The Storm is What We Call Progress 5:32 2019

Titled after Walter Benjamin’s ‘The Angel of History’ essay, ‘A Storm is What We Call Progress’ is a short experimental essay film reflecting on the history of moving image, analog photography, the archive and the development of technology.
The theoretical, historical and cultural impact of photography is such a vast topic, and so the structuring and narrativising of complexity was a main point of interest in the creation of this film.

'The Storm is What We Call Progress' has been supported/screened/discussed as a part of the following:

Narration Text


The parameters of this mechanical space sits before me. It’s lenses bend the world beyond human vision, collecting and recording moments from time, an anthropologist without a heartbeat.

My own eyes cannot steal from time, they’re set witnessing the passing of it go by. I wonder if time feels it when we steal from her, like hair being plucked out.

You took the image, that image is your gaze, but it’s something else entirely too, glass and metal and layers of mechanics, approximating


Lights, backdrop, location, assistants, camera, lenses, photographer, subject, film.

When I point this lens at you, am I undressing you? Taking off every layer and laying you bare? A shadow of a hand passes over her face and holds it tight like a fist in time.


When I put two people in front of a white studio wall and tell them to recreate the tension between photographer and subject, inauthenticity blossoms. How can I tell you what to do?


And now, communication becomes so strange in this studio, this directors cap 5 sizes too big for my head and… If I try on the shoes of those who directed before me, attempting to see through their eyes, I will walk backwards clutching this SX-70 polaroid camera over mine like a blindfold. The image appears out from the milky frame, providing us with an unmanipulated object, a unique moment recorded.

But it’s clear purpose has been buried somewhere along our technological timeline, another prototype in the process of being forgotten: VHS, Tape, Celluloid, Rotary phones, vinyl disks, this strange graveyard..


Do you know what your grandparents looked like when they were children? These archives pile up and up..


Here we see fragments of another’s memory, a family in Italy in the 1960s. The family decided to plant a tree in their garden around their son’s second birthday, documenting their life with pictures of intimate moments: birthdays, ceremonies, holidays. Over time these photographs collected like leaves; in boxes and albums.


The tree grew alongside them, mirroring the boy in height for a short while, then steadily outgrowing him. Each season would come and go, photographs ever collecting, and as time passed the boy became a man and moved away.


There was no longer any presence of her family left around her day to day. The son had a family of his own, and as she aged she began to lose her memory. When she saw the photos presented to her, memories would resurface, but eventually they’d slip away again.


In a state of forgetting, one day she ordered the tree to be cut down, not considering or aware of the living time it contained. The rings of the stump measure up to 50-odd years of the sons life.

18 seconds from the 1960s composes 533 still images. A roll of 35mm holds 36 exposures.

A roll of exposed 35mm film holds itself wound up in the dark, waiting.

Hiding itself from me and my greedy desire to immediately know I do and did indeed exist, then and now.

The developing tubs shimmer in the rich red like shallow lakes, smelling ever so slightly of vinegar, waiting to draw out images from blank paper like invisible ink.

All of this is tried and tested choreography; we work our way through the processes, unlearning Photoshop; aiming for pixel amnesia. From the cherry dark, images slip through the air when exposed, seconds becoming darkness.


Light scours over pores and crevices, getting ever brighter over time. Chasing out the shadows.


Out from the macro and into the global, a communal forgetfulness unthreads our relationships to what grounds us, in reality and in time. With the steady loss of the analogue, collectively we slip into the river Lethe, relying on the digital mirage; on mere traces and approximations of moments passed. Could we delay our acceleration, see what we’re leaving behind in our departure from the “real”? To reconsider our entrance into the ultimately augmented, murky reality we’re laying out for ourselves?


Where are we headed?



© 2021 by Léna Lewis-King. 

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