The Photographs That Wouldn’t Exist – Travels with a Digicam

The Photographs That Wouldn’t Exist – Travels with a Digicam

2200 1650 Lukas Flippo

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.

Angela and Zully outside of the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, Tennessee.

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.

Zully takes a mirror selfie in an antique store in rural Kentucky.

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.

Megan waits to put her new guitar in the trunk. We had to rearrange all of our luggage after she purchased this vintage guitar in an antique store in rural Kentucky. We took the unplanned exit off the highway after seeing a sign for a cool cave.

Zully and Megan nap in the backseat somewhere in Tennesee.

Megan, Zully, Jose, and Angela plot out our next move in the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.

Angela tries on a leather jacket in a vintage store in Nashville, Tennessee.

Perfume Genius performs in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Megan tries on a cowboy hat at the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Megan, Zully, and Angela practice their line dance in our Nashville hotel room.

The early morning sun engulfs Zully on the pullout sofa a few hours later.

Megan looks down through the sunroof at a rest stop in Connecticut.

Find your own Digicam on eBay here!

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Lukas Flippo

Lukas Flippo is a first-generation low-income student at Yale University from rural Mississippi. Lukas is a photojournalist, with work appearing in the New York Times, TIME, IndyStar, and the Sun Herald.

All stories by:Lukas Flippo
9 comments
  • Great pictures from first digicam which look more than film images, what it is not the case now.
    Thank You Lukas.

  • The writing here is excellent, as it always is. But these images are something else. It’s amazing that 20 years ago, we thought these images were better than we could ever hope for. Not knowing that just two short, event-filled decades later, digital camera technology would skyrocket, giving us images that are more dense, more colorful, more printable and truer than life.

    There’s a sweet nostalgia in these images. Their slightly out of focus texture and their subtle desaturation and softness feels more like a memory than a recording of what actually happened. Like you made a picture from what you THINK you remember happening versus what ACTUALLY happened. This is sweet. And it kinda makes me want an old digicam now.

    Neat piece Lukas. As always.

  • My intro to digital photography, after decades of film shooting was the simple but excellent Canon Powershot A620. This tiny, pocketable camera was rated pretty high at the time of its availability on the market, so it won the selection process to be my first digicam. It was the right choice.

    The 7mp sensor and the Canon processor gave me effortless 8×10 prints that made me start thinking that my film days might be numbered. The best thing was the tiny size and the use of readily available AA batteries. This camera could be stored in a drawer or glove compartment until such time that you thought, “I wish I had a camera.”

    I have a lot of DSLRs and mirrorless cameras today… and that little Canon still comes out for times that it excels. And like you, I have pictures that wouldn’t exist without it.

  • Merlin Marquardt April 22, 2022 at 1:05 pm

    Fujifilm FinePix A330, my first digital camera, a gift from my daughter, still takes great pictures.

  • These are lovely images.

  • Peter Bidel Schwambach April 29, 2022 at 10:19 am

    Great read, as always! Your articles always make me reflect on why I enjoy this hobby so much, and always seem to bring back some harsh feelings from my teens and early adulthood… On the one hand, those were pretty crappy times, but on the other, it makes me kinda sad I have nothing to remember them by.

  • Another great piece from new favorite Casual Photophile contributor. Early digital photography is now nostalgic – this camera was the right tool for the job. Maybe I’ll pull out my Canon Elph. I wonder whether it still works?

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Lukas Flippo

Lukas Flippo is a first-generation low-income student at Yale University from rural Mississippi. Lukas is a photojournalist, with work appearing in the New York Times, TIME, IndyStar, and the Sun Herald.

All stories by:Lukas Flippo