HORICON -- The camera John Noerr found at the bottom of a small creek north of Pharaoh Lake in early July could have belonged to anyone.
It wasn’t until he took the Cannon XT digital camera back to his parents’ home on Schroon Lake that he discovered the crusty, soggy memory card still worked, with the most recent picture time-stamped in June 2009.
And the 581 photos it contained led the Poultney, Vt., art teacher on a three-week journey to find the camera’s owner.
“I started to realize there might be enough information here to track this guy down,” Noerr said Saturday.
The memory card’s contents contained a hodgepodge of urban streetscapes, photos of apparent loved ones and random signs.
He noticed most of the photos appeared to be in one general area, which he believed to be in one of New York City’s outer boroughs.
It was details like specific bagel shops and a unique purple door that caught his attention in a single self-portrait of an unknown woman.
“There were a lot of dead ends I followed,” he said.
But just two photos served as Noerr’s “holy grail,” a shot of a young woman sitting on a front stoop of a house numbered 327 and a shot taken seconds later of the sky that captured a street sign reading 3rd Street.
Noerr spent hours digitally walking New York’s streets using Google’s streetview.
“I toured every 3rd Street in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan, he said. “Then I saw a sign for that bagel shop, took a left and there it was, that purple door.”
He had found the right neighborhood, Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge community, and minutes later house No. 327.
Using public tax records he found the last name of its owners, the Comeau family.
That’s when the 39-year-old educator turned to social media.
He googled the last name and found the woman from the self portrait on Twitter and started a conversation.
“I said, ‘I think I found your camera in a stream in the Adirondacks,’ ” Noerr said. “She said, ‘I’ve never lost a camera in the Adirondacks, but my brother did.’ ”
It was Michael Comeau’s camera and Noerr finally contacted him Tuesday.
“There was a moment it could have belonged to any number of 7 billion people,” Noerr said. “Then, there was a moment when it belonged to just one.”
Comeau accidently dropped it from a bridge while camping in the area with friends in the summer of 2009, he said.
“I had kind of given up on it,” Comeau said.
Among the 581 photos included countless memories that Comeau has no doubt forgotten about, he said, as well as family photos of now-deceased relatives.
“It’s one of those little miracles,” Comeau said. “It’s totally bizarre. I can’t wait to get it back.”
Comeau said he intends to make a book out of the 581 pictures that spent three years entombed at the bottom of that small Adirondack creek.
But what would drive a man on summer break to undertake such an investigation?
Noerr said it’s because the information available in the digital age offered the opportunity.
“Because it’s possible,” he said. “I’ve been all over the world on Google Earth.”
And Noerr’s side-career in photographic investigation may not be over.
Late last week, he contacted an American tourist in Greece who posted on the Internet he had found a camera on a Mediterranean island.
“I’m trying to find a specific restaurant on the island of Corfu,” he said.