Tyrell Hampton and the Delicate Dance of Party Photography

Interview by Michael Beckert
Photographs by Tyrell Hampton

Tyrell Hampton wears a Wales Bonner T-shirt; Carhartt WIP jeans; Converse sneakers.
Tyrell Hampton wears a Wales Bonner T-shirt; Carhartt WIP jeans; Converse sneakers.

For W’s annual The Originals portfolio, we asked creatives—pioneers in the fields of art, design, fashion, comedy, activism, and more—to share their insights on staying true to themselves. See this year’s full class of creatives here.

In the past two years, you’ve become a breakout star in the photography world: You had a solo show at New York’s SN37 Gallery, shot Zendaya for the cover of GQ, and captured countless celebrities on wild nights out—from Met Gala afterparties to the dance floor at China Chalet. What does it feel like to be at this point in your career?

It feels like I’m just getting started, but it also feels well deserved. I worked really hard when I first got to New York in 2015, and I just knew that I’d do whatever it took to get to where I am now. I assisted stylists and production companies, worked on movie sets—pretty much anything I could do to find myself on a set.

Did you always know you wanted to be a photographer?

Dance was my first love. I started training when I was 7 or 8, and it has given me a sixth sense: I’m able to watch people and learn their habits and mannerisms very quickly, which comes in handy when photographing new people. In middle school, I began making films of my friends for YouTube and doing video diaries of family vacations. I really got into photography when my Spy Kids DVD would skip and pause at weird moments, and after staring at the image for so long, I began to think, What if that was in magazines? My mom always told me that work doesn’t have to be work—it can be what you love to do.

People always say that great photographers have personalities to match their work. How would your friends describe you in real life?

Present or unhinged.

Who are some of your biggest influences?

I love Juergen Teller, Gregg Araki, Hype Williams, Tyrone Lebon, Larry Clark, Ari Marcopoulos, and Studio 54. Their work tells me to have fun and YOLO, so that’s what I do.

Who was the first person to make you realize you could break the rules?

Raven Baxter.

Lately, a lot of photographers have been utilizing analog processing techniques—or at least emulating them. You’ve taken a brighter, more purposefully digital approach. What inspired this type of image making?

Impatience. I love taking images and looking at them immediately—analog never spoke to me the way digital did.

Is there a particular subject you would like to work with in the future?

I began a new friendship with Bella Hadid. She’s a Libra, and I’m a Libra. We’ve been hanging out, and we have similar creative mindsets, if that’s a thing? So I might be working with her on something. She’s super collaborative.

If you could go back in time and give your 10-year-old self advice, what would you say?

I would tell him to stop eating Honey Buns, be nice to your brother, and keep watching TV.