Will Steacy: The opening pages of Pitch Blackness feature images straight out of a family photo album, along with dates, locations and even that weird sticky background. While of course being very personal, these back-in-the-day images also feature the stereotypical vacations, holidays, family events, etc that fill most family photo albums. That is, until we reach the newspaper clipping, "Good Guy Slain for a Few Bucks" and soon after a picture of your cousin in the morgue and his death certificate. How did the family photo album theme come about while putting your work into book format? What story did you want to tell?
Hank Willis Thomas: When I got asked to apply [for the Aperture West Book Prize] I really didn't want to. I had been working on my family photographs as a book concept, but I never thought that the B®anded work could fit into that book. I couldn't see how they could be drawn together, but I applied with some of my family work, some of my B®anded work, and when I got the award I was charged with putting the work together. It was like, "How do I look at these photographs of my family that I was doing simultaneous to the B®anded work, how do I make them make sense?" Since so much of my work is inspired by the murder of Songha, it felt weird to leave him out, but it also felt weird to assume that people would care — or know what I was talking about.
My introduction to photography from a personal side was as a young child looking at those very same photographs [in the book] and other photographs of our family, and saying, "Who's that? What was there?" I thought that family photo albums are something everyone can relate to — and have — so they can relate to the person that they were often in photographs with. Telling [Songha's] life in that family photo album is