Europe is the land of bucolic scenery, rich history…and an abundance of theft. Local photographer Tenzin Namgyel found that last part out the hard way when he had five-figures worth of equipment snatched from him on the tail end of his trip to France in May.
A George Mason High School alumnus (2018) who just finished up his first year studying film at Ithaca College, Namgyel and his mother were 13 days into an unblemished two-week French vacation before tragedy struck.
While he was taking a short rest before going on a hike at the Calanques National Park bordering Marseilles and Cassis on France’s southern coast, a car pulled up with two locals. The driver struck up a conversation with Namgyel’s mother to distract her as his accomplice grabbed various belongings out of the car — most notably Namgyel’s camera bag that held over $10,000 worth of equipment in it. A nap-dazed Namgyel awoke just as the two bandits made off with their bounty.
“The stuff I lost was definitely the best, most expensive stuff I owned,” Namgyel said.
The last 36 hours of the vacation became a concoction of grief and anxiety. Namgyel’s mother was distraught about being duped by robbers, while Namgyel had lost a piece of himself with his stolen camera. He brought his equipment with him to start dabbling in landscape photography; a shift away from his typical portrait-based work. France’s unique aesthetic was the perfect subject to break in his interest in landscapes.
Now without his camera, Namgyel is opting to expedite his transition to film work. He originally planned to expand into film gradually down the line, but he’s now making the move permanently in light of the theft.
Some local passersby came across Namgyel and his mother at the scene of the crime and directed the duo to the police; but of course, this being Europe, it’s also the land of atrocious administrative processes.
They spent a day being ping-ponged between two police stations that kept telling the mother-son pairing that it was, in fact, the other police station that was responsible for helping them out since the crime was out of its jurisdiction. Finally, one officer acquiesced and wrote a police report, allowing Namgyel to make an insurance claim when he was back stateside.
Namgyel has a gift behind the camera, but his equipment was never gifted to him. He worked as a sushi chef at Falls Church’s Maneki Neko for months to save up the money to buy his camera as well as the multiple lenses and memory cards. Out of his $10,000 worth of gear that was stolen, Namgyel purchased nearly $8,000 of it out of pocket.
The $1,700 Namgyel recouped from the insurance company was a nice boost to start, but only made up about 15 percent of what he lost while overseas. Still ailing, he shared the news with his 1,000-plus followers on Instagram to let them know that he’d post what he managed to save from the trip but would need some time to get back on his feet afterward.
What followed his announcement caught the young photographer by surprise
One friend encouraged Namgyel to organize a GoFundMe page, a website where people can orchestrate public donations for any cause, but he felt weird about asking for financial assistance. So instead, the friend decided to start one for Namgyel and began reaping in a significant amount of contributions. The response coaxed Namgyel to make a GoFundMe in his own name, and in combination with personal donations over the cash transferring phone app Venmo, he was able to get about 40 percent of what was stolen from him back.
“I was not expecting so much support from everyone in the community and friends and even people I don’t know,” Namgyel said, and mentioned a former Ithaca College film student who travels with famed photographer Brandon Woelfel made a donation as well. “I’m really grateful for everything and how it worked out.”
With the money he’s been able to get back from public donations, and the dearth of a photo-focused camera, he’s going to use that to purchase a film-focused camera and begin making that the center of his work.
Namgyel knows the camera he wants to buy and will be going “bare bones,” as he put, for a while before he can accrue new lenses to compliment his productions. He needs about $6,000 total to get the new piece of gear, and hopes to have reached his goal by the time classes start back up in late August.
But for now, he’s filling his time by doing freelance camera work, such as an upcoming project on Long Island, New York. His name being broadcasted in the film and photography community has even landed him some new connections.
And in case you were wondering, the robbery hasn’t deterred a Namgyel’s passion at all. A slap in the face, sure, but a red cheek isn’t making his eye any less sharp, so expect to see his work back in full force this fall.
Those interested in donating to Namgyel’s GoFundMe page can visit www.gofundme.com/my-camera-an-extension-of-me-stolen.