Zonder titel (Wielrenner)

Jef Geys



Collection: Verzameling F. De Beir.

The first major work in which photography played a prominent role from the start is a work about a young cyclist, created in 1968-1969. It consists of a sequence of framed documents (typed letters, clippings, and an address book) and black-and-white photographs that were glued onto fiberboard and cardboard. The story goes as follows: War Jonckers, a bartender at “Bar 900” and a friend of Geys, had a 15-year-old son, Roger, who appeared to be good at cycling. It was also during this same time that the famous cyclist Eddy Merckx was a rising star and served as an example for many young Belgian boys like Roger. Geys became the guardian of Roger and coached him for his participation in (church) festival races. In return, he asked Roger to describe his experiences, and Geys would write them down. Geys then sent these descriptions to certain people he knew in the art world who were listed in the address book included in the work. During the summer, Geys travelled to the south of France to follow Merckx in the Tour de France. He then reported back to Roger by means of letters and photographs about Merckx’s cycling techniques and day-to-day habits. Strikingly, Geys began his letters to Roger with the salutation “Dear Jef,” as if it had been Roger who wrote the letters to him. (J. Geys, Interview, Balen, February 15, 2010) The identities of Geys and the boy gradually intermingled. According to Geys, the aim of the project was “to come as close as possible to the boy, trying to capture the phenomenon as accurately and completely as possible.” [my translation] (De Coninck, 1972: 30) Therefore, he carefully wrote down his and the boy’s experiences. “I was not interested in the background, the corruption within cycling,” he said, “I was interested in what happens with the little guy, where it all begins, how and when you could proceed to shoot, for, at a certain moment, we all shoot, so to speak.” [my translation] (ibid.) In the 1971 interview conducted by Flor Bex, Geys said:

I wanted to examine what was going on in the mind of that boy, what the influences from his family circle meant, etc. So, day after day I followed him. Every Sunday we drove to a race. I regularly sent messages about the boy to a number of randomly chosen addresses. The aim was to fully insinuate myself into a situation in order to understand it and then communicate about the whole purpose to an audience. [my translation] (Bex, 1971: n.p.)

Liesbeth Decan, Conceptual, Surrealist, Pictorial: Photo-based Art in Belgium (1960s – early 1990s), Leuven University Press, 2016, pp. 69 – 70

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