Intense. Dark. Provoking.
These are the first three words that come to my mind while looking at Soumya Sankar Bose’s photo series A Discreet Exit Through The Darkness. The work (2020- ) is on the disappearance of his mother during the autumn of 1969. She was sent to the neighborhood sweet shop to buy sweets for a religious offering on the 24th of October. His mother, a little girl of nine, went prancing to the confectionery but did not return until three years later.
The photoseries delves deep into the depths of the photographer’s family’s history and examines its conflicts with the personal narratives of the household members regarding an incident that took place more than half a century back. The strangest part was the fact that due to prosopagnosia (face blindness), his mother is unable to recall any details of her life during those three years. It is almost as if she has no memory of that time period and she returned with a clean slate. She lives her childhood through two phases of her past — one that existed before her disappearance and the other that characterized her life after she was rescued. The intervening years are a massive void. The nature of the ordeal has had a significant effect on the collective memory of the ones associated with her. The lack of a coherent narrative and the loss of memory has caused imagination, folklore, and superstition to fill in the blanks. It is this uncanny mystery that is the integral theme of his photo series.
One of the leading individuals of the search operations was Bose’s grandfather. The incident was severely traumatic for him but he kept trying to find her. Repeated failures had a detrimental effect on his mind and finally, he succumbed to his grief. He died in 1971 before his daughter could be rescued. With Bose’s grandfather's death, one of the most important links to the entire story was irretrievably lost. The presence of a mysterious old woman near the house, tales of the evil eye and ghosts infesting the backyard, personal fables, the alleged involvement of child traffickers, and the secret underhand dealings of political honchos in a society torn by the impending political upheaval and the Bangladeshi Liberation War, all point to the extent that collective memory might reach in order to substantiate a tale of irreparable loss of many.
Soumya Sankar Bose is a talented and renowned documentary photographer from West Bengal, India. Bose’s long-term view and continued engagements in retrieving stories from smaller communities, the unacknowledged and unattended also come through this work of his. This approach runs through all his projects across the spectrum of his practice, finding overlaps in the time continuum, recollecting the archive, and in many cases restaging situations.
His works feature regularly in the famous art gallery, Experimenter, Kolkata. His photo books have found both national and international acclaim. From January 12- March 5, 2023, he will have his first solo exhibition in Mumbai at the Experimenter in Colaba. The exhibition will also showcase Bose’s work in the form of a 360° VR film inspired by his photoseries.
What’s most unique about the film is that it is the first virtual reality (VR), non-animated feature-length film to be ever made and explores a technology that soon promises to be a part of mainstream media. The technology is such that the entire visual image, at any given time, cannot be seen by a single individual, since looking at one part of the visual field necessitates the other part to be unseen, leaving the audience’s imagination to piece together the missing links of the narrative, much like the true incident itself, the incidents of which are also mysterious. The film is supported by The MurthyNAYAK Foundation (MNF) and promises to be a unique audio-visual experience exploring collective memory and the lack thereof.
You can find out more about the photographer and his works here.