- Associated Press - Saturday, January 31, 2015

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Last fall, a camera dealer in Ohio contacted Levi Bettweiser to tell him he had come across 31 rolls of undeveloped black-and-white film at an auction. The dealer wondered whether Bettweiser was interested in them.

For two years, Bettweiser, 28, of Boise, had scoured Treasure Valley camera stores, flea markets and yard sales looking for old, neglected rolls of undeveloped film. Whenever he came across a roll, he took it home and processed it to see what images the negatives held.

Most were what you might expect: a couple posing with their young son next to two old cars; two boys horsing around on a couch; a small dog trying to pull a sock off its owner’s foot; parade marchers carrying an American flag and walking through a tree-lined neighborhood.

Bettweiser called his hobby the Rescued Film Project, and he has displayed those photos and dozens more online.



As time went on and he found fewer local rolls of undeveloped film, Bettweiser reached out to camera dealers across the country, asking them to contact him if they found something. That’s how he got the call from Ohio offering nearly three dozen rolls packaged together.

“They came in a Ziploc bag and it was obviously very unique. It was exciting for me to get so many rolls from one source,” said Bettweiser, a video producer who graduated from Borah High School in 2004.

Bettweiser painstakingly developed each roll, hand-winding the film onto spools in a dark room in his home in South Boise and pouring in temperature-controlled chemicals at his kitchen sink. While the film - three rolls at a time - developed and went through a rinse cycle, there was a lot of waiting. It took Bettweiser from noon until after midnight one day in November to process all of the rolls of 120-size film, which at 2.4 inches wide is nearly double the image size of 35-mm film.

Even though Bettweiser has developed hundreds of rolls of film, he admitted having extra anxiety before looking at the processed negatives.

“It’s always nerve-wracking and it’s always a little exciting, but this batch in particular had that extra weight to it,” he said. “I would hate myself if I destroyed a roll of film from another source, but this one just seemed a lot more significant.”



As Bettweiser held the finished negatives up to the light, history shined through. He caught images of World War II soldiers in Pennsylvania, on a ship heading across the Atlantic Ocean and in Normandy, among other places.

“You never know what’s going to be on them, but I had a pretty good idea that they were going to be something special,” Bettweiser said.

His first clue was that the film was cut down from a larger size and made to fit a medium-format camera that took 120 film. That wasn’t a beginner’s trick, he said.

“I could tell the photographer - whether he was an amateur hobbyist or a professional photographer, maybe for the military or a journalist - he wasn’t someone just shooting. He had some skills,” Bettweiser said. “Based on the film, I figured the images wouldn’t be just standard snapshots.”



In the World War II collection, Bettweiser didn’t know where most of the photos were taken. After he put some of them on the Internet, viewers from across the United States and in foreign countries began sending emails detailing the locations.

Some of the earliest messages came from eastern Pennsylvania, where people recognized Fort Indiantown Gap, a Pennsylvania National Guard post used by the U.S. Army as a World War II training base. More than 150,000 American troops trained at the facility about 100 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

One photo shows a car coming toward the photographer on a snow-covered road. Buildings on the post are visible on the left and right and a water tower rises in the background.

“That water tower is still there,” said David Shaw, commander of the Pennsylvania-based World War II Federation. “In fact, in that photo, every building but one is still there.”

Bettweiser provided the federation with a number of images shot at Fort Indiantown Gap for a commemoration this week of the end of the Battle of the Bulge in 1945. The battle was a major offensive by the German Army through the forested Ardennes region in France, Belgium and Luxembourg.

More than 19,000 American soldiers were killed and another 70,000 injured in the largest and bloodiest battle of the war for U.S. forces.

Shaw plans to surprise some of the World War II veterans who will attend the weeklong event with enlarged prints of the images sent by Bettweiser. He said he hopes they will find joy in seeing those long-ago images from their training post.

“My favorite words to use are that they’re really neat, really cool,” said Shaw, who praised Bettweiser for developing the negatives and sharing the images. “It’s great that he got them and did such a good job with them.”



Elsewhere in the collection are photos showing troops sitting on the ground waiting for a train to arrive, and sitting aboard ocean ships. Several document a military funeral in France. There’s also a shot of the white cliffs of Normandy, with metal tank obstacles placed on the beach. In another shot, a couple of American soldiers peer into the engine compartment of a German tank.

There also are a couple of shots of a soldier, his left hand in his jacket pocket, half-smiling at the camera. Bettweiser wonders whether that might be the man who took the photographs.

In one of the photos, the man’s head is partly cut out of the frame. In the other, it’s taken too far back, suggesting the camera might have been handed to someone else to take the pictures, Bettweiser said.

One roll was wrapped with two letters, one typed and one handwritten on a sheet of paper with a red Red Cross letterhead in the style given to soldiers to write home.

“They both seem very melancholy, kind of sad and depressed,” Bettweiser said. He wondered whether the unsigned letters were written by the photographer or were simply used as wrapping for the film rolls.

“The roll that these were wrapped in seemed to have no relationship to what was said in these letters,” he said.



Bettweiser said he’s been surprised by the large number of emails and phone calls he has received since the images were placed online two weeks ago. He said he received an email a minute last week.

“We’ve had so much research pouring in on the photos from World War II. People have been sending us stuff nonstop. It’s amazing,” he said.

Some viewers have re-created the photos by going to the same spot, shooting a modern photo and sending it to Bettweiser.

“One made a slide show with 10 different images. It was incredible. I was blown away that someone would do that,” he said.


On the Web: https://www.rescuedfilm.com/


Information from: Idaho Statesman, https://www.idahostatesman.com

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