This New York Party Photographer Is Living His Best Life

"I feel like photographing my friends is a way of me adding to history and adding history to these places. These nights, they will never happen again."

A woman wearing a fur coat laughs while smoking a cigarette

Tyrell Hampton is the guy at the party who everyone wants to be friends with. His whole vibe is super fun. I want to be friends with him — and trust me, I don't want to be friends with anyone during an interview on a Thursday night when I'm sick at home. He has that level of charisma, so it makes sense his career as a photographer has taken off.

The 23-year-old came out with his first book last year, photographed the Met Gala this year, and has his first exhibition, Go Home, up in Manhattan now. He regularly works with brands like Coach and Yves Saint Laurent, is somewhat TikTok famous, and hangs out with famous people, but he, himself, is not actually famous, or so he says.

Originally a dancer, he got his start sneaking into fashion shows in New York, becoming familiar with the scene, and taking pictures while going to school for photography at Parsons School of Design. Many of his photos are of people at clubs or, even better, of those after-hours, in-between moments of friends at parties that make the world feel exciting. That his friends are young and beautiful certainly helps, but Hampton has a knack for capturing people in an authentic, raw state without it feeling overly voyeuristic.

His first show is something of a coming-out as a serious artist and a logical next step for someone who can't seem to sit down. The included frames feel like a sneak peek into the lives of the cool kids — like the best part of social media, without all the bullshit and artifice. Looking at his images makes you want to go out with your friends, and they belie the idea that something beautiful has to be perfectly constructed.

Hampton spoke with us in a wide-ranging interview about what makes a good party, how he manifested friendships with his idols, and his relationship with his mom. His show is up until Jan. 9 at the Seaport.

A young man pulling faces and spitting out his drink

You've become famous for taking party photos. Do you see it as work? Is there a divide in your brain if you're just going out to chill versus if you're on assignment for someone?

I rarely accept party photography jobs, mainly because it's so personal to me, which is why I also don't really commodify my dancing. It's my peace in my world — if I do it too often for money and see it as a job, my brain would not be able to take it seriously.

So it's very rare, but when I'm in those spaces and I have to work, it's really interesting. For a GQ party or, like, the Met Gala, people are on me. There's a WhatsApp group chat, and it's like being tugged in so many different directions — like, “we need a photo of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez right now.” It won't really be what I want it to be, because I have to get it and it has to be perfect and beautiful and a portrait, instead of me sneaking up on them in a way that is more so candid and natural.

This is why I also look up to Daniel Arnold. I got to watch him at the Met Gala. I got to watch him roam free. It's so good how he takes photos, just walking around, like, not even a camera to his eye. It's more so just like the situations he finds. It's quite beautiful.

If I'm just at a party, I can really take my time and I'm more so like the director or like the voice of reason in terms of what situations I actually find appealing and that I find beautiful and visually pleasing and all those things.

In your mind, what makes a good party?

Music, 100%. I was talking about this with someone earlier. I want to hear something that I can sing along to — I feel the most free. So I usually am at a place where I can find music that I really resonate with and sing along to, that's when I'm like, I'm good.

When you clean your house, you clean it to music that you can sing along to, so it feels like you're not doing the work. And I feel like when I'm at a club, to make me feel like I'm not running around being crazy, I tend to find places that like playing music that I enjoy. Then I'm really just in my own head. I'm just vibing out, and it's the best, best thing ever.

What kind of music are you into?

I love Omar Apollo, I love City Girls, The Delfonics...I love rap music, basically. And Dua. But of course I have to give it to my girl.

A woman smoking a cigarette while dancing on a dance floor

How does it feel to be famous and to have famous friends?

I definitely don't think I am famous whatsoever, but I guess I have, um, notable people around me. It definitely makes me feel important. And it's something that I guess I've been manifesting for as long as I can remember. I've always been the child that was like, I want to be around like-minded people, I want to be around people who like the same things that I do and value the same things that I do, like art and music and fashion and stuff.

So the fact that they're, I guess, famous, it's icing on the cake. It's like having Addison Rae — although people know her as a TikToker, she and I have really bonded over our love of Kesha and art, and we just love doing things. We're just really outrageous in the things that we like to do. Like, we'll cross the street on a red light just for the thrill, just screaming in the street. She's just really fun to be around, and we can just vibe off of each other. So it's quite nice.

Then are you an extrovert or an introvert?

I think most people would say I'm an extrovert because I really do not get shy ever, but I would like to think that I have moments where... I'm not an introvert, but I'm really perceptive. Especially taking photos at nightclubs, I really need to take time and be like, what is my scene? What is going on in front of me? Where am I going? What's happening? Is this a safe space for me? There's those questions I asked myself before being like, I can be myself.

You trained as a dancer and then pivoted to party photography, which I think is fantastic. Can you talk about that?

I grew up in Philly, and, my mom can attest to this, I've always been just a colorful, energetic person, just really irreverent and cannot sit down. So that translated into dancing, which then translated into going to performing arts high school and living out my high school musical dream and dancing every day.

I didn't really have a childhood that was what I would like to think would be normal, in terms of going outside and really hanging out with friends and stuff like that. I would be at school, and at dance after school, on the weekends, and during the summer, just continuing training, training, training. I didn't really have that much free time to go out and really explore those milestones that most people get to do. I've never drank or smoked before, which is, I guess, interesting.

