Rescued Film Project: Unlocking Forgotten Analogue Gems

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As Levi Bettwieser combed through the thrift stores of Idaho in search of analogue gems he began stumbling across rolls of exposed film still sitting inside their dusty camera tombs. Intrigued by what secrets they may hold, Levi started collecting these little bundles of mystery and developing them in his kitchen. One by one these forgotten time capsules surrendered their secrets, and although many were wearied by decades of neglect, many rolls were surprisingly unscathed — thus The Rescued Film Project was born.

Hey Levi, welcome back to the Lomography Magazine! How would you describe the Rescued Film Project for those who are unfamiliar with the concept?

The Rescued Film Project is an archive of images, now over 30,000, that we've rescued from lost and forgotten rolls of undeveloped film from around the world. 100% of the images in the archive come from previously undeveloped rolls of film. We don't include any images from negative, slides, or photos. We also only accept rolls of film that have been orphaned from their original photographer or are in need of rescuing because of extreme age or degradation.

What makes rescued film such a captivating project, what compels you to process hundreds of rolls of forgotten film?

For me, the most compelling part of the rescued film is trying to figure out someone's story based on only 1 or 2 images, which are often the only images we get off a single roll. Pictures taken in a fraction of a second tell such a small part of our lives but can capture such significant, or mundane moments. Even if a moment is seemingly mundane, it must hold some amount of importance for the photographer, otherwise, they wouldn't have taken the picture. Trying to figure that story out can be very addictive.

You have now rescued over 30,000 images! What has been your favorite find so far?

This is impossible to pin down. I love so many of the images all for completely different reasons. In our archive, there are images I love because of the skill of the photographer who is able to capture a great moment with great composition. Others I love purely because of the context of the moment, whether they’re funny or impactful. Others have historical significance such as war and military images. Then there are images I love because of how degraded and mold-ridden they have become because they have been transformed into something beyond the original image. They are now more like a piece of art than a simple photograph.

What projects have you been working on recently?

Our latest major endeavor has been our "Paul" project. Paul was a blue collar worker who lived in East Chicago, Indiana in the 1950s with his wife and 4 children. During about a 4-year span he took around 1,200 rolls of film of his life and family at that time, but never developed them. Instead, he packaged them up meticulously to ensure their quality for a time in which he could afford to get them processed. We acquired all of this film a few years back, and have slowly been processing them. You can find more information on our website.

In today's world it seems that every aspect of our lives is digitized. Yet — despite the ease and simplicity of digital photography — people still seem to have a special place for film in their hearts. What do you think the reason is for this? Do you think this is an attitude worth keeping?

Today with photography so accessible, and because of social media, we use photography for an entirely different purpose. We can, and do, curate exactly how we want our lives to appear. We take 15 photos and select the perfect one to put on display. It seems that with every special or unique moment, it's almost not even important to have it if we don't share it with others. So when we go on a trip or experience a special moment, there seems to be almost a panic to document and instantly share. And if we don't, it’s as if it never happened. When we used to only shoot on film, images were taken with only the intent of preserving that moment in time — to remember and share only with those closest to us. So the moments we captured were more genuine and honest. I'm never one to debate film versus digital. Both are tools and mediums that should be used for specific purposes. But since I started the rescued film, my perception of photography and social media has definitely been impacted by this observation.

How does the rest of your year look?

I find it hard to find the time to balance rescued film with my full-time job, my family, and my other hobbies and interests. So for the rest of the year, our focus here at the project is just to continue to acquire as much film as possible, process, scan, and increase the size of our archive. We are also working on an ebook and video series designed to teach others how to best process film within their homes, that will hopefully help generate some funds to keep the project going.


We love the Rescued Film Project and their mission to take back forgotten analogue memories from the grasp of time. Want to help rescue more fantastic photographs? Visit the Rescued Film Project Patreon to support this important mission!

written by sameder on 2018-08-20

4 Comments

  1. guin
    guin ·

    This is something I have recently fallen in love with myself and the results are pretty awesome considering how old some of the films can be. Great article :)

  2. 1conocla5t
    1conocla5t ·

    I myself found some film in a thrift store camera the other day. Now i kind of want to get it devolped just to see what might be on it.

  3. systemdevice
    systemdevice ·

    I too develop the found rolls of film. Here I've made an album with some of the photos I found on those films:
    https://www.lomography.com/homes/systemdevice/albums/213330…

  4. hervinsyah
    hervinsyah ·

    Watching other people's life through their roll is always interesting like robin williams at one hour photo

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