Every single morning, I wake up and stroke my white hair, and remember….
I remember how my white hair started to come out in leaps and bounds. I know exactly how and when it all came out and the reason is what I carry with me every day. My white hair is a reminder of how hard one has to work to become a professional.
Those of you who are reading this post might know me well, others might know me just by my work, whereas the majority of you have no clue who I am. For sure though some of you have heard about the following episode through the grapevine, and so today I decided to finally write about it. One year and 10 months later, I feel strong enough to write about an episode which no photographer wants to go through.
In summer 2015 I was very busy, and I had a lot of lovely weddings to edit too. However nothing prepared me for what I was to face. I thought I had it sorted. I thought that since I shot weddings and backed up my work, it was enough to make me a professional. But this is not so.
One Sunday morning I woke up, made coffee and started to prepare a list of clients whose work I needed to edit and give out. Meanwhile whilst I was compiling this list, I was also backing up my recent five weddings.
A few seconds later I had to go to check on my laundry, and when I came back into my study, I heard a strange ‘Clacking’ noise, and suddenly my heart stopped. I had never heard this sound before, but I instinctively knew that this sound was not good news, especially when it was coming from my external hard drive.
I unplugged the device, tried to plug it in again, however something stopped me. I recall reading somewhere that when you hear a strange noise from your hard drive you should unplug it and not plug it in again. I immediately called my cousin who is into IT, and he told me to rush to his place. I did. I don’t know how I got to his place but I was suddenly there in his office with my hard drive in his hands. He heard me recount my story, and immediately told me that this was not something he can help me in. He gave me a local name of someone who does this work, and I called. At that moment I did not care if it was Sunday or not. I wanted my data back, I wanted my clients’ work! The data recovery guy answered and told me to visit him that day at 11:00 am. I had two hours to kill before I could go, and seriously I have no recollection of what I did in between.
At 11:00 am sharp I rang his doorbell. We exchanged a few sentences, he went inside to check something and told me that usually he does not do this sort of work for small scale clients, but I think the desperate look in my eyes convinced him to take me on as a client. I remember he mentioned two things: 1. to give him time because he was busy and 2. That it would cost a considerable amount of money (four figure number) if he manages to retrieve the data. After that I saw his door closing on me and did not hear from him till the first week of January 2016. On a dreadful Sunday morning, I finally summoned the courage to call the specialist who had my hard drive for data retrieval. The diagnosis was not good. His words were loud and clear “Commercially written off”. The world turned darker and I had no clue who to turn to.
At some point along these months, I found solace in praying. I was never much of a believer, or if I was, I did not practice. But somehow in those dark hours at night, prayers were what kept me sane.
By then clients started demanding their photos. I hated not saying the truth, but I needed time to prepare a plan of action. By then I had summoned a lawyer to guide me, since I had no clue how to respond to clients. Another friend encouraged me to send my hard drive offshore for another recovery attempt, so reluctantly in February 2016, I sent it off to the UK. My hard drive took 6 weeks to be seen to, have the heads changed etc. The diagnosis were again negative, and this blessed hard drive was once again commercially written off.
Clients wanted their photos. Clients wanted to meet me. Others were already writing to me through their lawyers. I had 5 lost weddings. Four of these clients were running after me, and sending me all sorts of messages, emails and WhatsApp messages. The messages didn’t stop. They usually started late on Friday evenings and continued all through the weekend. Sometimes I had weddings on these weekends and it is one of the hardest tasks ever to listen to an upset and angry client whilst you are shooting another client’s work. The fear was real.
I spent winter 2016 being a recluse in my own apartment, not going out, just studying, praying and hoping against hope that somehow a miracle would happen. Because yes, after two negative diagnosis, only a miracle could give me a positive result.
My nightmare was the fact that I could recall most of the photos which I had shot for my clients, and it literally hurt like hell, not being able to give them these precious photos which I shot with so much care and love. One client, wanted to meet me and we did. She came with her dad and I could see her sadness and disappointment at the same time. I wanted to make everything alright again for her, and for all my other clients. Her father was so decent, he actually encouraged me to keep on trying over and over again till I get his daughter’s photos.
