A 20-year-old South Philadelphia photographer known as Quil Lemons, recently published a photo series called Glitterboy. It features pictures of his male friends with smears of glitter across their faces. Although the project was initially inspired by the 2016 Frank Ocean music video “Nikes” where the bisexual rapper appears with glitter on his face, Lemons’ photo series has become an exploration of how society interprets black masculinity.
To Lemons, makeup doesn’t have a male energy or a female energy. “It’s just products, and society gives it that gendering,” he says. “It’s weird.”
“I wanted to stir the pot,” Lemons says. “Society always fixates on this one image of what it means to be a black man. We should be able to celebrate being feminine and just multifaceted creatures.”
For five months, Quil Lemons took pictures of his friends in front of a pink backdrop at New York City’s The New School. His work, now on display at the 500px business front in Toronto, comes just two years after Moonlight became the possibly first-ever mainstream film to show men of color being affectionate with each other.
Moonlight was originally based on a play entitled In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, but Lemon’s work shows how in sunlight black boys look divine. Each portrait shows a man’s glittering, internal self, even when their faces express sadness or calm.
Lemons chose glitter because, unlike makeup, you don’t have to find the right color to match a person’s skin tone. Also, Glitterboy only features men of color because Lemons feels like society doesn’t allow them to play with gender expression the same way that white men do.
“I feel like being a black male is always seen as a monolith,” Lemons continues. “You get boxed into stereotypes — you have to be a gangster, or a macho man with no feelings…. There is actually no definition of what it means to be a Black man — you just are Black, and you can express that however you want to.”
Lemons doesn’t disclose the sexual orientation of his Glitterboys. In fact, he asks viewers to question why they associate black men with facial glitter to gayness.
Lemons says, “I feel like masculinity is sort of a prison. We are told there are only so many ways you can be masculine. If you express femininity in the slightest you are automatically perceived as gay. There’s nothing wrong with being perceived as gay, but you can be masculine and gay or feminine and straight. Now we have more space to play with gender fluidity. So much has changed and this project is an ode to being your fucking self.”