Tyrell Hampton's Clean Take on NY Club Kid Culture
Artist and photographer, Tyrell Hampton, has a knack for capturing moments of happiness paired with effortless glamour: ranging from various NYC based nightlife events and parties to working with designers such as Alexander Wang and Calvin Klein. Originally from Philadelphia, the 22-year-old photographer has also been featured in publications such as Office Magazine, GQ and Document Journal.
We joined Hampton on a night out in the city at his favorite place, China Chalet.
Coming from Philly, how did you connect with Studio 54 as your main source of visual inspiration?
I became introduced to Studio 54 when I came to college; a lot of the work I was creating at the time, surrounded club culture, youth culture and just kids having fun. And I felt that a lot of my work kind of related to what was going on in the 60s and the 70s and the 80s. I try to mimic those ideals of freedom and revolution from the 60s-80s.
I found so many references that I still use today; so many photographers that I’m so obsessed with today. There were so many icons in that time.
Is there a photo you are obsessed with?
There’s a photo of Diana Ross at 54; she’s just dancing and she has on Bo Barnum flair jeans, and she’s just laughing and smiling have a good time. Another one of my favorite photos from that time period is of the waiters; they would always wear like short, short-shorts, and go around in roller skates, and I feel like that’s so sexy.
How do you find the perfect moment to take a photograph?
I’ve been dancing since I was basically born, I think my eye is wired to understand movement in a very detailed way. Due to my love of film and imagery, I have an archive of postures and poses in my brain that if I see something or feel it about to happen.. my cameras already in my hand.
For example, if a subject was in front of me. In a matter of five minutes I can already pick out key mannerisms that I can photograph that I feel are most genuine to the models character. I think my main goal in any shoot is to make sure the model is comfortable and likes the photographs because it’s a collaboration in the end.
In a club, it’s more up to chance and being in the right place at the right time.
Are most of your subjects your friends or people that you see out?
When I first started taking photos, my subjects would mainly be people that I’ve seen out and I didn’t really know much at the time. I was hunting people down to take photos of them.
But now, as the years have gone by, I think I’ve just become such a familiar face to all these people that they are my close friends; that’s why I feel like I can take such raw photos of them, I guess.
You’ve mentioned choreography as an inspiration, but how do you think you’re able to pull such authentic moments from your subjects? Especially in such a hectic environment?
I’m so observant of everyone and what they do, and how they do certain things. When I first meet them (and knowing their sign and things like that) it helps me just maneuver through getting through all of the, “I’m taking a photo of you so be aware and like, do what you normally do for a selfie.”
Even for models who I just meet, I’m like, “Okay, I have to photograph you, and I don’t know you!” But me looking at you, and me studying you, I know that you probably have a gorgeous smile when you laugh or you contort your body this way when you are just chilling and doing just random mundane things. I guess I’m like Joe Goldberg. That helps me.
Besides good taste and a curated eye, what other traits do you need to make it as a photographer?
I think you need drive to be anything. I don’t have this tattooed yet, but one of my ideas as a tattoo was “YOLO” because I feel like if you don’t live by that sort of mantra, then you’re not living to your fullest.
And if you want something, you’re going to go for it and do whatever it takes to get what needs to be done. So, even as a photographer, having an eye and all those things are as helpful as they are, but you have to want to make images. And then all of a sudden, your images become great images.
What is your YOLO life like?
My YOLO life is you only live once so like, do whatever it takes to get what you want and make sure that you’re living for yourself. In the end, you’re gonna die alone. You live in this world, with all these people, but you have to make sure that when you live on this earth, you’re doing what you need to do for you. You are the one you go home to yourself and you’re like, “Okay, did I achieve all that I want to do today? Did I take the best work that I could today?” You have 24 hours a day and you need to make them count.
What do you want right now?
