Beyond a spelling bee nightmare, the word syzygy describes an alignment, usually of celestial bodies. Recently I was sent a link to an amazing online video by the Rescued Film Project chronicling the efforts of photographer and film technician Levi Bettwieser as he hand-processed 31 rolls of World War II era film, scanned the negatives and presented the decades old never-before-seen images to the world.
After watching the video, already going viral at the time with more than half a million hits, I wanted to arrange an interview with Levi to get his thoughts on the project and the Epson scanner featured. Meanwhile, Levi sent a very complimentary note to us about his Epson Perfection V750-M Pro scanner and the many e-mails he was getting with questions about the scanner from those seeing the video.
As a photographer, Levi switched from digital to film about three years ago and started processing his own film instead of sending it out to labs. His Rescued Film Project started out of pure curiosity when he would find undeveloped rolls in cameras from thrift shops. “There were these moments that people would really want to remember and have back,” he said of the images he was finding on the rolls and soon the project became a rescue mission.
After a year and a half of collecting images, the Rescued Film Project website was established along with social media channels to share the finds. The reactions were very positive and people were soon identifying locations in the online gallery. One person contacted Levi after an image from a birthday party was featured on Instagram because she had recognized her father. Levi was happy to send her the images via e-mail noting, “It’s crazy how serendipitous life can be.”
Levi chose the Perfection V750-M Pro for his own photography after doing research and determining that a drum scanner wasn’t versatile enough for the various items he would be working with. “It’s always done amazing work no matter what job I’ve thrown at it,” he said, estimating that he’s scanned around 20,000 images.
Working on the Rescued Film Project can involve 18 hour days of developing and scanning film, and Levi has seen plenty of rolls that didn’t yield any images, but it has happened on several occasions when he couldn’t see anything on a negative until he scanned it. “I like those images,” he said, “because it tells more of a story.”
Time, inadequate handling and storage can ravage undeveloped film, which is one of the reasons the World War II rolls were remarkable as the soldier who took them was very careful. “He knew he wouldn’t be able to develop them for a while,” Levi explained, “so he rewrapped all of the pictures and that was the saving grace.”
The identity of the photographer of the World War II rolls is still not known, but many locations have been identified in the recovered images including parts of France and Fort Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania, home to a military base that is interested in preserving some of the found images in their historical records.
One of the images in the WWII set made an emotional connection with Levi after it was scanned. “It’s a wide shot on this large boat and it’s apparent to me that it’s a religious service and they’re listening to the person way up high,” he explained. “To the left of the frame is this man looking directly at the camera and he stands out because he’s in all white and it makes me wonder why he’s looking at the camera and he’s not part of the congregation.”
Moving forward, Levi envisions the Rescued Film Project establishing an online community where people can tag and identify the photos. Despite the long hours, he is fully committed to the project as he recognizes a historical and personal significance to the photos he recovers. “When I’m rescuing film that is 70 years old, I have this deep respect for it,” he said. “I have this deep down respect for these images and what this film has gone through.”
Visit the Rescued Film Project at www.RescuedFilm.com.