Phil Who

The net is called democratic – everyone participates, hypothetically, with equal input and value. In a propertied, unequal society that cannot last. Distinctions happen. Differences will occur, then accrue. An eddy becomes a puddle which becomes a pond. Upon that pond frontage land will be sold. The For Sale signs arrive. The net was never democratic, just unsettled. An arc isn’t enough of a story. 

A change in media provides a jump ball, a reboot. Shoots after the fire, masons amidst the rubble. The first onto the mound aren’t the ones that will find the best salvage. That comes later, after the digging is easier.

Before silver turned gold, when Ansel was king, photographers gathered in small groups, usually around a school. The called themselves ‘workshops’ ‘foundations’ ‘works’ ‘communities’ and they produced ‘dialogues’ ‘studies’ providing ‘residencies’ ‘internships’ — those that survived did so because of the efforts of very few people. Phil Block was one of those people. He and Tom made a place where photographers could work, show, exchange, and stay awhile.

They provided Mike and Larry a virtual home for some of their work. The Billboards, for a short time spread across Central and Upstate New York. Names were used by most artists; always has been important in a checkbook and grants way. The railroads standardized time, the University Appreciation courses standardized on names, even naming styles and periods… good to have a noun as answer. A Proper answer.

Both Mike and Larry sought name/fame. That was and is the only pathway to pay, either through school or gallery. Ralph Gibson visited the institute (SFAI) with boxes of his books for sale. self publishers have to be self promoters I traded prints for books. I made prints,not money.

da Net Effect

Crossings are not easy. Filling out a blank page isn’t easy. Most people have difficulty with multiple choice so never attempt to fill a blank page. It is easier to link than think.

The people who wrote a little,and were able to publicize that, to link themselves to followers have gained the ARC of the online world. In less than 8 years we have acquired a new set of standard leaders. They now offer critiques, for dollars; set publishers standards ,for dollars. They are the turnstile at the bridge. And they got there because they claimed it. Just as Phil and Tom did. The difference between eras is that now, the online personality factory does it for their own gain; their own brand; their name.

Tom and Phil are just two of about a dozen people who built organizations and shared them readily. You didn’t have to pay them anything. Maybe that is why in this age you don’t know them.

Current celebrity art leaders didn’t build the road, nor the tools, they merely used them. Their website was built using free tools and borrowed ideas. They sought brand name and contribute more to the cult of celebrity than to that of creativity.

Gaining name is a goal: a person becoming a personality. being a branded property. They, as art leaders would say they are different than Paris or Donald. They may be but in what aesthetic sense? Their goal was financial success; theirs.

Were We Were

At the beginning, that wasn’t  the story told around our campfire. Everyone got warm or no one did. Those who wanted fame the most, got it – what little good fame has done, it has been for them.

Phil went on to ICP where he became Uncle Phil. Thanks for the camera Phil.



Dear Visual Studies

what is clear to me

by now it is clear that you aren’t returning my check; it is clear that you didn’t keep your commitment to provide reprints, or return my check.

it is clear that your structure is the same as any other business, run simply, sloppily made rules, carried out by functionaries aware of their vacation, treating research requests as interruptions.

I expect dishonesty, false promises from a profit business; that is the founding basis of opaque blind commerce. That shouldn’t be  the basis or philosophy for a non-profit, otherwise, there is no need to make tax or structural distinction among them. If they act the same, they are the same.

now isn’t then;

then when Visual Studies Workshop was a fertile place, bold: attracting the committed, driven by a mission spirit, with a goal of a broadening, rather than a deadening future. a place beyond the market drivers, something other than a tax deduction.

what may not be clear to you

is how much VSW has changed. what you were, and what you’ve become; where you were headed, and how far off course you’ve gotten.

Turning a non-profit into an organization that is as layered, with interactions like a profit business is pretense and false promise. It is also bad mimicry. No small business succeeds with so much pretentious departmentalization over such small amounts of money. They would die of overhead and organizational inertia.