Geene and De Nooy have used U. to produce an ‘encyclopaedia’ of photography. The fictional character took more photographs of more subjects in more styles than any photographer before him. Numerous characteristics of other photographers, philosophers, scientists and collectors can be discerned in U. This is because, as a photographer, he adheres in the extreme to the basic quality of photography: copying.
Anne Geene & Arjan de Nooy have loosely based The Universal Photographer on Gustave Flaubert’s unfinished 1881 novel Bouvard et Péchuchet, in which two men in their fifties survey the state of affairs in a wide range of fields, from chemistry and psychology to religion and farming. Like these protagonists, U. had a tendency to copy, collect, combine and study – and just like them he lacked common sense. This resulted in unconventional methods, peculiar preferences and naïve solutions to self-made problems.