Inspirations From Yesterday: Motorola e815

It's been the strangest of circumstances lately that had me start thinking about beginning this series of blog posts entitled Inspirations From Yesterday. Principal among these was stumbling upon an archive of digital files from 2006 when photography started playing a more prominent role in my writing projects. As I recently wrote in On Blogging And Photography, I had been publishing content online for a couple of years when I got my first mobile phone with an integrated camera. That phone was the Motorola e815 and, for all intents and purposes, it was the tool that reignited my interest in photography.

Ten years ago the theme of my blog revolved around training for triathlons, which basically amounted to lots of writing about cycling and running (the swimming... not so much). But when I received my Motorola e815, a whole new world opened up. I also owned a Nikon D40 DSLR at the time, but with a camera phone, I was suddenly equipped to capture pictures whenever I wanted because the camera was always with me. I would take it with me while I was running; while I was out riding my bike; and while I was doing everything else in my day-to-day grind. Incidentally, my blog at the time was called The Daily Grind. While none of the photographs I captured were aesthetically noteworthy, they did help me communicate a sense of place and time, and added a new dimension to the adventures I was writing about.

All of the photographs presented here were taken with the Motorola e815 camera phone in 2006 - mobile photography before Instagram. Despite my desire to re-process them today using the skills I've developed over the past ten years, they are in fact presented as they were captured: straight out of the camera JPEGs from the early days of camera phone technology.

The Motorola e815 camera was, by all modern measures, atrocious. It used a piddly 1.3MP sensor and the images often came out overly compressed with blown highlights and significant noise in anything but the brightest and most balanced of lighting situations. In many photos you can spot color banding, an artifact of the wonky JPEG compression used by the phone. Still, the novelty of having a camera with me at all times greatly outweighed those shortcomings. There was another, more serious issue with the camera and that was the fact that the phone had to first be opened to take a picture. While not a huge deal for casual snaps, I'd say close to 90% of the pictures I took with my Motorola e815 were taken while riding a bike or running. I can't count how many times the phone nearly hit the deck as I clumsily tried flipping open the clam shell with one hand.

In the burgeoning days of the "smartphone" industry, the Motorola e815 was actually a highly sought after device by the entrepreneurial photographer. At the time, one of the nation's biggest carriers (who shall go unnamed, other than saying their name rhymes with Schmerizon) locked down their phones in such a way that consumers had to pay a fee for every photo they downloaded from the phone to their computer. Meanwhile, enthusiast groups who dedicated their time to hacking cell phones figured out ways to circumvent this limitation on the Motorola e815. Thus, it was one of the only phones at the time that provided a means for capturing photos and moving them from phone to computer for free. Could you imagine having to pay to transfer a picture from your iPhone to your computer today? I don't think so, Schmerizon.

Looking back on these images ten years after they were taken, a few things stand out. Firstly, virtually all of them were hazy from either the humidity outdoors or the sweat-covered lens of the camera on the phone. Plus, 1.3MP JPEGs from the Motorola e815 are shockingly low in resolution and clarity compared to what we call a "camera phone" today. More fundamentally, however, I look back at these pictures and can almost make out the very early stages of what would evolve into my own photographic style. The twisting roads, the sweeping landscapes, the puffy clouds...