Taylor Swift performed at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, Tennessee, for the first time in 2004 when she was 14 years old. There, she was discovered by Scott Borschetta, who would go on to found Big Machine Records and publish her debut album.
We didn’t know that standing in the line outside the door of the small cafe, which is situated in a strip mall between a barbershop, a salon, and a laundromat. My friends, Jose, Megan, Zully, Angela, and I were line-dancing in a Broadway Street bar when we heard this small place held acoustic performances every night. Tickets were sold out, but a few were given each night to non-ticket holders who got there early enough.
Standing in line, we took turns making funny expressions for my fifteen-year-old Kodak digicam (a portmanteau for the compact digital camera; the use of this word peaked in 2004). I found the camera online for twenty dollars at the beginning of the year. And now a few months later, I was using it as my sole camera on a six-day-long Spring Break road trip down the East Coast, from Connecticut to Tennessee and back. Me, four friends, eight megapixels, one Mini Cooper, and a dream.
I have “serious” cameras. The ones that do great at high ISOs, give pretty colors, have fast autofocus, and make old men look at you in envy. I have an iPhone, which gives several different lens options, also works as a cellphone (multipurpose king), and fits in my pocket. I have a film camera – a rangefinder that is small and hurts my wallet a little bit with each click.
I chose none of them for this trip. The fancy camera? Sure, it is small enough with my prime lens to not kill my shoulder on a strap. But it isn’t fun. It takes me away from being a participant in the trip and places me firmly into the role of photographer. And in my experience, my friends take that camera seriously and work to maintain a good appearance in front of its lens. It would just feel weird to carry it everywhere. So, no.
The iPhone is too slow. Sure, it’s always on me, but by the time I get out of my pocket, use my face to pass the lock screen, and open the camera, I might as well have written a diary entry about whatever moment just happened. Because it would be gone by then. And it’s too familiar and not fun at all. Every photo I take on it is a few clicks away from social media. Which can be scary to the people in front of its lens, whether it’s the zoom, the standard, or the fish-eye. So, also no.
The film camera. Well, manual focus probably wouldn’t be the easiest on the run for me, plus we would be in a mixture of low-light and bright conditions, meaning I would have to put a lot of thought into what film I would load and shoot through it quickly before I shifted light conditions. And film ain’t cheap. I’m in college, remember? I’m broke! So, no.
Which leaves the Kodak EasyShare C813 digicam. Eight megapixels, runs on AA batteries and fits in my pocket. It can be turned off and stored away in my jeans pocket, and, in less than three seconds, be turned on and ready to go in my hands. And most importantly, it is COOL and FUN. Instead of being a “ professional photographer” documenting my college road trip, I am a college kid on a road trip with my friends with a camera. When I bring it out, my college friends are fascinated with its age and the “vintage” look the photographs bring out. And everyone on the trip could use it.
In response to a previous piece published on Casual Photophile about early digital cameras, one reader responded that using one would be a bad move and that memories would be ruined by the subpar quality.
Fair, maybe. But not for me. Sure, a cheap digital camera might not be the best option for fine art. It might not produce glorious 20×30 prints. But that isn’t why I took these photographs. I took these photographs to remember. To have a document to bring out and laugh at with my friends years down the road.
And without my digicam, these photographs wouldn’t exist.
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