Rescuing Images From Entropy’s Oblivion

When people speak of losing everything after tragedy strikes – fire, flood, tornado, earthquake – they speak heroically of saving or failing to save the memories that cannot be replaced: the family photographs. “I grabbed the family album just before the roof blew off,” one says on the TV News, while others sift through the rubble searching for rain-soaked image scraps that can save their stories from oblivion.

Rescuing photographs is now a cultural trope. I told one of my own rescue narratives here on Christmas morning. The agent of destruction in that story was not some natural disaster, but a self-imposed need to clear away the clutter. Out of boxes of moldering paper, entropy-enhanced scrapbooks, and cheesy chachkas – all of it headed to my dump truck – I retrieved one startling hand-tinted print of my mother and sister made in 1944. It speaks to me, inviting me to imagine the stories it can tell about war and the Home Front.

The Rescued Film Project struck a similar chord this week with its video documenting the painstaking process of developing long-forgotten rolls of WWII-vintage film. No one knows the name of the American GI who took the pictures. Others will have to imagine the stories for him.

Undeveloped World War II Film Discovered from The Rescued Film Project on Vimeo.

  • The Rescued Film Project Archive
    The Rescued Film Project is an online archive gallery of images that were captured on film between the 1930’s and late 1990’s.  Each image in our archive was rescued from found film from locations all over the world, and came to us in the form of undeveloped rolls of film.  We have the capability to process film from all era’s.  Even film that has been degraded by heat, moisture, and age.  Or is no longer manufactured.
  • Rescued Film Project | Facebook
    An archive of images that the photographer never saw. But now you have.
  • Undeveloped World War II Film Discovered on Vimeo
    The Rescued Film Project discovers and processes 31 rolls of film shot by an American WWII soldier over 70 years ago.
  • Long-lost WWII photographs are found | 012615
    Interview by Kai Ryssdal: In late 2014, Levi Bettwieser bought 31 undeveloped rolls of film at an auction in Ohio. They turned out to be photos from World War II. | “I knew that I potentially had something special just from the look of the rolls themselves and what was written on them,” says Bettwieser. “But you never know what you’re going to get because obviously you have no idea what the condition of the images might be that are still on the film.” | About two years ago, Bettwieser, a video producer and film photographer in Boise, Idaho, founded The Rescued Film Project to salvage undeveloped rolls of film from around the world. | The rolls had hand-written notes that hint at what they might contain, but most are labeled with various location names, like LaHavre Harbor, Lucky Strike Camp or Boston Harbor. “One was labeled ‘Roll of French Funeral,’ and so we were able to actually recover some funeral pictures of a French officer,” Bettwieser says.
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