“Studio 54 is one of my favorite places in the whole world,” the photographer Tyrell Hampton says. “If I could die and go back there, I would in a second.”
If this comment leads you to assume that Hampton was present for the club’s heyday in the 1970s, tearing it up on the dance floor with Grace Jones and Liza Minnelli, snapping photographs of Cher and Elton John, don’t be confused—Hampton, a Philadelphia native now based in New York City, is 24 years old. But despite his tender age, Hampton is one of the most in-demand photographers right now. Known for his candid party photos—which depict the likes of Kaia Gerber mid-dinner or Miley Cyrus smoking a cigarette at a Met Gala after party—Hampton’s notable work also includes portraits of his friends, including the models Selena Forrest and Mona Tougaard. He captures them all in a natural, frank, and human way.
Hampton’s work examines the freedom people feel in safe spaces, and the power nostalgia can hold, especially when it comes to party memories. This notion is the essence of Hampton’s first solo show, titled Go Home, which is now on view at the newly opened not-for-profit space SN37 Gallery in Manhattan’s South Street Seaport. SN37 Gallery celebrated its opening with Hampton’s debut exhibition on November 19, showing off the photographer’s selection of mostly black-and-white images, some of which have been blown up to larger-than-life proportions, while other photographs in the show are organized in clusters based on theme (one wall is comprised completely of pictures of people making out).
Via Zoom from his Brooklyn apartment a few days prior to the opening, Hampton tells me how he dove into his archive to choose a selection of images that evoke the feeling of being at a party with the photographer as he winds his way through its guests. “The way we formed the show was to have you walk through the space, demonstrating these moments that I look for in a party,” he says. “I like to think I live vicariously through all the people I photograph. And each photo is like one piece of a puzzle that makes the whole party.” Although his images certainly have the candid look and feeling of mid-aughts party photography, Hampton says his influences skew less toward Cobrasnake and more toward Juergen Teller and Mario Sorrenti—both of whom have captured celebrities in their own vulnerable states, whether unadorned and hyper-realistic (Teller) or simply nude (Sorrenti).
“That’s how I look for images,” Hampton says. “I think about how people go into these spaces and they’re just free. I’m always thinking about being liberated.” As a teenager, Hampton dreamed of moving to New York to launch a successful career, basing his idea of the city on pop culture tentpoles of the aughts like Sex and the City, Gossip Girl, and NYC Prep. “I spent the majority of my childhood dancing, in the studio, or in school,” he adds. “I went to a performing arts high school, did dance after school and on the weekends, and I didn’t really have a childhood, I guess you could say. I was focusing on my studies and making sure I got into a good college—my mind was not even on socializing.” Once he got into Parsons School of Design and moved to Manhattan to pursue his degree, he became fully immersed in the party culture there. “I hit those milestones when I came to New York,” he says. “I was like, I can finally be free, I can finally just have fun and let loose.”
Along with nostalgia and freedom, cheekiness is a central theme to Hampton's work. “I love being satirical with the captions for my images,” he says with a mischievous smile. The name of his first show, Go Home, taps into this puckish nature. “When you go out, you always are like, ‘When is the perfect time to go home?’,” he says. “After getting all of my photos and being immersed in such intense energy, I think it’s really funny when people decide to call it a night—some people call it at 7:00 AM, some people call it at 1:00 AM. Either way, Go Home is the opposite of going out—and that’s actually sort of funny.”
But there’s also a double entendre at play here: in Hampton’s eyes, going out to a party is going home. Each event he attends becomes a place where he feels comfortable and safe to be fully himself. He tells me that’s how he imagined Studio 54 made people feel back in the day. What, in his eyes, is a modern-day Studio 54 equivalent? “I talk about this all the time,” he says with a laugh. “It’s China Chalet for me. It gave me a sense of the New York that I envisioned before I moved here, from TV and movies and Instagram. You saw everyone that mattered there, and it wasn’t superficial. It was communal, it was family. It was an experience to be had. And when I went in there, even though I was underage and I was not supposed to be there, they welcomed me with open arms.”