This is a year for monumental anniversaries of events in American history—particularly the WWII 75th anniversaries of the D-Day invasion, Operation Market Garden, and the Battle of the Bulge. With those in mind, I started a project in April photographing WWII veterans, knowing that the numbers still surviving are dropping rapidly each day.
Every iconic photograph through history has a story to go with it. Sometimes, the picture tells the story all by itself. Robert Capa’s photographs of the D-Day landings on Normandy beach are a prime example. But there are other stories, too. The photographs themselves takes on a life of their own. Studying them infers things that aren’t immediately apparent.
Sometimes, the film itself can also literally have its own story. As is the case with four rolls of negatives sent by Robert Capa to LIFE Magazine from the Normandy landings. Ultimately, only one of those rolls made it to the magazine. Here’s the story as told by John G. Morris, former photo editor of LIFE.
The atomic bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th & 9th in 1945 remain the only use of nuclear weapons for warfare in mankind’s history. Six days later, Japan announced its surrender to the allies, effectively ending World War II. This event has seen much debate over the years, and likely will continue to do so throughout the future.
One of the people involved with the bombings was 2nd Lt. aircraft navigator Russel Gackenbach. Now 93, he flew into the heart of Japan on August 6th, as “Little Boy“, the 9,700lb (4,400kg) uranium-235 atomic bomb was dropped onto Hiroshima. While chaos ensued all around, Gackenbach managed to fire off some photographs of the detonation on his personal camera, which he’d taken on the flight with him.
History, while being something we often repeat, is a precious treasure that, with time, often passes from recollection. With a passion to ensure that doesn’t happen, the Rescued Film Project makes it their mission preserve forgotten treasures and share them with the world. They take old, rescued film from the 1930s to the 1990s, develop it, and digitally preserve it before it degrades beyond any usability. As RFP explains,
Every image in The Rescued Film Project at some point, was special for someone. Each frame captured, reflects a moment that was intended to be remembered. The picture was taken, the roll was finished, wound up, and for reasons we can only speculate, was never developed. These moments never made it into photo albums, or framed neatly on walls. We believe that these images deserve to be seen, so that the photographer’s personal experiences can be shared. Forever marking their existence in history.
In what was essentially a gold mine find, they came into possession of 31 rolls of undeveloped film from an unnamed soldier in World War II, a man whose only known legacy is the images he left behind. Though time and the elements had taken their toll on the film, many of the photos, most having laid dormant for nearly 70 years, were still recoverable.