I have officially lost my entire life’s work in photography. All of it. Every digital image shot between 2002 and 2014. Every country traveled, every monument, every milestone, every festival, every holiday, every event. Over 40,000 images totaling over 300 GB of raw data. It’s gone and I have no choice but to accept that reality and let it all go.
I returned from Thailand with 1 TB Verbatim drive that housed my entire photo database. The drive immediately went defunct. It was less than a year old and still under warranty in Thailand but non-transferrable to the US as the drive is not manufactured or sold here. A recovery attempt was made locally and the data extracted was saved to a brand new 1 TB Toshiba drive. I spent about 10 days restoring backup files, sorting, organizing and compiling all data I had to the Toshiba, simultaneously deleting said backups. This is where I made a grave mistake. Less than two weeks out of the box, the brand new master drive took a dive from the desk to the hardwood floor. Immediately it began clicking. The platters were damaged. I couldn’t even fucking believe it.
I sent both drives to Advanced Data Recovery, a local data recovery company that has been in operation for 15 years. I asked them to assess both drives and attempt recovery on the drive that seemed most recoverable seeing as it could cost as much as $1,500 to recover just one. That was September 5, 2014. ADR came back saying the Verbatim seemed the most recoverable and so the very long, arduous process began.
It wasn’t until December 11, 2014, three full months later, that I got wind of the prognosis. ADR may have a good reputation in these parts but in my experience, they were slow, unresponsive and generally misleading. My initial emails to them checking on the status elicited responses that made it seem like some portion of the data was likely recoverable, which put me at ease. One month passed. Two months passed. Three months passed. I heard nothing. I sent additional emails inquiring about the status. I was told in early December that ADR had sent an email a month earlier telling me that the drive was 100% unrecoverable. Knife to the heart. I had never received said email and this came as a complete 360 from the previous indication that something, rather than nothing, was going to be recovered. I asked ADR to send me back both drives. I was not about to give up just yet.
I still had the Toshiba and perhaps something could be recovered from that so I sent it off to Kroll Ontrack, an international data recovery company that has operated for 25 years. Their customer service was far superior. I paid $65 for initial diagnosis of the drive. That was April 24, 2015. On June 15, just under two months later, I was told they had completed an evaluation of my media, and that, for $829.00 I could fully and partially recover about 2 GB of data. Are you serious? $829.00 for a mere 2 GB? I confirmed with customer service that only 2 GB was recoverable on the 1 TB drive. The customer service rep said, “Unfortunately, this is a very poor recovery due to the extent of the damage. I would not recommend going forward with it as there is very little data recovered. What would you like us to do with the drive?” To which I replied, “Throw it into the depths of the ocean.”
So it’s all gone gone gone and there’s no getting it back. There is nothing more painful that losing what you most cherish. It cuts deep to the bone. The wound may heal with time, but the scar will remain forever. Such a humbling lesson in unattachment and acceptance. As the author Paulo Coelho once said, “Anyone who has lost something they thought was theirs forever finally comes to realise that nothing really belongs to them.” Life can sure throw some blows. Sometimes those blows knock the air right out of you. But you get the fuck back up again and get in the ring. Forward ever, backward never.
Moral of this sad story: fuck external hard drives. Cloud storage is the only safe storage. And never, ever delete a backup.