I want to travel the world and take photos of every single sort of party that’s going on. I know there are random parties in Jamaica, I know there’s something different in Cuba; I just want to be able to, ingrain myself into every single party culture there is; because that’s when I feel most free.
Over the years, I’ve learned that my vice is living vicariously through other people. So one way that I do that is going out to parties, having such a good time with people, having a good time myself; you share a different connection with people at a party than you do like walking down the street, or like anywhere else.
Do you go into each event/project with a plan?
Yes, if there’s a party, I already know in my head who’s going to be there, so I’m like, “Okay, I know when I want to catch this person, and I know what I want them doing.”
I go to a party knowing what images I want already. And if I don’t, then it makes it more fun. If someone’s doing something crazy like smoking a cigarette, but also drinking something, but also chewing gum; random things like that actually really do happen…those images are what I go for.
Does being in a different environment affect the visual narrative you’re trying to tell?
Happiness is the same in every language. When I travel, it’s very easy for my narrative to maintain its energy because I’m simply documenting someone’s happiness.
Do you get nervous before a shoot?
I never get nervous because: YOLO. You only live once, and I feel like everything I do, I do it because I want to. And I never regret what I do, because I want to do it. I want whatever I want at that moment. I shouldn’t feel nervous to do anything.
I will say, the only time I’ve ever felt nervous is when I was at this event and I had to shoot this celebrity. I was super nervous because I’m obsessed with that celebrity’s music, and I was just super in the moment like, “I’m not going to do this. I’m gonna do it.” But then I was like, “Okay, I came here for a reason. I need to get this shot like, Do it. Do it. You only live once.”
What do you want people to know about you?
I want people to know that I don’t smoke or drink or do any substances because I feel like you only need those when you want them. And if you don’t want them then you don’t need them. And I feel like I’m one of those people.
I feel like compromising my energy and state of mind will only hinder my process as a photographer. I want people to know that because I want my little brother to watch this and be like, “I don’t have to take any substance to fit in or have a good time because this person Tyrell Hampton is having a good time, everywhere he goes, and he’s not on any substance at all.”
My friends are even surprised all the time. They’re like, “How are you sober?” I just want to have a good time!
What’s it like to be the only person sober?
It’s like being the kid who has no food at lunch. You can look at everyone eating, but you’re not hungry. You simply have to just feed yourself whichever way that is for you. Being around heavily intoxicated people a lot of the time, and shooting them, and taking videos of them being the most crazy is very daring of me, but it also helps me become closer to them, and be a friend to them. You always need that one friend who’s sober and is going to take care of you.
I’m gonna like be the sober one to take care of you, but I’m also going to be the one to be like, “You did all this shit last night and I have it all on video!”
I love it. I have like 30,000 videos on my computer maybe just from 2019.
What does your computer screen look like? How do you organize your photos and your videos?
I organize everything by month, I call them “Episodes.” So when I make a little snippet or montage of that month or time period, I have all those videos from that time period saved. If anyone wants to see anything from November — I got you.
What’s your sign?
I’m a Libra with a Gemini rising, Leo moon, and a Scorpio Venus — so that means I’m quite crazy. And I think that means that I’m a complex person. I really think that’s what it means. Anyone’s looking to date me, you know, that’s my chart. Add me on CoStar.
If you could watch this video a year from today, what would you be happy to hear you accomplished?
I really want to see my photos on a billboard. I really want them to be pasted everywhere. I want to be in the front row at a show maybe once. I want to be in a commercial dancing and being really happy and fun. I want a boyfriend; that’s so cheesy, but that’s really what I want. I’m looking for a 6’3” skater and/or an architect, or construction worker, or trash man because you guys are all manly and you guys give great hugs. And if you fit the bill, and are older than 22, hit me up on my Instagram.
DIRECTOR/CINEMATOGRAPHER/EDITOR: Jordan Shelwood
Self-portraits courtesy of Tyrell Hampton.
Special Thanks to China Chalet + Ty’s Friends.
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