Anthony Prévost – From A to B
by Eugenie Shinkle
Every year, a friend and I drive to Austria and back for a ski holiday. As road trips go, it’s not a particularly long one, but we accumulate a lot of memorabilia along the way: toll receipts, tickets and flyers, menus, notes and other odd scraps of paper. Leafing through these fragments later, it’s always surprising to discover how vivid a description of time and place they comprise.
The same kind of unforced significance runs through Anthony Prévost’s From A to B. After a year spent travelling in Asia, Prévost made his return journey to Europe via the Trans-Mongolian and Trans-Siberian railways – a journey of more than 7500 km over twenty days. He spent most of it lying on a bunk in a third-class carriage, looking out of the window, as the train made its way slowly through China, Mongolia, Siberia and Russia. From A to B is a reflection on this trip – on changing landscapes, on enormous skies and small details, on people and unspectacular scenes and daily lives that Prévost would only ever know in passing.
Air travel has encouraged us to regard a long journey as a kind of interregnum – a void suspended between two points. In the air, space lacks substance, distance collapses into the time it takes to eat a meal and watch a couple of movies. On the ground, however, changes in the landscape unfold slowly. Weather passes by, places appear and disappear, day fades slowly into night and back again. Border crossings aren’t abstract transformations in airspace, but long ordeals – often taking hours as passports are checked, luggage searched, and train wheels changed to conform to variations in the size of railway lines between one country and another.
The terrain varies dramatically over the route – endless stands of birch and conifer, low mountains, cities, farmland and open steppe. The emotional landscape is more temperate, the boredom of confinement marked out by the calming routine of third-class travel – daydreaming, drinking coffee, buying food from vendors on the platforms during the infrequent stops, washing in the single basin shared by all of the passengers in the carriage.
Set against such vast stretches of space, the transient, compact presence of the train passenger seems almost touchingly insignificant. From A to B gives substance to this strangeness. The silkscreened folder contains a concertina book, a gelatin silver print, a double-sided image on blotting paper, and a scrap of paper on which is transcribed a translation of a Mongolian folk song. It’s not a book as such, nor is it a document – we never really know where we are, or even if the photographs in the concertina book appear in chronological order. That doesn’t matter. There’s a different kind of eloquence in this collection of fragments – points that trace the outline of boundless space, memories that aren’t your own, but feel as though they could be.
Eugénie Shinkle is a photographer, writer, and Reader in Photography at the University of Westminster.
She writes for various publications such as Foam, Aperture, Fashion Theory, American Suburb X, and The Journal of Architecture.