Quil Lemons is a New York-based photographer whose career has been blowing up, even in the midst of Covid-19. He's shot Evan Mock and Porches for Highsnobiety, and even conducted a FaceTime shoot of Pamela Anderson for The New York Times.
Lately, he's been unwinding. Last month he spent his birthday in Seattle, where he fell in love with the Pacific Northwest's temperate climate and sampled many of the city's weed dispensaries. We have a conversation that spans Black photography, the need for drug law reform, and the importance of seeing in Black.
The following interview has been edited and condensed.
Jian DeLeon:Hey Quil, how are you?
Quil Lemons: I'm good. I'm just home trying to clean up my room. It's a horrible mess, just clothes literally everywhere.
JD: Are you back in New York now?
QL: I am. I've gotten back. I've been back for, I think, four days now.
JD: How was Seattle?
QL: Seattle is amazing. I understand why a lot of white people live in the Pacific Northwest. No sunlight, no humidity and pretty moderate temperature.
JD: Yeah. It's like the weather's tailor made for jackets and getting fits off.
QL: Yo, you can literally get fits off the entire year! Right now in New York you can't really layer, so your outfits just end up being a T-shirt, jeans, or shorts, basically. You can probably throw a dress in there and get a little snazzy in that way. In the Northwest, I was in hoodies and I could wear a coat. I could do the absolute fucking most 90% of the time. Also, weed is legal.
JD: I was going to ask about that. I was going to say, did you go to Uncle Ike's? Or what are your favorite dispensaries in the Seattle area?
QL: I should pay attention more to which dispensaries I'm going into to. To me, they all just look like Apple stores. One was green with a little heart with a little cross mark. I was like: “This is so weird the way the government is now...There's a lot of black people that have been in prison for this, and now the government's about to make millions and literally sell it to you like Apple.” That's ugly. We gotta fix our laws.
JD: Absolutely. You spent your birthday out there, which happens to be on Juneteenth, and also falls during Pride Month. Do you get to celebrate all these different parts. of. yourself?
QL: Yeah, it probably wasn't until I was in my later half of teenager years that I discovered my birthday was such a significant date. They really don't teach you in school what Juneteenth means. We all know why they don't teach us that. It was a very liberating day for me, as it is for all Black people. Honestly, that's our Fourth of July. For me,with it being Pride, I was just like: “Wow.”
This birthday felt heavy, not in a way that it was overwhelming, but in a way that was like: “Damn, this is a lot of culture in one day.” Especially after everything that's been going on with George Floyd. I think this Juneteenth was way more important than other Juneteenths.
JD: Going on with that, as a Black photographer, one of the things you say a lot is how you don't set out to insert politics into the conversation around your work, but how you end up talking about it by nature of living in a white supremacist society. I admire the way that you're able to have these very real conversations while still keeping you energy and acknowledging the power of your platform to really amplify these issues.
QL: I'm Black. I can't ignore half of these issues because they affect me every day of my life — whether I'm working just walking down the street. Even when it comes to weed. I've smoked a lot of weed in the past few months. I'm very aware that we need to change these laws. I remember even in 2016, before I even started smoking weed, it was very present in my life when my high school teacher had us read The New Jim Crow. I was like: “Yo, this is literally just a set up.” I have to dismantle this entire system, using my platform and using art in ways to shift conversations, and really push for change.
JD: Was there a moment in quarantine where you had to reassess your goals?
QL: I had a weird moment during quarantine, where I was just like: “Damn, I had a good run in this photography thing. Well, I guess it's time to start the OnlyFans.” I had all these moments of self-reflection and revelation. There was a moment for me where I was just like — somehow I'm still figuring it out. I was like: “Damn, I'll still find a way to make shit happen.” I am still finding ways to make shit happen, literally when the world is on fire.
JD: One of the other initiatives you were involved with Josh Kissi and Micaiah's Carter's See In Black, amplifying Black photographers, Black photography, and selling prints towards charitable causes.
QL: Oh yeah. That was very sick. Honestly, Josh, Micaiah, I think also Audrey Wagner was involved. That's the things that I really want to figure out in America. How do we get all of our Black photographers in one space and eliminate this idea of a hierarchy of photography? Because we're all very valued, we're all very good. Even on the list, they did a very good job of getting new photographers, too. There's Ashley Pena, whom I'd literally just discovered, and then Kennedi Carter. They are just fucking amazing. Their work is so raw. There's no system that says: “Oh, this person is like more elite than you.” It just shows howwe all are talking about the same things, but very, very differently. We all can exist at the same time.
Stay tuned for new episodes of Vibe Check every Tuesday and Thursday.