Quil Lemons, Lang ’19, Uses Photography to Break Down Barriers
If you were on Instagram in the spring of 2017, you might have come across a series of striking portraits of African-American men wearing glitter on their faces. With the photographs, which are part of his Glitterboy series, Quil Lemons, Journalism + Design ’19, investigates ideas of masculinity as it relates to Black men, challenging viewers to see them in a new and different way.
The photographs helped launch Lemons’ photography career, earning him acclaim on NBC News and in i-D, Allure, and many other media outlets, as well as gigs with Gucci and Instagram. In August, he debuted an exhibit of photos at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) and was named a finalist for Document Journal’s New Vanguard photography prize.
Lemons praises The New School and Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts for giving him the space to “grow and explore” and encouraging him to “critically question the world” — hallmarks of a New School education.
The show for the PMA is a remarkable achievement for any artist, let alone one who has yet to graduate from college. For the show, the PMA asked Lemons to recreate several iconic portraits from Face-to-Face, an exhibition that features photographs of artists shot by other artists. Lemons took photos of his friends and fellow New School students Amir Sharif, MaryV Benoit, and Chella Man as images inspired by Peter Hujar, Julien Levy, and Man Ray.
“To have the opportunity to collaborate with the PMA is a dream come true — it just affirms everything I’m doing,” he says. “I feel so grounded as an artist, and I’m so happy to receive recognition from an institution like the PMA.”
Lemons began studying photography as a way to document his life: He felt compelled to create a visual narrative that captures his existence. While he studies journalism, not photography, at The New School, Lemons says he applies what he learns from his studies of journalism to his art.
“I decided to come to Lang because I was very interested in a liberal arts education that would allow me to do art,” he says. “I wanted to have a school that could guide me and expose me to a world that I didn’t already know, and so ultimately I decided journalism, because I really wanted to be able to articulate and describe the purpose of my art or anything I was doing with language.”
Lemons cites collaboration — a vital component of any New School education — as another important aspect of his burgeoning career. His friends are often the subjects of his projects (they’re featured in both Glitterboy and the exhibition at the PMA), helping to define his creative focus.
He has also been inspired by the interdisciplinary environment at Lang and at The New School as a whole. Spurred by his philosophy courses at Lang, he wants to explore the meaning of human existence in his next project.
“I love exploring new mediums,” he says. “I love it when another artist can take me into their world and show me new things.”