23-year-old Quil Lemons becomes the youngest photographer to shoot a cover for Vanity Fair

Quil Lemons may only be 23, but a look at the Philadelphia native and professional photographer’s portfolio as well as the array of celebrities and renowned brands he has worked with manifests how he’s quickly climbing up the ladder.

Lemons rose to prominence in 2017 following his Glitterboy photo series that captured men of color in glittering makeup, challenging the preconceptions of hyper-masculinity within the Black community, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. Lemons has since gone ahead to work with the likes of Chloe x Halle, Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), Spike Lee, Pamela Anderson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and rapper Young M.A. Media outlets. Magazines including the New York Times, Allure, Vogue and Variety, have also showcased his work.

For Vanity Fair’s March 2021 issue, the young photographer was tapped to capture its cover star, pop sensation Billie Eilish – making him the youngest photographer to shoot a cover for the monthly magazine.

Speaking with The Philadelphia Inquirer about that milestone, Lemons admitted he had still not fully processed his history-making feat.

“I am actively processing that. It still hasn’t set in, like historically, what it means for my life. I think a lot of it has to do with me just being in the house. I go to set to shoot things and I go back to the house with my family, or my boyfriend, or my friends. It’s been the same 10 people,” he said.

“Before [the pandemic], when you did something large and historic like that, there was a lot of clamor. I’m very grateful for the peace. I’m just really happy for myself, but I realize that this is becoming larger than me.”

During the interview, the photographer also spoke about how he landed the Billie Eilish gig and the genesis of his relationship with Vanity Fair, saying it all began after his Glitterboy project.

“I met the creative director, Kira Pollack, I’m not sure if she was the creative director then, but I knew she was high up at Vanity Fair,” he recollected. “We met [in 2019] at the International Center of Photography Infinity Awards. They sat me next to Kira, and she was like, ‘Well what do you do?’ and I told her that I was a photographer and she was like, ‘I want to see some of your stuff. I’m going to check you out.’ And that was one of the first times I brushed shoulders with Vanity Fair. They kind of knew who I was but not really in-depth.”

Lemons went ahead to shoot Chloe x Halle for Vanity Fair’s September 2020 issue, and he said the magazine was so impressed with his work they asked if he’ll be interested in shooting the cover.

“For the collaboration for the cover, they liked my Chloe x Halle shoot so much and it performed so well,” he said. “Then they asked me if I wanted to shoot Billie Eilish for the cover and I was like ‘Yes!’ That was a no-brainer. I was just astounded that these people even knew who I was, but I was like, ‘OK, but now I need to perform and make sure they keep knowing who I am’.”

The peculiar thing about Lemons’ style of photography is he only shoots in film, meaning he cannot immediately take a look at his finished works until they’re developed, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. He also said he makes an effort to incorporate the Black experience in his photography.

“I’m conveying my version of Blackness and how I’ve come to understand that,” Lemons said.

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