Charis Kirchheimer (7)
© Charis Kirchheimer

Following text and photos by Charis Kirchheimer.


If someone could tell you when you are going to die, would you want to know?

Everyone has asked themselves whether they would want to be told when they are going to die. People fumble from an immediate inclination to know but then quickly retreat into their mental comfort zone, realizing what a silly question that is and dismiss the inquiry entirely.

But perhaps a more appropriate and less daunting question is if someone could tell you not when, but how you are going to die, would you still refuse the answer?

What if they could show you?

An open fascination with death is usually considered to be strange and disturbing, however people remain irresistibly drawn to the manifestations of it. They may assume “normal” lives, buying the latest best sellers, watching prime time, retiring and rising at the expected hours. But every so often we all meander from the conventional and escape into a world of fantasy and horror. My photos transport the viewer to a point in time so wrenching that in any other context it would be appalling. But I aim to preserve a mysterious, thrilling air, supplying just enough to enchant and engross without complete disclosure.

Charis Kirchheimer (6)
© Charis Kirchheimer

I find this quote by Diane Arbus especially rousing: “A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know.” Like Diane who was able to separate herself from other photographers through her chosen subjects, I try to explore areas that are rarely addressed through any medium. The people Diane shot were victimized, characters rarely seen and often excluded.

My photographs whisper tales of make-believe, wonder, surprise, tragedy and brutality. The existence of this one person is held in just a series of pictures, marking the end of their life’s story and beginning the story of their death. Death has been romanticized through the cold-hearted and black-blooded tragedy portrayed in these photos. A mysterious passion exists between the woman and the murder that radiates from the photo and awakens the viewer.

When I look at something I frame it as a photograph. Every glance of mine, each blink and turn of the head is manifested through my camera lens. With my camera, I can capture my mind’s vision through creating tangible proofs of the things I see. They serve as type of museum exhibit, enabling people to enter and explore different collections of photographs out of intrigue and enjoyment. They are individual creations acting as artifacts and specimens, holding an abundance of life and death in one glossed space.

Charis Kirchheimer (5)
© Charis Kirchheimer

The series here shows a woman seconds before she is suddenly killed. Her night out is abruptly cut short and in the midst of up-keeping her appearance she is quite literally defaced. While scrutinizing her reflection for any flaws or blemishes, death is peering at her from behind, staring at something sublime.

When he first appears in the unlit doorway, there is no hint of ulterior motives. He slinks in as swiftly as she goes out. For a fleeting second, she could have seen her death, for the same glass that held her reflection revealed her imminent demise.

Charis Kirchheimer (4)
© Charis Kirchheimer

In this series viewers can revel in a topic typically considered dim and gruesome. Through the gross documentation illustrating a night in which anything goes, quite literally, the story of her death will last unparalleled.

The life of this woman is permanently recorded, supplying the indelible proof that she died with no mercy. She went out in hopes of a good time, and it was someone else’s idea of a good time that ended her night prematurely.

Charis Kirchheimer (3)
© Charis Kirchheimer

The woman I shot was a victim, who surfaced that night to be seen and in turn was expunged. She was alive, and in the blinking of the shutter, she was dead. And in that instant, she was frozen in history. Everything she once feared was revealed and concealed in the same still.

The fleeting milliseconds that seem to last eons are the instants I strive to capture in my photography. Though the moment may pass faster than the click of my shutter, there remains the photograph that serves as the lasting records of that point in time. Whether a fight-or-flight or a do-or-die scenario, there is always that one blink-of-an-eye moment that reveals the essence of the individual.

The one shot that photographers strive to capture is the one that encompasses it all, that will reflect the epitome of the subject in the frame. In this series, it is the shot of her at the moment of her death that embodies this woman stripped down bare, helpless and exposed.

Although she has passed on, her secrets now truly start to live, for they have been provided a permanent home, inaccessible to anyone or anything else. They reside lingering in the shadows, hues and lighting on the print that preserves the moment she died.

Charis Kirchheimer (2)
© Charis Kirchheimer

Another secret shown in these frames belongs to the murderer himself. A type of Charlie Chaplin meets Axe Murderer fellow that derives a perverted pleasure from seeming to unwittingly stumble into bathrooms and to then holding a murder procession. He carries out the killing almost as though he is washing the club’s hands clean, that he is just cutting the lights and packing up for the night.

This harlequin killer possesses an air of irreproachable duty, since he acts not on his behalf but the nightlife’s; he executes the will of the night by performing these murders as routine sacrifice.

The unanticipated element of surprise paired with the absolute absence of compassion heightened her attack to such a degree that tragically she was only allotted the chance to surrender. The intrinsic entwinement of reality and mortality I show I hope will widen the angle for others, sending them into an untapped realm.

Although this woman was taken during her period of diversion, at the height of her enjoyment and time of recreation, the photographs are evidence that even in death, there can be found beauty and significance.

Charis Kirchheimer (1)
© Charis Kirchheimer