I’ve got one that still bothers me even today and it occurred in 1997 whilst I was travelling around the world for 18 months. I was in Zanzibar with a Contax ST a couple of Carl Zeiss lenses and of course Fuji Velvia film photographing these outrigger boats in a turquoise sea and surrounded by palm trees and snow white sand as fine as custard powder. (see below), Idyllic it was and pretty hot in the afternoon sun.
The scene in front of me was crazy gorgeous and film was passing through my camera so fast the frictional forces were probably generating as much heat as that sunshine and it was about to get better still. Out of nowhere one of those instant weather changes turned on a sixpence and black cloud motored in, the wind got up to gale force and a deluge of biblical severity fell. Lightning flashed, everyone ran for cover and we took refuge under some palm trees, to my utter astonishment a funnel cloud dropped and there in front of me was something I have never seen, a waterspout. Needless to say I kept shooting and duly reached the end of the 36 exposure roll.
Then I did something I have never done before, I opened the camera back to take the film out but of course I didn’t wind it back.
For a few seconds I stared in disbelief at my ruined record of epic events before slamming the camera back shut again. More than a few expletives were uttered I can assure you. I wound the film back in the camera, marked the film cannister “epic fail” and loaded a new roll.
That squall passed almost as quickly as it arrived, the regret lingered and by the time I was back in the water with the outriggers the sky was as blue as ever, but the transformation to the sea was surreal, that squall had stirred up the fine sand and turned the formerly turquoise sea into milk upon which the outriggers now floated. Every single outrigger I had thus far seen had a white sail furled or unfurled. I could not believe my luck when I looked up and there in front of me was a small red sailed dhow passing through. I was burning film again and duly reached the end of my 36 exposure roll and you guessed it I did exactly the same damn thing again and was left staring transfixed at yet another ruined film. I slammed the camera back shut, cursed far too loudly then solemnly packed my camera away and walked back to a large palm tree and sat there wordlessly drinking liters of ice cold water and coconut juice which one of the locals climbed up the tree for. I can only assume the heat (sunstroke) had got to me and my mental faculties had become impaired. I certainly felt very rough that evening.
The picture you see below is quite literally the only one not ruined from that day. It was the runner up in the annual Wanderlust competition but was adopted by Wanderlust as their advertising image appearing on bill boards in London and all over the underground system with the title “Wish you were here”, the irony was not lost on me and I probably earned more from that image than the eventual winner received due to its marketability.