Photographer Quil Lemons is Finding Something New

23 July 2020
GQ Middle East, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Cover, July
Quil Lemons
The man behind our July/ August cover, on shooting Yahya Abdul Mateen II

Our July/August cover photographer Quil Lemons doesn’t mince words. “The most interesting work coming out in photography right now is coming from the New Black Vanguard. That’s that on that,” he says, referring to the collective inaugurated in a 2019 book by Antwaun Sargent. After growing up playing with his aunt Linda’s digital cameras on the holidays, Lemons fell into a creative galaxy through the emerging days of Tumblr, and by visiting museums like the PMA in Philadelphia.

Lemons has swiftly made a name for himself with a body of work filled with moving portraits and provocative challenges to dated ideas of masculinity. He has just turned 23.

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“I’m just interested in continually doing my best work. I don’t really have goals in a linear way,” he says. “I’ve achieved a lot at a young age but what’s been the most fulfilling has been just shooting stories and people that haven’t been properly photographed.”

Lemons photographed our July/August cover star, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. The project was especially meaningful for the photographer. Not just because he admired his subject (“I had to make sure he looked amazing on this cover or Twitter would drag me!”) but also because of what Abdul-Mateen II’s next film – a remake of the horror movie Candyman – means to him. “The film’s eerie night shot means a lot to Black visual history. Watching the scene as thousands of bees pour out of Tony Todd’s mouth is a shot of true beauty and horror,” he says. “Candyman’s plot addresses the racism that runs through America since slavery’s end. It showed how Black men and people – no matter what we achieve – will always be in danger, or facing a life threatening plight in this country. Typically horror especially the slasher subgenre tend to be campy never honing in on race.”

Lemons credits his grandmother for introducing him to the “wonders” of horror films. He started watching them at a young age. Candyman, Lemon explains, pulled-off a rare feat: it really got him. “This was a very poignant film to view at a young age because most horror films are set in suburbia with characters that look nothing like me, so when I saw a ghost killing people in the hood at a young age, it felt real,” he says. “Though if you look closely at the plot this is kind of a story of retribution.”

In creating this project with GQ and Abdul-Mateen II, Lemons wanted to create a gentle nod to the OG Candyman – a set that shimmers like honeycomb, and some (totally) prop bees to reference one of cinema’s most iconic horror scenes.

“I have noticed in horror if the film does have an African American character, it’s a minor role that results in a premature demise. Black characters in horror are never given depth of nuance. This film flips that on its head,” he says. “I’m excited for the world to know the legend of Candyman.”

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