I remember leaving the cafeteria with a new resolve. I was not a quitter, so against all odds, together with my lawyer we decided to give this hard drive one last chance at recovery. In May 2016 I shipped my hard drive to Germany. And let it be. I tried to move on and not think too much about it, but every day in the mirror, my white hair shined back at me, a reminder that I was not out of the woods yet, if ever I will be.
One day in early June, I was out with some students shooting some street photography photos. At one point a small white feather fell in front of me, and I put out my hand and it fell on it. I also felt a vibration from my phone in my pocket so I took it out. It was an email on my Gmail. I was shaking because in the header there was written the following: “We have successfully recovered your data”. I read and re-read this email. The company was preparing to send me the retrieved data back on another hard drive. I couldn’t believe it, and yet it was not time to tell my clients that the data had been recovered, because what if not all data was recovered. One of the managers from the German company called me and I could hear it in his voice that even he was happy to give me the good news. He was kind enough to check out the names of the folders which had my clients’ names. With every couple I mentioned, he was saying yes. Before we cut off he said, “Miss, I am happy we could help you. For us, this has been a very tough recovery. You must have had many people praying for you!”. I said that yes I did!
The hard drive arrived on a Thursday, and my mother called me to go and fetch it from home. So I did. I got home and left it on the table. I couldn’t touch it. I was scared. The next day I had to submit an assignment, so I knew I had to put in an all-nighter. Saturday morning dawned, and I did all the house chores, and when I sat down at my desk, I couldn’t postpone it any longer, I had to find out for myself if really and truly all the photos were there.
I plugged the new hard drive in. Inserted the password which the company gave me and go. One by one I found the folders. I created Lightroom catalogues for one wedding after another and uploaded the raw files on the catalogues so that I could see if the retrieved raw files could be read and if all the photos were on the hard drive.
And they were….all photos were there and all raw files were good to go! I called all my clients. And all my clients were thrilled to the bone to hear about this great news. This episode had upset them hugely and also me. I suffered just like them.
Now you know why at 40, I have so much white hair. You might tell me that I can dye my hair, and maybe try and forget this episode. Truth is that I like my white hair, because it has helped me become who I am. It has helped me step up my game in leaps and bounds. My white hair is a constant reminder that life is tough, that shit will hit the fan over and over again however with faith and resilience one can get over anything as long as one is ready to work hard and never give up.
When I meet my clients I don’t try and show them a different side of me. They face the person I truly am. Therese Debono with quite a few white hairs. I was on the verge of losing my career. A setback like this has been hard, and I am eternally sorry for causing so much trouble to my clients, however these same clients know how hard I have worked for them to get those photos back. And they have them all back.
I wish to raise awareness to all future photographers out there about the importance of backing up, having the right equipment to save your work, and above all, have the integrity to understand the importance of your work. The responsibility of wedding photography is huge. If you want to get into it, then there is a lot of dirty work to do. Useless getting a lot of wedding work if the backing system at home is not up to scratch. Useless having all this work, if you are under-pricing yourself. Back up and possible data recovery jobs cost a big amount of money, so you have to price right and think ahead, and most importantly give your clients the best service ever and try over and over again till they get the only memories they have from their big day.
I did not write this for pity, nor for tips about data back-ups. I wrote this because I wished to finally get the version of this episode from the horse’s mouth. This is the real truth behind the data loss episode which maybe you have heard about.
As you can see I did not mention any names of the data recovery specialists, if you wish to know who the company that saved my work is just drop me a line. I won’t be saying who the other two companies are so please do not ask. I also did not mention who the clients are. It is not fair on them that they are mentioned by name.
I would also like to thank my mum who has been more than just my rock during these horrible months, my sister who was always there to listen to me and had faith in this all along, her boyfriend who was always listening to my woes, and to all my friends who supported me through this difficult time. And last but not least, one fellow photographer was of really great support during those months.
Last but not least this is also a public apology to my clients who went through such a hard time with me, however I am more grateful than ever now to have delivered their photos safe and sound.