in Australia. “Towards the end, the dates felt like an interview process. The conversation became predictable and tedious. Surface level pleasantries and basic ‘get to know you’ conversation is a painful but obviously essential component to online dating. It was always my desire to speed this process up and explore a more in depth connection.”
Still, the authenticity of the dates was paramount, and Cheers worked quickly, often taking only two or three exposures to capture the brief moments in between genuine new romance. Now fatigued by the endless string of dates and by her own side of the story, Cheers next looks to take Tinderella to the other side of the street. “I would like to interview the men I photographed to hear theirs. Their first impressions of me, how many other people they were dating at the time, their experience with Tinder etc. I am also collecting the comments I have received in relation to the project as supporting visuals.”
While many of the dates resulted in second or third meet-ups, Cheers’ main examination was of the Tinder phenomenon itself. What can we form in one evening with someone we’ve barely known? At least for Cheers, the camera facilitated that gray space. Cheers says, “The project definitely took my dates to a new level. There was an understanding that regardless of the outcome of the date, we would forever be connected by a project that documented a social trend that was bigger than you or I or us.”
Alex, 25, Finance, Date: Drinks at The Wayland, Alphabet City
Andrew, 32, Musician, Date: Dinner at Jeepneys, East Village
Chris, 27, Actor/Model, Date: Shopping for imaginary children at Toys R Us followed by dinner at Bryant Park.
Cheers included the avatars of her dates that did not wish to be photographed in her project as a way to share the entire story of her journey. “Otherwise, I felt that I was only telling part of the story. Many of the dates resulted in 2nd and even 3rd dates and at times it became difficult to continue with the project,” Cheers said.
Freddie, 27, Finance, Date: Drink at Flute bar (Midtown)
Jude, 31, Designer, Date: Drinks at Grassroots followed by pizza
Sophie, 22, Translator, Date: People watching at Tompkins Park, Alphabet City
David, 24, Law Student, Date: Drinks at Art Bar, West Village
Justin, 33, Finance and Real Estate Development, Date: Brunch and a stroll through Madison Square Garden
Mike, 26, Finance, Date: Drinks at Ten Degrees, East Village
Samuel, 32, Videographer, Date: Fashion launch at The Grey Lady followed by drinks on a friend’s rooftop
Kirra Cheers, photographer.