Benjamin Dome did not have much hope he would ever see his grandfather’s film camera again after it was stolen in Ethiopia three years ago.
The Nikon F-E disappeared after a bus driver sped off with it while Dome was visiting the country to photograph the Mursi tribe.
“I went out there just before the pandemic, about three years ago,” the London-based photographer tells PetaPixel.
“I was on a trip and we told the driver to stop while we went and got some food before going back to the hotel.”
But as Dome and his fellow travelers stepped out of the van it sped off with his grandfather’s camera inside.
This sparked a panic to find the driver late at night, while there was a curfew in place.
“We found some army and explained what happened and they started banging on the gates of the hotel,” explains Dome.
When the group got into the hotel they found the driver who “said he knew nothing,” and when they checked the van, it was empty.
“They put the driver in a police vehicle to try and look for other stuff, they went to a bar and interrogated a man with their truncheons,” says Dome.
The police promised Dome that they would find his grandfather’s camera, but he left Ethiopia empty-handed.
“It had my roll of film I was shooting on inside the camera. I was gutted I’d lost the photos and gutted I’d lost my grandad’s camera.”
All Seemed Lost
Dome has been visiting the Mursi people in the Horn of Africa with anthropologist Dr. David Turton for 20 years.
“I went back to London, but I told my friend in the local village to keep an eye out for it and check in with the police every so often,” Dome says.
Time passed and his grandfather’s camera that held sentimental value seemed lost, but Dome never gave up hope.
“About eight months ago, I reminded my friend to look. He sent me a link on Facebook of a guy posing with it and said ‘Is this your camera?'”
After Dome’s friend went and retrieved the camera, they cross-referenced the serial numbers and sure enough, it was the stolen Nikon.
In March 2022, three years after Dome lost the camera, he traveled back to East Africa where he got his hands on the lost instrument.
“It read 36 frames on the roll, so no one’s opened it meaning my film is still inside,” he says.
“The winder was broken off the top and the film was broken off the canister. But my exposed film was definitely inside.”
Dome struggled to open the camera but managed to pry the film out and get it into a safe pot. But, that wasn’t the end of his struggles.
“I finally got it open with the film, but I didn’t remember how I exposed the film,” he says.
“I know good practice says I should write it on the canister before taking pictures, but on the go, it’s not always possible. And I never expected to have the camera stolen.”
After much soul-searching Dome decided to get the film developed as ISO 200.
“I thought it would be a good middle ground to work from, assuming the film hadn’t been exposed in the two years or so it was out of my possession,” says Dome.
After a nail-biting 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 pictures he had traveled so far to capture but also, to have his grandfather’s camera back in his possession.
“I’m hoping to have an exhibition next year with more pics from the ‘stolen roll’ and 20 years of visiting the Mursi,” he adds.
“I’ll be posting a video of the whole journey to retrieve the camera on my new YouTube vlog too.”