Introduction to ‘Lewes Bonfire Film No. 2: Remembered Least’

By Adam Whitehall


During my dérive of Lewes Bonfire night in 2014 I kept an eye out for faces and happenings that seemed to exist both within and on the periphery of the dominant flow. I was on the look out for (yet not deliberately searching out) images both surreal, even melancholic, appearing out of the night’s already heady smoke-filled hallucination.

Like all heavily populated outdoor events, the individual becomes lost in the mass, they smudge and blur under the streetlights. For all the tribal colour and glam of the various competing bonfire societies, done up in (mostly) military dress-up (ghosts of the blood-stained past ‘lest we forget’), the parade verges on a buffed-up commercially branded spectacle of the multi-era historical re-enactment.

From out of the crowds two figures in Lansdown Place caught my attention. Firstly, I was taken by the image of a young girl watching the parades passing from the warmth of her home. Transfixed as she was nonchalant, maybe she was even bored? I wondered why she was staying indoors.

Secondly, a young woman was going up and down the cobbled street pushing a trolley-wagon laden with battery-operated light sabres and strobing stars and butterflies on sticks; on her back a laundry bag was stuffed with extra pulsing multi-coloured products. £5 each. Whenever her trolley moved, it spoke in a squeaky ‘sing-song’ voice that bewitched me – the firework night equivalent of Mr Whippy.

On a mythical plane, she recalled an etching of a street-hawker of olden village times, now time-travelling sci-fi fairy-tale witch, but on this level of reality she was clearly a migrant paid to operate in the liminal zone of the less precarious local citizens. Her English was poor and I doubted she was earning a living wage for traipsing the cold November streets selling plastic Jedi swords to cute tots. What did she think of all this craziness? Maybe she didn’t have any opinion of it at all. I followed her awhile – secretly filming, feeling exploitative.

For all I knew, the last time this migrant worker had seen so many soldiers and heard so many random heart-jumping explosive loud bangs and shrill gunfire patter had been back home in the Baltic or Middle East during a real war. And through pulling that thread I couldn’t help wondering about the silences in this loud procession. Where does the historical dress-up of Bonfire urge us to remember the loss of life in those other countries, those newer wars, those newly taken but remembered least?