British Journal of Photography

April 2017 – The Black Box

Anthony Prévost was ambling around a flea market just outside London when he came across a tubular black box filled with 200 photographic negatives. He bought it 5 and thought little of it, given the focus of his research at the time was about how our perceptions of the world are influenced, maybe even defined, by how it is represented in imagery. Only later did he realise the black box contained what he needed to make his investigation manifest. “The story is really about the impossibility of truth in the narrative of the past,” he says. “It is as much about what is remembered or told as about what is repressed or forgotten, on a personal and collective level.”
     He had never worked with archives before but, from the images planes, uniformed soliders and playful self-portraits, Prévost (who recently graduated with an MA in Photographic Studies from the University of Westminster) was able to infer that the found negatives were all the work of the same photographer, a member of the Royal Air Force during the Second World War.   
    There was a personal connection too; his grandfather was a pilot in the conflict and in 1940 his grandmother, then aged 13, lost a leg when a German bomb hit the family home in Lille. But despite his sensitivity to their experience, he felt no desire to delve deeper into the found photographs’ origins. “I didn’t want to know anything about it because I thought it would take me away from everything I was making up in my head. I think it would spoil everything,” he says. “I was afraid, a little later, that if I found out where they came from I would lose interest in making my own fiction.”
    His, and the viewer’s creative imagination is key. With The Black Box, each image is a marker around which we are invited to create a story. To tease the narrative along – even to dramatise it and “fill in the gaps” – Prévost interweaves clippings from wartime newspapers, orienting the viewer within a time frame, and his own photographs taken in the same square, analogue format as the found negatives. He used a camera similar to the Voigtänder twin-lens that conceived the content of the box; it was important that the two appeared as uniform as possible.
    “I was working with the idea of mixing fact and fiction. It’s something that’s been forever present in the history of photography, so I wanted to play with that as well,” he says. “But I didn’t want to give away everything. I didn’t want to impose a story, just make it possible to make the viewer get his own.
    “I’ve always read a lot about history and looked at documentaries. It has always fascinated me to try and see how things were at the time.” The theme is also evident in his next project, investing stunt equipment and special effects used in filmmaking before the advent of CGI.