Anne Geene & Arjan de Nooy, The Universal Photographer to 17th March 2019
This exhibition traces the work of the little known photographer simply known as ‘U.’ It is best that I precis the gallery leaflet. U was born in 1955 and almost immediately started taking photographs, which not surprisingly were mainly taken from ‘a low vantage point.’ As a teenage boy he was shy with girls, so concentrated on porn. He then went into wedding photography to earn a living and a little later started to think about theory, which led him into making photographic collages, sometimes stapled together. Then he started correcting other people’s photos by cutting shapes out of them. On a trip to Italy he picked up some old photo albums, and faithfully copied each of the photos in them. Further development took place when he started photographing the same object over and over again, composing the results into large grids. His last years were spent using a hand held scanner, which he found could directly copy surfaces. He was killed in 1985 when he was hit by a car whilst scanning a zebra crossing. He left behind “kilometres of scanned material.”
Yes, U was a prolific artist, whose askance perspective informs what otherwise might be a vast collection of photographs many of which in their own right might be classed as domestic and dull. His vision lifts them into a context which places them in a sublime space/timelessness zone, which in its Zen-like way transforms every ordinary captured moment between past and future into an eternal corrective to memory and loss. The big question is: did U really exist? And what would have happened if he had discovered digital? By now he would be at the peak of his game, indeed he may well have become the world’s greatest selfie-taker, an iconic master of that most self-idolatrous oeuvre. I can see him now, posing in front of famous sights, like the Mona Lisa, sneaking his selfie stick out whilst the guard’s attention is elsewhere.
U is almost everybody with a 64GB SSD. We take thousands of pictures and store them in our memory cards, rarely looking at them ever again, partly because there’s just too many to look through. It’s easier to go back to the place where you took the photo and take another. At least if we cook ourselves into extinction, we will leave behind trillions of images stored on our cards so that one day a visiting alien will be able to switch on its laptop and access a lifetime’s worth of views of the Grand Canal. It’s a shame U isn’t around to help us devise a good way of filing them. N.B. U is fictional. Or is he? Unfortunately, the exhibition did not appear to have a picture of him – he died before selfies were invented. Even more unfortunately, I do not have a photo of this exhibition.