Through the kindness of a traveling stranger, the ingenuity of Reddit users and the magic of facial recognition technology, one Evanston family recovered a camera accidentally left on a train in France last November.
Joe Ingraffia, his wife, Sue Bova, and children Louis and Isabella were wrapping up a weeklong stay in Paris with an afternoon excursion to Versailles. The foursome had just hopped off the Paris C train and were approaching the historic estate when Ingraffia realized he had left his Sony Alpha C camera behind.
“We were so bummed because we had a week’s worth of pictures on that camera,” recalled Bova. “We figured it was gone. Think about a train in Chicago: Where are you even going to start to find it?”
The family continued with their plans, making do with cellphone cameras to document the day’s adventures.
That night, while Bova and Ingraffia slept, dreaming of mirrored halls and grand gardens, a Reddit board was abuzz. The search for their family was already in motion.
Ashkan Ahmadi, a tourist from Barcelona, found the forgotten camera on a train seat that same afternoon. He accessed the photos and selected a shot of Bova and the kids posing on a scenic Parisian park bench, then posted it, along with a message, on Reddit Paris:
“Found a camera left behind on the C train today. I’m trying to see if I can find the owners before giving it to the police. I went through the images and nothing can be used to identify or locate the owner. Just a few family pictures. Maybe someone knows these people? What do you suggest? Thanks.”
The mystery elicited a flurry of sleuth-like suggestions. Bova marveled at the level of interest in the misplaced camera. “People just jumped on this,” she said. “There were over 1,000 different comments on that post.”
Seattle to the rescue
One user noted that the young man in the picture wore a Seattle Mariners hoodie and bore a strong resemblance to rookie pitcher George Kirby. Posters weighed in on the theory that this might be the vacationing ballplayer, assessing similarities in height and facial features. While no consensus was reached, there was general agreement that the picture should be reposted on Reddit Seattle.
True to its ethos, Seattle responded to the challenge with a high-tech solution: facial recognition software.
Although grateful for the effort, Bova had mixed feelings about the approach. “It’s a little creepy, right? But it’s just a realization that we all have a digital footprint.”
The facial recognition search conducted by a Reddit Seattle user turned up yet another picture of Bova with her children. This time, young people clad in “Great Lake Plunge” T-shirts stood beside their mom, who wore a swim cap and a huge smile. Bova said she had just completed the annual open water swimming event at the Dempster Street Beach. The 2015 photo, taken as a publicity shot by organizers, was one that she had never posted or even seen, but it appeared on the Great Lake Plunge website.
The online community had their final clue. “Someone Googled Great Lake Plunge,” said Bova, “found out it was in Evanston and did a repost on Reddit Evanston.”
‘Did you lose a camera?’
Friend and neighbor Ted Perez spotted the image on the site and immediately contacted her.
“The next morning, I woke up and noticed I had a Facebook message,” she said. “It was Ted Perez saying, ‘Hi Sue. How are you? Did you lose a camera?’ I was like, what?!”
Perez said he was astonished to see the picture of his friends on the local message board and amazed at how news of the lost camera had traveled from Paris to Seattle to Evanston. “Only three hops, three layers of separation. It’s kind of funny,” he mused. “If we didn’t have Reddit, and it was a regular camera, not a digital camera, you might as well cut your losses. If they had to develop the film of random people, where would you even put up those pictures?”
Perez shared the Reddit link with Bova, and she contacted Ahmadi, the original poster, who offered to swing by their Airbnb with the camera. “My husband lost the camera at 3 o’clock in the afternoon,” she said, “and we had it back by 12:30 the next day.”
Bova emphasized that she and her husband were extremely grateful to the thoughtful stranger who found their camera, as well as to Perez.
Although there were a few people on the Reddit Evanston site who claimed to recognize Bova and her kids, Perez was the only one who got in touch. “Ted was absolutely the winner,” she said. “He was the one that made it happen.”
Good people everywhere!
So happy for the retrieval of this precious item.
I had a somewhat related experience in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico recently where my phone and wallet were stolen. Only thru the kindness of an “angel from heaven” was I rescued and proceeded to have the best vacation of my life! Lessons learned: there are many good people in this world; most of the folks of PV are the best; and carry your “precious stuff” close to your chest!
What a darling story!