Quil Lemons invites you into his mind with “Quiladelphia”

· Updated on January 18, 2024

*Photo credit: Matt Yoscary

Quil Lemons has made a name for himself for photographing some of the biggest names in fashion, music, and film. Maybe Naomi Campbell, Billie Eilish, Lorde, and Telfar Clemons ring a bell. To say the Philadelphia native is talented with a camera is an understatement.

Lemons career skyrocketed after his “GLITTERBOY” series, which features queer and straight Black men donning glitter to highlight our ability to express ourselves regardless of societal obstacles, went viral. With each shot, Lemons was able to find something earnest in the subjects he photographed and that continues to shine within his subsequent projects. An element that can be witnessed in major campaigns, such as photographing Gossip Girl’s Evan Mock for Calvin Klein or taking intimate shots for R&B rising star Ravyn Lenae’s debut album.

Lemons can create commercial work and his stellar efforts continue to find him in the orbit of fashion brands like Valentino, Givenchy, and Moncler. But as a multidisciplinary artist, Lemons contains multitudes, something he demonstrates in his first solo show, “Quiladelphia.” Housed in the Hannah Traore Gallery, “Quiladelphia” is an inside look into the components of his queer psyche, while displaying a new look at Black masculinity. 

This new perspective that Lemons challenges viewers to see pays homage to the world of kink and creatives like Lyle Ashton Harris and Robert Mapplethorpe. The intimate exploration into the Black male form that’s featured in “Quiladelphia” is photographed with a collection of cameras where each image embodies an invitation to question stereotypical views of Black male vulnerability. Through intimately exposing the intersectional elements of Blackness and queerness, Lemons begs us to venture into the uncomfortable, the intoxicating, and into his mind. 

INTO chatted with Lemons over email about his new show, the queer icon he wants to photograph next, and how his hometown of Philadelphia influenced his upbringing as a Black, gay youth. 

You’ve photographed everyone from the likes of pop sensation Billie Eilish, Academy Award-winning director Spike Lee, designer extraordinaire Telfar Clemons, supermodel Naomi Campbell, and more. Out of all of the stars you’ve photographed, who had you the most starstruck?

I can’t say that I get starstruck anymore. I used to, but I’ve learned that everyone is just a person simply doing their job. The people I photograph just happen to be f***ing good at what they do! On set, there is no time to be starstruck. I’m too focused on the job at hand, which is creating beautiful photographs. 

Which queer icon do you want to photograph the most?

Troye Sivan comes to mind, and I’ve shot him once before. I would love to do it again, especially now that we have become more comfortable with ourselves and our sexuality. 

You described “Quiladelphia” as an inside look into what it means to be a Black gay man. What impacted you most growing up in Philadelphia as a Black gay youth?

Philadelphia has a certain grit to it. My hometown is blunt and honest while being super tender and cozy. Once I say I am from there, it all makes sense. 

What queer pop culture moment defined your childhood?

Lady Gaga was an awakening for me! I had never seen anything that punk before! I’ll forever remember seeing the first VMA performance of “Paparazzi” and wishing I could be part of that world. I am a Little Monster forever.

What’s the queerest thing to do in Philadelphia? 

I was never really “out” in Philly, and I was 17/18 when I left. So, I don’t have many queer experiences there. I guess going to Woody’s on 13th St. 

You also described “Quiladelphia” as letting people inside your brain. What do you want them to find?

I want people to find safety and freedom! 

Which queer pop culture creator deserves to be recognized?

Lyle Ashton Harris! 

Your first show is going to be an inspiration to many Black queer creatives. What would you say to up-and-coming Black queer photographers? 

Be bold. Be gay. Be you. 

“Quiladelphia” is currently showing at the Hannah Traore Gallery until November 4.

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