Littering the bottom of any given junk drawer are, most likely, rolls of undeveloped film. Vacations, family reunions, and graduations remain caught in a colloid jam because you were too busy—or just too lazy—to get them developed. But if you’re feeling surprised about stumbling across two or three rolls of film, try more than 200.
In 2015, professional photographer Ron Haviv unearthed a trove of forgotten film spanning 24 years that’s now the subject of his new photography book The Lost Rolls. The book is a meditation on memory—how, try as he did, Haviv largely couldn’t patch the gaps time had eroded on events, places, and people he shot.
"It shook me because I have always believed if I’m looking at a photograph that I have processed and developed, I can say what’s happening in that image, what happened before, what happened afterward, what’s the story—all these different things," he says. "Now, all of a sudden, I’m looking at these photographs that I’m 99.9% sure that I took but some images I don’t know—I don’t even know where I am. That really started to make me wonder about this idea of memory and photography. And I’m sure there are things that I’m missing from the photographs that I do know."
Having the film developed for The Lost Rolls brought back a bit of the thrilling uncertainty of analog photography for Haviv—uncertainty that also extended the unknown physical condition of the film.
"Photography has always been very mysterious and the mystery starts when you’re shooting film—you can’t see it until you go to the lab, open the box, take out the contact sheet. With digital, obviously, that doesn’t exist," Haviv says. "Some of the work [in The Lost Rolls], because of color leak and light leaks and mold, created some images which are fine on their own but took them to a whole other level—like, I couldn’t even do that in Photoshop if I wanted to."
Haviv is hoping The Lost Rolls will be a call to action for anyone to develop their own lost rolls, "because one, in five years there might not be any place to get it developed—that’s already happened with Kodachrome from this project. I had 14 rolls of Kodachrome from this project that I couldn’t develop because the process no longer exists. [And two, because] people have these memories locked away. Your parents are getting older, they’re passing away. Who are you gonna ask who’s that person in that photograph. Why are they on my film?"