A cautionary tale of luck, passion and a camera lost


When Judith Zissman lost her camera and 500 photos in Hawaii, she started a blog in an attempt to compensate for her missing pictures. For several days, Zissman culled other people's Hawaiian photos from the online photo-sharing service Flickr and highlighted them on her site as a way to document the places she had been on her vacation.

What happened next is a tale of epic blog proportions.

Zissman, an artist who lives in San Francisco, said she received a call from a Hawaiian park ranger, saying that a Canadian couple had called to report finding a camera.

Overjoyed, Zissman called them at their home and spoke to a woman about the camera and quickly concluded that the camera was hers. But there was a hitch. In a Feb. 18 entry on her blog, Zissman recalled the woman's comments:

"'Well,' she said, 'we have a bit of a situation. You see, my 9-year-old son found your camera, and we wanted to show him to do the right thing, so we called, but now he's been using it for a week and he really loves it and we can't bear to take it from him. ... And he was recently diagnosed with diabetes, and he's now convinced he has bad luck, and finding the camera was good luck, and so we can't tell him that he has to give it up.'"

Zissman finally persuaded the woman to at least send her the memory card with her 500 cherished photos on it. Nearly two weeks later, Zissman wrote, a package showed up with this message inside: "Enclosed are some CDs with your images on them. We need the memory cards to operate the camera properly."

Zissman's follow-up phone call resulted in the woman hanging up on her.

As Zissman's story spread across the Internet, hundreds of people flocked to her site to offer support, advice and to express astonishment. Some have been downright shocking in their remarks.

"I hope the little [expletive] goes into a coma and dies," wrote one person, referring to the Canadian woman's son.

Zissman, reached by e-mail last week, said she's not surprised by the passionate responses but would prefer that everyone take a deep breath.

"The range of emotions is wholly understandable," Zissman said. "What I don't understand are the comments wishing actual harm on a child who clearly isn't the guilty party here."

Many people have urged Zissman to post the names, address and phone number of the family. But Zissman has refused, saying that she's pursuing the matter through legal channels.

Others, including Avi Muchnick, the operator of Worth1000.com, have offered to buy Zissman a new camera. Despite losing several hundred dollars' worth of photo equipment, she has refused those offers.

"In the same way that the Canadian family have done nothing to earn my camera, I've done nothing to earn a new camera," she said. "If people want to give their money away, they can donate to the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. It's a very serious disease, and I was disheartened that someone would use her son's illness as an excuse in this way."

Zissman says that once the furor over her story dies down, she plans to post some of her reclaimed Hawaii photos.

And to date, she's heard nothing more from Canada.


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