We're all human. We all make mistakes. Those mistakes usually mean that something gets forgotten, or we pay a small fee, or someone gets upset. Those mistakes don't often ruin people's lives. I'm now one of those people that fail in such a terribly horrible way, that it ruins lives. I know it. I live it. I breathe it. I hyperventilate it. I stay awake at night and re-think it. I dream it. I cry through it.
I am a wedding photographer that failed to handle images appropriately.
I go home from these all day beautiful, once in a lifetime events, and I immediately transfer the images from their little slot in my card holder, to my laptop and onto a hard drive. I import them to my editing program and quickly edit some images for my clients to share and love on. I do it all right...except I didn't. I didn't use a secondary hard drive to back up 3 weddings right away, and it failed. My hard drive crashed. It was a split second between fully operational as I edited away, and then...it just stopped. My heart sank. I didn't sleep all night. I got up at 6am and googled all of the computer repair places in town. I drove straight to one and dropped it off. He tried and didn't have the proper equipment. I picked it up and brought it to a recovery specialist down the road. I signed documents stating how much I would pay for recovered images. I stalked my phone and kept it on me for 24 hrs straight awaiting his call. I prayed, and cried, and drank, and cried again. When he said that I needed to send it to the manufacturer I cried again. I got dizzy and couldn't breathe. I knew what this meant. I picked it up quickly and I filed a request with the manf. They provided me with a shipping label for ground UPS transport. I sent it overnight with a large amount of insurance instead. I stalked the UPS page to ensure delivery and called the company to ask what was next and to make sure they received it. They did. And now I wait. I cry and get nervous and dizzy and nauseous and sick every other hour. I can't tell these amazing people what has happened. I don't want to. I would rather do anything than tell them.
I write these things not to get sympathy, or make these people less angry with me, but to say that you can not possibly hate me more than I HATE ME. I was careless and made a mistake. I know that I couldn't have known that it would crash and be un-recoverable. I know that these things happen. Technology is such a fleeting thing. One device holds all of our memories and information, and in a second it could be gone. But this still shouldn't have happened, and I am forever eternally sorry. My business will change, my life will change, my everything changes.
The manufacturer still has my hard drive, and I could get the email any day that they have recovered my hard drive, and everything is fine, with a link to download the files. I could also get an email that says that the data has been scratched into dust and is entirely un-recoverable. Until I hear the word, I know that I won't sleep, I won't stop losing weight, I won't experience any true joy. I will get dizzy and need to collapse. I'm ok with that. I know that these brides will do the same thing if they don't have their images. If they don't get to re-live the moment that dad gave her away, or her first dance, or that crazy husband that put cake in her face. I'm not prepared to do this to somebody, to 3 somebodies. But I might have to.
After three weeks of waiting I have my answer. I was grocery shopping with all of my kids when I got in the car and noticed a missed phone call. I checked my voicemail and the gentleman introduced himself as the customer care rep from seagate. He over simplistically states that unfortunately my hard drive recovery was a failure. A Failure. FAILURE. I was already on the road when I heard the words. I didn't even need to hear the rest of the message. I hung up and immediately start to hyperventilate. My vision goes blurry and I'm in a tunnel of hell. My kids don't understand what's wrong. I'm terrified for them in the car with me, hurdling through space that has somehow frozen in time. By the time I get home I'm completely numb. It's hard to explain how it feels. I want to eat everything, and nothing. I want to throw up and go sleep. I want to cry and scream.
The next 5 hours I sat at my computer trying to salvage any image that I could. Thumbnails, Facebook posts, anything. I slept for a few hours and then went back to it again. I imagine I'll stay this way until every 2016 bride of mine has their images in hand and safely away from my vacuum of crappy circumstances.
Another week later. One bride knows, the other two are coming. I decided to get a second opinion on the hard drive and so I sent it to one of the most expensive recovery businesses there is. They do good work. I got the call today. My drive is indeed so badly damaged that there is not even hope of a partial recovery. How does this happen to a hard drive that I didn't even drop. I did absolutely nothing to it. So the end of my saga is here and it's over. Hope is lost. Memories are gone. I realized last week that many of my most recent children's photos were also on that drive. I mourn the loss of my kid's memories but not nearly as much as I mourn the loss of my bride's wedding days. Editing what I do have left is so bitter sweet. I'm glad that I can deliver some version of the memories to my clients, but I am so sad that these images will never become large canvases on a wall. They'll always carry a 'yeah, but...' with them for these couples.
Obviously this event changes my business. Those not directly affected by this that are reading it might wonder why I am making it public. Why am I telling this to the world? I want to be entirely transparent on this subject. I can't hide it behind my back and pretend like it didn't happen. I won't. This business isn't just a business to me, I'm too personally invested and devastated by it. I want any future clients that I may have to know what happened, and while I made a mistake, a big one, I did absolutely everything in my power to make it right. This will never happen to me again. NEVER. My hard drives are backed up with backups. I shoot on two memory cards every time I shoot anything. I don't trust technology at all, and that's how it unfortunately has to be. Many of us don't back up our phones, our computers, our entire lives can disappear just like that. So a word to the wise, back up your precious memories. If you have CDs with images on them, copy them to something that can't be scratched. If you have USBs, copy them to a server online. If you have hard drives, copy them.
I am eternally sorry for what happened, and I'll probably never be able to comfortably move past it. It's going to haunt me, and I hope that I am able to continue to capture life and present it to clients. But now they know. They know what happened this past 2 months. It's out there. It is what it is.