Following the Box

1 March 2016


Following the Box, a 30-minute film, traces the efforts of an American couple, Alan Teller and Jerri Zbiral, to make sense of a box of photographs that they found in an estate sale in Chicago 25 years ago. Neatly captioned and labelled with dates, all the photographs were taken in rural Bengal, around the Second World War. But while the images provided intimate views of villagers, rural vistas, temples and synagogues, they lacked any clear clues as to who took them. Teller and Zbiral followed the box to Bengal, where they tried to uncover the photographer’s identity. Who was this person, and what was her or his artistic intention, if any? How did the photographs get to Chicago? Through research and a series of deductions, the couple surmised that the photographer was likely a low-ranking soldier from the US Army, posted at a base in Kharagpur during the Second World War. As they chased the mystery of the shutterbug, Teller and Zbiral also considered their own role in this project. What did it mean that they, two Americans, were bringing images of 1940s Bengal to twenty-first-century Bengalis? This led them to collaborate with various Bengali artists, whom they invited to produce art inspired by the soldier’s original images. The resultant art pieces were displayed in an exhibit adjacent to the small room where Following the Box was screened.

~ Shireen Azam



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