Processing the Alan Lewis Camera and Projector Collection

Recently, the IU Libraries Moving Image Archive acquired the collection of Alan Lewis, which includes 174 movie cameras and 46 film projectors.  As the person tasked with taking the initial inventory of the collection, I’ve slowly been building a more complete understanding of the shape and scope of what’s in it. So far, I’ve been doing a basic cleanup for each camera and projector, in addition to some internet research to try and find any manuals or information that may exist out in the world. Over the course of cleaning and inspecting the equipment, I’ve gotten a chance to have first hand experience with some amazing pieces of filmmaking history!

For the projectors, I checked the working condition and cleaned around the film path especially. The projectors are split almost evenly in terms of being able to project 16mm or 8mm (or Dual 8, which indicates ability to project both regular and Super). I found several projectors in working order, and one 8mm projector was even used for Home Movie Day.

A Bell & Howell Filmo 8mm “Master” Projector

For the cameras, I’ve mostly been limiting my cleaning to wiping the bodies down to get the dust off and cleaning the lenses. I’ve found that several of the older models (from the 40s-50s) are actually in great working order, due to being based on analogue winding mechanisms. Many of the later models that relied on batteries seem to have electrical components that have failed, or have corrosion in the battery cases that require more extensive cleaning before they can be tested.

Corroded batteries – a conservation risk with old cameras.

Some cameras still have film in them, and those need to be opened in a “black bag” and the film put into lightproof cans. The archive is planning on sending the films away to be developed, which hopefully reveals some cool footage!

I’ve also been doing a bit of background research for each of the different types of models. Lewis’s collection covers an astonishing range of manufacturers, from Bolex to Kodak to Keystone to Yashica. There are bits of information about years of manufacture and technical specs scattered all over the internet, mostly from other private collectors documenting their own collections, such as this website, or dedicated to one brand, for example The Bolex Collector site. Additionally, Alan Kattelle’s excellent book Home Movies has been an invaluable resource for dating cameras and projectors made by Kodak, Bell & Howell, and Revere. Doing the work of tracking down all the separate pieces of information has been an interesting and fun challenge.

My favorites have been the Bell & Howell Filmo 8mm projectors and cameras, which I think are just so cute and well made! The craftsmanship and design of these little Filmos appeal to me aesthetically, in addition to being sturdy and practical. The models were produced starting from the mid-30’s, and the ones I’ve found have held up to this day.

Cute Filmo 8mm cameras!

Not only do the models I’ve found from this series so far work, but they’re also excellent examples of the type of consumer goods available to the amature filmmaker back in the day. Due to these camera’s affordability and ease of use, they were marketed specifically for making home movies.

It fits in your hand!

I would love to see some of these cameras back in action, and the archive hopes make parts of the collection available for students at the The Media School and the School of Art, Architecture + Design to use to get experience shooting on film, possibly for the first time for many. Other plans for the collection include setting up a multi-projection installation around campus.

– by Lydia Creech

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