Earlier this year, when Quil Lemons became the the youngest fashion photographer to shoot a Vanity Fair cover at 23, the photographer’s success and popularity on the scene has only rocketed. Today, Lemons launches his most personal work to date, commissioned by WePresent, the digital arts arm of WeTransfer, in a deep dive featuring images of his hometown and a piece about the series written by Sajae Elder.
Lemons’ work is often laden with references to, and contextualised by, the internet, queerness, and popular culture, broaching topics such as masculinity, queerness, race, and body positivity. His debut series Glitterboy from 2017 showed Black men dusted in glitter in order to address the toxic stigmas placed upon their bodies, and he developed this idea for Boy Parts in 2020. Three years ago, in 2018, Lemons began documenting Black family life with Purple and Welcome Home, and now he continues this endeavour with his newest series.
“Honestly it’s a little scary being this vulnerable,” Lemons tells It’s Nice That. “This project is a diary that marks every major change that’s happened in my life in the past year.” For his grandmother’s 67th birthday, the series is aptly called 6 7 and documents a family block party. The project’s aim is a consideration of what it means to not only be a Black American but to be part of a family. Whilst Lemons is used to, and known, for shooting the likes of Billie Eilish, Spike Lee and Pamela Anderson, this project is about people that are much more important to the photographer.
For Lemons, “the difference between sharing this project and the others that came before it is that once it’s out, I’ll not only be at peace but also finally be ready to talk about some of the harder things in life. Releasing this is a deep exhale,” he tells It’s Nice That. The photographer’s motivation for this project was a desire to shift his lens onto his own community, “capturing the essence of what it means to be Black in America, and the changing landscape of a nation in flux,” writes Elder in the WePresent piece.
The shoot is in classic Lemons style, with low contrast and a warm colour palette, showing his hometown in a humane yet celebratory manner. In this sense, Lemons hopes he’s able to show the Black diaspora something that is familiar – a portrait of ordinary Black family life – something that they can feel connected to in artistic spaces which are often overwhelmingly white. “With your family members,” Lemons tells Elder, “you kind of look at them and idolise them, but this is the first time I was actually seen as an adult.”
In the shoot, Lemons pays homage to important Philadelphian characteristics, like the music scene, “in a city famed for its contributions to soul and hip-hop,” writes Elder. On the day of the shoot, Lemons explains that Freeway and Peedi Crakk’s Flipside was playing, “because for him it’s a Philadelphia anthem,” expands Elder.
Quil Lemons: Be (Copyright © Quil Lemons, 2021)
About the Author
Dalia is a freelance writer, producer and editor based in London. She’s currently the digital editor of Azeema, and the editor-in-chief of The Road to Nowhere Magazine. Previously, she was news writer at It’s Nice That, after graduating in English Literature from The University of Edinburgh.