When I moved to New York for college and it was like, I'm finally free after class, I can go for a walk and go for lunch with friends — all of these little things that I really appreciate. That's when I took the chance to really document those moments, because they were important to me. Going out to the club was a photo op. I realized I really just loved the club, because that was when I was most free. It was a dark room; there were people that I didn't really know who I wanted to know. Cute boys. There were so many different elements that came together, and it made me really feel at home in my brain. So it was only right that my physical body was just, like, just having fun as well.

Two women making faces in a mirror while sitting on the floor

One of the reasons I really like your images is that people want to see what the authentic or behind-the-scenes version of a person is, and your pictures provide a good peek at that.

I think it's funny because I'm still a fan at the end of the day. I feel like that's what aligns me with people who like my work; they're as much fans of these people as I am. Like, seeing people out in the club and stuff, it's still surreal to me. So to be around them and to take their photos, I'm still a kid in the candy store. I'm like, you want me to be around you? I'm taking photos of you eating a burger, and this is cool.

Best fangirling story?

There are two people in the entire world that I'm obsessed with, and that is Frank Ocean and Alexander Wang, and I have been able to manifest friendships with both of them. I would like to call Wang my friend. I don't know. But after sneaking into Wang shows and photographing all his models and becoming friends with them and stuff like that, I really became a familiar face, and that's how I got hired to shoot his shows more often and then be at his house parties and things like that.

To meet Frank, and to have him as a person in my corner, is really, really rewarding. He and I have these conversations about art in ways that I don't think I ever did in college. It's really philosophical. We really go deep into what we think about music and photography and the type of images we like and what we like in homes and architecture and things like that.

I think those two were probably like my biggest fangirl moments. And I hold them dear to my heart. They're, like, really good friends with me now.

I love that you've met all of the people of your dreams.

My mom always said, you know, “Really speak it into existence.” I will work that show. I will meet this person.

What are you trying to speak into existence now?

There's so many things! I think right now it's more about, This is the first step. Making my work more tangible and letting people sit with it and letting them explore its nuances and things like that in a close-up sort of way is definitely something I'm trying to manifest within the next couple of years. Also working with more brands that I've been obsessed with since I was younger, like Saint Laurent and Gucci.

I want to work with them because they work with my friends. My best friend, Jordan, she just did 7 for All Mankind. She does fashion week. Now that she and I are sort of established in our careers, it would be so beautiful to work with her in a way that commemorates our friendship and commemorates our love for the industry.

A man wearing sunglasses and flowers on his face

I feel like that's the work that I'm more intrigued by, when you have a friendship with the models and you see work by people who love each other. One of my favorite works is Mario Sorrenti and Kate Moss. That work [shows] they're in love, and that makes it so much more interesting to look at, because you see that Kate Moss trusts this person, and she's letting her guard down. I feel like I can make those images with someone like Frank or someone like Jordan or Binx or Addison [Rae] or Hailey [Bieber].

That's why hopefully I'm getting the jobs that I'm getting, because I'm like, we're just going to go for a walk, and then I'm going to photograph you in these clothes, but it's not about the clothes, it's about our walk and what we're doing.

You mentioned your mom is coming into this show, and it sounds like you're pretty close. Has she seen this work before? What does she think about your pictures?

I grew up Muslim — she's since changed to Buddhism. It was interesting growing up Muslim and, like, listening to prayer on the way to school. As anyone who's [Muslim] and reading this probably knows, the prayer is not fluid and it's not musical. So it was very interesting growing up like that and being so interested in art.

I was really embedded in that culture, but as I grew up and came into myself, it was like, I don't really think I resonate with this. My mom had to find a way to balance letting me and my room be what it was going to be. She's been really supportive since the beginning.

She's seen my work; she loves my photography. She's always excited to hear about it. And she's my greatest supporter. My brother, on the other hand, is 14, and he's like, What are you doing with your life? Trying to be cool to a younger brother who is really into sports and not really into social media and stuff is really, really interesting, but we love food and we connect on our level.

Tell me a little bit about the show. How did you curate all of this together?

We had a pandemic, well, now, still to this day, and I got signed earlier this year to the agency. I made a book around this time last year. So I was like, it's time that I showcase something that puts me into a new conversation.

A majority of the photos are black and white, besides one little piece, because there's something about it that is historical to me. I feel like photographing my friends is a way of me adding to history and adding history to these places. These nights, they will never happen again. You know what I mean?

In talking with [the talent agency] SN37 about this idea of having a black-and-white show and what it means to have work on sale, I was also thinking about people's homes, and what I felt resonated there, and also that felt like it was my work. I just was trying to basically put all these pieces into a puzzle. I'm scared and excited to see what people think.

I have two pieces that are in the show that I printed like a year ago. I was like, if this can work in my home and people are still enamored by it, then maybe it'll work in someone else's. And, surprisingly, I didn't do the whole printing thing. I printed mine at Duane Reade, and I got my frame from Amazon, but I promise the show has better framing and printing quality right now.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

A crowded dance floor with dozens of disco balls on the ceiling

UPDATE

This post has been updated to correct the name of the model Binx — an early version of this post misidentified them as Tyra Banks