Yes Yes Y’All with Matthew Progress, DJs Tasha Rozez, Lissa Monet, YYY crew at Nest (423 College), Friday (March 17), doors 10 pm. $10 at the door.
When a camera flashes in a club, there’s a high probability that a crew of friends are snapping a sexy selfie, prune faces and peace signs in full effect.
Not so if Yannick Anton is behind the lens.
For the past seven years, the Toronto photographer has been documenting the action (and fashions) at queer hip-hop party Yes Yes Y’All from the thick of the dance floor.
The monthly hip-hop/dancehall party has grown into one of the city’s best parties, thanks in part to its emphasis on inclusivity. Started by five friends in 2009, it’s attracted a huge following among queer POC partiers and straight allies looking for an unpretentious club experience with an emphasis on music.
YYY has become so popular that last year it packed the cavernous Hearn Generating Station for a one-off party as part of arts festival Luminato. It is well regarded in the local hip-hop scene and beyond as one of the few LGBT events in Toronto – hip-hop or otherwise – that regularly bring in queer performers from out of town.
Anton, who also shoots for the Manifesto Festival and Wedge Curatorial Projects, had a hand in growing YYY’s reputation. His photos have been picked up by outlets like the Fader and Vice, and he’s compiling his best shots into a coffee table book.
Ahead of this week’s eighth anniversary party, we spoke to the “straight guy from Mississauga” about becoming the official photog for one of T.O.’s wildest queer parties.
Why do you think your photos have become so popular?
I catch people in the moment. A lot of party photography is like ‘Stand and say cheese’ and people do a peace sign. I don’t like peace signs. They make for the most boring party photos. And with that party, the vibe is such that there’s this energy all around. No matter where you look, something beautiful is happening.
Vintage photos from the disco era were circulating online recently. Lately it feels like so many clubbers are more inhibited, less in the moment.
Yes Yes Y’All is a sacred space. You go there to free up – that’s what the party is for. You come as you are, you’re accepted as you are and you do whatever the fuck you wanna do. Before, clubs usually had a dress code: No jeans! No hats! No runners! That shit is dead. You come as you are. It’s the biggest basement jam.
How did you get the gig?
I was working with the collective 88 Days of Fortune and they were hired to perform at the one-year anniversary party. It was the best party I’d ever been to. I just shot everything. I went back the next month and kept shooting, and then they asked me back. They were the first people to give me money for taking party photos.
Had you done party photography before?
Never. Yes Yes Y’All kicked off my photography career. I learned how to use a camera. I learned how to shoot. The way I edit started with Yes Yes Y’All. Prior to that, I didn’t know anything at all. I didn’t even own a camera.
Do you have any favourite shots?
There’s one I call Sip – it’s this guy bending over dancing. As I took the shot he got juked and the wine in his cup spilled. I also really like taking portraits against the Nest’s black walls. As much as it’s great to shoot a photo in the midst of a scene, I still like that old-school portrait aesthetic. That’s the latest evolution of the party photos.
How have you seen the party evolve?
There are definitely more guests who DJ. And as I get older, people get younger, so that’s interesting as well [laughs]. It’s known for being a safe space, and it’s just continued to be that.
Who in particular is the party a safe space for?
The queer community, but also straight people, because you go there to dance. You go there to sweat. You go there to enjoy yourself. There’s always that aspect of going to find a cute person to dance with, but it’s really about going with your friends and having a great time with your crew.
You’ve self-published a book based on the photos. Can you tell me more about that project?
I’m working on a series of books leading up to a bigger coffee table photo book. The first one was all Polaroid photos. I’m not sure what the next one will be. I’ve got so many, and it feels like it’s time to get off the Internet. So I’ll be doing a smaller book series leading up to the bigger hardcover book.
What’s it been like revisiting the photos for the book project?
Every photo has a story. Every photo has a moment. I’ll remember how the first shot wasn’t very good but the next shot was good – it’s almost like the memories of the night that just happened. You know when you wake up and you’re kind of blurry on the night before?
The photos bring you back to the morning after?
When you’re shooting a party, are you partying or are you keeping it professional?
I’m in the party while I’m working. If I were walking around all serious in work mode the photos wouldn’t be what they are. They’d be stagnant. Because I’m in it as well, the energy I give is the energy I get back, and vice versa. That’s what makes the moment. If I weren’t dancing, too, I wouldn’t be that low to get that shot. Or if I weren’t deep in the crowd I wouldn’t have to hold my camera up high so beer didn’t get spilled on it.
I can’t stress enough how much an honour it is to document that space and to be trusted to do so. When I first started, it was harder to take photos, because nobody knew me. Now people recognize me. They know I’m not going to take a photo, put it on blast and make them look bad. I’m here to truly document this space and time, and it’s a great one. Being a straight guy from Mississauga, it’s definitely opened my eyes to the beauty of people.