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Lost Camera: a Holiday Puzzle You Can Solve

By Frank Van Riper
Special to Camera Works

This is the time of year to take pictures.

Pictures of family, pictures of snow-covered streets, pictures of brightly decorated houses and buildings.

It's a time to forget about conserving film and pixels – it's a time to photograph everything that moves.

But one family this year will not be taking pictures – at least not with the new point and shoot camera they probably bought recently to document their new and growing family.

Thankfully, this is not some heart-tugging tale of holiday tragedy. It's just the story of a lost camera.

They lost it.

I found it.

And now, on the eve of Christmas, Chanukah and Kwanzaa, I'm trying my holiday best to get it back to them. And maybe you can help.

This moderately sad tale began a couple of weeks ago on a sunny afternoon as my wife Judy and I were about to take a walk along the Capital Crescent Trail, a wonderfully restored foot and bike path that stretches eleven miles from Silver Spring, Maryland to Georgetown in Washington, DC.

Our goal that day was much less ambitious: maybe 45 minutes of brisk walking – along the trail, then back to the Subaru. I had pulled up to a sort-of parking space near Little Falls Parkway and Massachusetts Avenue. After getting out of the car I came around to Judy's side. Good thing, too.

"Watch it!" I said as Judy was about to leave the car. There, just beneath her foot was what appeared to be a brand-new camera, partially hidden in fallen leaves.

I picked it up and could see right away that it had not been discarded. All its many bells and whistles worked and the camera's exterior was pristine. This told us two things: 1. the camera was new or nearly new and 2. it had not been lying on the ground very long.

Foolishly in retrospect, I turned the camera over, hoping to find some identification – maybe a name or an address or a telephone number. But who inscribes a camera? I don't. There's no "Goodman/Van Riper Photography" imprinted on any of our cameras: Leicas, Hasselblads or Nikons. So why should I expect any to be on a little point and shoot?

Judy and I were puzzled what to do next. We rejected the idea of putting the camera back where we found it in hopes that the owner would come back to look for it. No camera likes to be left out in the elements and, since this one looked to be in fine shape, it seemed foolish to subject it to possible gratuitous harm if no one showed up immediately.

Maybe, we hoped, the owner has realized it's gone and is on his or her way back here right now, while we are here. Sure enough, within a few minutes a woman walking her dog strode determinedly right up to us.

"Is this your camera?" I asked hopefully.

No, the woman replied, as her dog sniffed the ground with comic intensity.

There was one clue and it turned out to be a good one – or at least I hope it's a good one.

The camera was loaded and ten exposures had been made, according to the film counter. Hopefully, at least some of those pictures would be of people – people you or I might recognize.

The next day I dropped the film at our local one-hour lab. But "one-hour" turned into "the next day" because they were having processor problems. [It's a sign of our times that I made it a point to tell the person behind the counter when I dropped off the film that it wasn't mine – on the off chance that the camera's owner had used the little P&S to shoot a little S&M.]

But the pictures were wonderful, though, not surprisingly given the odds, I did not recognize anyone. But do you? Maybe these pictures still can help get this camera back home.

As best I can dope out from the ten snapshots that were taken, and based on my own supposition, two young women spent some time together enjoying the Crescent Trail with two small children. The blonde woman in the photo at the right probably is the mother of the kids. I say this because another photo shows her wheeling both children in the same double stroller – and because in a later photo the bib on the little boy in the high chair says "I love my (big) sister."

So, if both children belong to the blonde woman, who's the woman in sunglasses? A friend? An aunt? Got me.

And remember: someone had to take that picture of the foursome. A husband? Another friend? A passerby?

It's kind of fun playing detective.

My further surmise is that these folks live in the neighborhood where the camera was lost since the photos show the same surroundings where it was found. Granted, this is just a guess. They all could have trucked on in from Front Royal for the day. But that's my surmise and I'm sticking to it.

I am hoping that someone out there recognizes these folks and can hook us up. You'll note that I have not described the camera in great detail, beyond saying it's a point and shoot. The person who contacts me (by e-mail please, not by phone) will have to identify the lost camera's make, model and color before I can turn it over.

In the meantime, does anyone have any other suggestions how I might reunite this camera with its owner?

I think it would be great to start the New Year, or end the old one, with a good photo deed.

Here's hoping that together we can do that.

Happy Holidays, everyone!!

Frank Van Riper is a Washington-based commercial and documentary photographer and author. His latest book is Talking Photography (Allworth Press), a collection of his Washington Post columns and other photography writing over the past decade. He can be reached through his website www.GVRphoto.com.

©Frank Van Riper
Do you know these people? This happy foursome was featured in snapshots made on a lost point and shoot camera that Judy and I found recently near the Capital Crescent Trail. If you know these folks – or if that's you in the shot – e-mail me.

©Frank Van Riper
In a perfect world, this happy, well-fed, toddler will have lots more pictures made on the lost point and shoot.

Holiday Greetings

Wishing you tranquility, peace and joy at the Holidays.
–Frank Van Riper and Judith Goodman


Photography columnist and author Frank Van Riper will teach a 6-week evening workshop in documentary photography and photographic printing at Glen Echo Park's PhotoWorks studio this winter. The Thursday evening classes will begin February 19th and go through March 25th. and will be open to all students who would like to improve their photographic story-telling and/or darkroom skills. Class hours are 7pm-10:30pm. Students will be expected to initiate or continue a project of their choosing, and pursue that project during the course of the workshop. Weekly discussions of each student's progress will be held, both in class and privately, with the goal of producing a finished picture story by the end of the class. Students wishing to also accompany their photo essays with written text are encouraged to do so. Class size is limited. Early registration is suggested. For information: 301-320-7757. Or see website: www.glenechopark.org/brochure.pdf



Talking PhotographyAlready acclaimed as the photographer's bedside companion, Talking Photography (Allworth Press, $19.95) is award-winning Post photography columnist Frank Van Riper's ten-year collection of his favorite photography columns and essays. This lavishly illustrated paperback already has garnered rave reviews from all walks of photography for its breezy, informative style and unbounded enthusiasm for making pictures.

To order directly, go to: Allworth Press

 Van Riper on Van Riper

Frank Van Riper Archive:

Dentro 'Il Circolo': Inside 'The Circle'

'I've Always Been Crazy' ...For Honky Tonk

Traveling Photogs Finally Get a Break

Loving At First Sight

Again in Search of Acqua Alta

The Hassy Xpan II: Think Leica/Hummer