Ron Haviv has planted himself on the front lines of wars for over 25 years, with a camera as his only weapon. His frame of the newly elected vice president of Panama being stabbed and beaten in 1989 ricocheted around the world. With his iconic photo of atrocities in Bosnia, Haviv infuriated the warlord Arkan, who declared that he looked forward to drinking Haviv’s blood.
While many of his photographs filled publications worldwide, some never stood a chance to grace a magazine. Canisters rolled into the backs of drawers here and there, or were tucked into bags and forgotten. Now these frames of history are seeing the light of day for the first time.
The pictures on these 262 rolls of film are the premise of Haviv’s book, “The Lost Rolls.” They form an odd family photo album in which the kin are the people and places that have defined global politics and culture in the past quarter century. Newly surfaced are: the Clintons, posing at ancient ruins in Turkey; a beaming Rudy Giuliani; and gang members in murderous El Salvador. Having languished for years, some of the frames feature splotches of light leakage or constellations of mold.
Peppered among all these are work assignments that Haviv couldn’t place; even a photo of people posing in the manner of family friends — of whom he has no recollection. It was a jarring feeling to Haviv, who always assumed that his photos could serve as mental bookmarks for him, and that as long as he had the photo he could access the memory. On the other hand, he also found photos of ex-girlfriends and priceless images of colleagues who have passed away.
Haviv hopes to grow the idea into a nationwide project in which people apply the same concept to their family photos. Just last year, his friend Marc Berardi’s father passed away, leaving behind a house full of VHS tapes, audio cassettes, floppy discs, and film dating back to the ‘70s. Not knowing that the film could still be viable, Berardi’s sister had thrown the canisters away. “I was ready to go through the garbage bags, but by the time I got there they had been taken away,” he said. Luckily, last week Berardi found another handful of film. What memories are preserved on that film remains to be seen.
That cycle of unearthing memories is also continuing for Haviv. When the video channel Nowness shot a documentary on the “Lost Rolls” project, Haviv opened a drawer to show his cameras, including an old 35 mm Contax G2. He popped the back open, and to his surprise, found one more lost roll. He is waiting for just the right moment to develop those 24 frames.