So, too, with the “Wayfarer” suite of photographs of Sanford Biggers—displayed on the outside walls of the International Center of Photography in 2013—which depicts the fellow artist dressed in a tophat and tails, one half of him painted white, the other black. “This is the same metaphor, really, that people see you differently depending on what side of you they’re standing on,” Thomas says. “But it also references the cultural hybridity that exists in all of us. And when we try to put someone in a group, we probably are ignoring as much about them as we are defining; in fact, we’re probably ignoring more than we are defining. And where does that give us space to be unique individuals?”
That tension between individual and collective influences in the construction of identity is at the root of his “Unbranded” series (2005-08) of modified commercial advertisements. The first iteration of the project, “Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America 1968-2008,” features a tightly curated selection of advertisements marketed toward a black audience—two from every year—stripped of all advertising information, so the images speak solely as visual propaganda.