Hank Willis Thomas has made name for himself with work that deals deftly with complex issues like race, class and history through a wide variety of approaches including original photographs, appropriated advertisements and films. However, it is not the breadth of his work that sets him apart, but his ability to subtly tie these broader cultural examinations to his own personal history; indeed, he cites the tragic murder of his cousin Songha in 2000 as the basis for all of his work. Given the grace with which Thomas dances between the universal and the personal, it is of little surprise that he has swiftly become one of the most prominent photographers of his generation.
The publication of his first monograph, Pitch Blackness (Aperture, 2008) is the result of being awarded the first Aperture West Book Prize -- an award designed to honor, promote and publish photographers living west of the Mississippi. He recently sat down in New York for the following conversation with Will Steacy.—DE