Hank Willis Thomas: Unbranded | ARTIST STORIES

Hank Willis Thomas: Unbranded | ARTIST STORIES


You see the one
that says Ebony on the bottom right? It’s got the JET magazines. Oh, it’s not JET magazines. It’s buttons,
but here’s the JET magazines, the magazines that I used
to do the original Unbranded series. Looking at an advertisement
from a certain period of time is like hopping into a time machine because the only way
that you can really understand it is to go back into the mindset
of that time. Here’s Maya Rudolph. Her father, Dick Rudolph,
was married to Minnie Ripperton, a famous African American. Interracial marriage
wasn’t even legal in a lot of the United States
when this picture was taken. Real ads are fascinating to me
because they speak to large groups of imaginary people. African American women, who were the poorest demographic
by and large, are wearing like haute couture. Advertising plays a huge role
in our notion of how we see ourselves and how we see other people. We say, “You can’t
judge a book by its cover,” but then we go about
training everyone to judge books by their covers, and advertising relies on prejudice. These kinds of people
care about these kinds of issues, so we will speak to them
in this kind of way. I was doing a project called Branded where I was making images
that looked like ads, but making them as a commentary
on the present moment in history. The way the Unbranded project started is I just thought by removing
all the text and logos, you could see
what’s really being sold. This is one of the pictures
from 1987, and when I unbranded it, it starts to be
a little bit more curious about what’s really
for sale in this image. It’s funny looking at the difference
in the printing styles because I must have gotten it
from a different 1987 magazine. As an African American male, I was always conflicted
with the monolithic images that society was creating. There’s a lot of humor in there
for me particularly because it’s like I have a crystal ball. I can look into the future
of the people who made these ads. To me, sometimes the text is
as interesting, if not more, than the pictures. But as I said, it distracts you
from what’s really for sale. And then there’s irony,
“What makes OJ run?” All you do is just look around. That’s what to me
is like the amazing experience. Oh my God! –So can you see what I see?
–No. I feel it’s important
that we take responsibility in actually minding
and looking at the images that our society is creating so we can really get
a broader perspective of our time. Do you see this one over here? –Hold it up?
–Yeah you can just… Ah, wow! By looking at ads, which are seen as more objective
than an individual artist’s work, no single person can
take responsibility for an ad. There’s an art director,
there’s a photographer, but it really comes as consensus
because there’s focus groups that are telling them
“This is what we want to see.” You can tell what era
an advertisement is from because it reflects something
of that moment that is bigger –than an image.
–Right. Looking at the ads
from these things is so fascinating because ads
are about hopes and dreams, but look at this one,
you know, like… that message.

3 thoughts on “Hank Willis Thomas: Unbranded | ARTIST STORIES”

  1. His videos relays messages and information from the Depths of realization rather than the Surface. There is far more to a photo than what is seen or portrayed.

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