Anne Geene & Arjan de Nooy, The universal photographer

This monograph offers an introduction to the life, work and opinions of the universal photographer U., a man who produced more pictures of more different subjects in more different styles than any other photographer to date. In U., numerous features of other photographers, philosophers, scientists and collectors can be recognized, but closest to his character may well be the protagonists of Flaubert’s novel Bouvard and Pécuchet. Like them, U. had a tendency to copy, collect, combine and study, and, like them, he lacked common sense. This resulted in remarkable methods, peculiar preferences and naïve solutions to self-made problems.

Besides being a monograph of U., The Universal Photographer reflects Geene & De Nooy’s view on the art of photography, characterised by relativism and even absurdism, but most of all it is a celebration of photography. Its primary quality – to copy – is taken to extremes through U.’s straightforward approach. Reading the history of photography as photos of photos of photos, U.’s work may well be an invitation for even more photos. In the words of Bouvard and  Pécuchet: “No reflexion! Let’s copy!”

With their pseudo-scientific work Anne Geene (1983) and Arjan de Nooy (1965) show the audience in a new, often humorous way to the world. Together, they made the publication Ornithology, an alternative bird bible with the Best Book Design from all over the world, at the Buchmesse in Leipzig. Geene won this year’s De Volkskrant Fine Art Prize for her solo work and also the audience award.

The Universal Photographer is about the fictional photographer ‘U’, who lived from 1955 to 2010. On the basis of the work of ‘U’, which goes through different style periods and cites art movements, Geene and De Nooy made this book, which, on the one hand, is an ‘ encyclopedia ‘of photography and also the personal life story of a universal photographer.

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The Universal Photographer


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