A photographer’s 3-year mission to recover his grandfather’s film camera

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Benjamin Dome had little hope of ever seeing his grandfather’s camera again after it was stolen in Ethiopia three years ago.

The Nikon FE went missing after a bus driver snuck off with it while Dome was touring the country to photograph the Mursi tribe.

morsi

“I went there just before the pandemic, about three years ago,” says the London-based photographer PetaPixel.

“I was on a trip and we told the driver to stop while we went to get some food before returning to the hotel.”

But when Dome and his traveling companions got out of the van, it sped away with his grandfather’s camera inside.

It sparked a panic to find the driver late at night when a curfew was in place.

“We found an army and explained what had happened and they started knocking on the doors of the hotel,” says Dome.

When the group entered the hotel, they found the driver who “said he didn’t know anything”, and when they checked the van it was empty.

“They put the driver in a police vehicle to try and look for more stuff, they went to a bar and interrogated a man with their batons,” Dome said.

The police promised Dome to find his grandfather’s camera, but he left Ethiopia empty-handed.

“There was my film that I was shooting on inside the camera. I was disgusted that I lost the photos and disgusted that I lost my grandfather’s camera.

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All seemed lost

Dome visited the Mursi people in the Horn of Africa with anthropologist Dr David Turton for 20 years.

“I went back to London but told my local village friend to keep an eye on it and check in with the police every now and then,” Dome said.

Time passed and his grandfather’s camera that had sentimental value seemed lost, but Dome never gave up hope.

“About eight months ago I reminded my friend to look. He sent me a Facebook link of a guy posing with it and said, “Is that your camera?”

After Dome’s friend went to retrieve the camera, they cross-checked the serial numbers and sure enough, it was the stolen Nikon.

Dome’s friend with the camera after retrieving it.

In March 2022, three years after Dome lost the camera, he returned to East Africa where he got his hands on the lost instrument.

“It read 36 frames on the roll, so no one opened it, which means my film is still inside,” he says.

“The reel was broken on top and the film was broken on the cartridge. But my exposed film was definitely inside.

Broken winder
Winder broken.

Dome struggled to open the camera but managed to remove the film and put it in a safe jar. But that was not the end of his struggles.

“I finally managed to open it with the film, but I couldn’t remember how I had exposed the film,” he says.

“I know good practice says I should write it on the cartridge before taking pictures, but on the move that’s not always possible. And I didn’t expect the camera to be stolen.

After much soul-searching, Dome decided to have the film developed in ISO 200.

“I thought that would be a good middle ground to work from, assuming the film hadn’t been exhibited in about two years, it was no longer in my possession,” Dome says.

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Ethiopia

After a long wait, the film came back with beautiful black and white images of Ethiopians on it.

Needless to say, Dome was thrilled to not only retrieve the photos he had traveled this far to capture, but also to have his grandfather’s camera in his possession.

“I hope to have an exhibition next year with more photos of the ‘stolen scroll’ and 20 years of visiting the Mursi,” he adds.

“I will also be posting a video of the entire trip to retrieve the camera on my new YouTube vlog.”

Nikon FE

For the upcoming video and to learn more about Dome’s work, visit his YouTube, website, and Instagram.

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