getting to know the enemy: Hank Willis Thomas

I find it gratifying when someone I’ve met & liked finds recognition for their hard work and talent. It’s like a Win for the Team – Nice Guys Vs. The Machine and we just scored a point! Woo!

A million years ago I had the good fortune to work as a lab technician at CCA at their campuses in both Oakland and San Francisco (and was incredibly fortunate to take some photography classes, too). Hank Willis Thomas was working on his MFA at the time & when our paths crossed we would talk about our photographs. I always found him to be thoughtful, insightful and more than a little otherworldly. It still strikes me as unusual that a postgrad student would be interested to talk photography with a lab monkey, but he was. I often wished I had enough confidence to ask more about his work.
As many photography enthusiasts do, I follow the latest news form the Aperture Foundation. A few years ago Hank’s name started appearing in the Aperture press releases as Hot New Talent. Go Team! Recently they have been publicising an article written by Hank as the introduction to his monograph Pitch Blackness & republished online with the title What’s at the Heart of Black Cool?. It’s engaging, humble, interesting, personal & very well written and I highly recommend you spend the next few minutes reading it instead.

When I read it I can hear Hank’s candid voice and thoughtful manner. I surmise much of the knowledge and reflection it contains is a side-effect of his MFA research, and I think it’s a shining endorsement for the cultural contribution postgraduate visual/fine arts research offers. It certainly got me thinking about my research ( because I see my thesis research absolutely everywhere!) particularly where he describes becoming aware of being Black at around age five. It seems like there are lots of changes upstairs for all homo-sapiens at that age – possibly the end of magical thinking is the beginning of all manner of bodily concerns and the mixed up confusion that is to follow.

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