Last summer, we discovered a pop-up shop around the corner from our design studio; it was put on by Manual, a Black-owned film camera company based here in NYC. We spent the next few weeks swinging by with friends, buying cameras, dropping off film for development, and chopping it up with Malcolm Dia, the company’s founder.⠀ ⠀
This year, in the wake of George Floyd’s killing and the subsequent protests against police brutality rising up across the country, we saw that Manual was offering free film development to photographers who were out documenting an important moment in our country’s history. Inspired by this initiative, we partnered with them to create protest packs to help further their work. We took applications from photographers across the nation and sent out 100 PPE (Protest Protective Equipment) kits out which included a Manual disposable film camera, a bandana face covering, and a prepaid return envelope to send the Manual camera back along with any other film the photographer needs developed - all free of charge.
We linked with Malcolm to put together a quick Q&A on his company. If you're looking for some fantastic disposable cameras, you can scoop them up via their website. You can also follow them on Instagram at @manual_nyc.
Can you introduce yourself briefly and talk about the journey that brought you to start Manual?
Hey, I’m Malcolm. I run Manual, a film photo company based here in NYC. I'm from the Bay originally, and moved here to New York around 6 years ago now.
I started Manual in 2017. My girlfriend and I were shooting a lot of film and using a lot of disposable cameras with our friends around the city - and I just realized there wasn't a solid way to develop our film. Every development spot was expensive, or inaccessible and they really didn't care about the people who were shooting. A lot of kids shooting and developing film here in New York were doing big projects, shooting covers, and really shifting culture. I wanted to create something that would alleviate some of the headaches with developing film and celebrate all of the kids out there really pushing things forward with film photography.
Why is film photography important to you?
Photography has actually been a part of my life ever since I was a kid. My grandfather was good friends with Gordon Parks and would shoot with him all around the city; I grew up with his film cameras all around the house. He would show me how to use them and how to develop film in a makeshift darkroom he set up in our garage. I would never say that I'm a photographer but I'm a huge fan of the art and I think it's just such an important medium of expression in our society.
We met at the pop-up shop you opened up last summer in the LES. What were your goals for the shop?
Yeah, so our pop up shop last summer was the culmination of an idea I've had for a couple of years now. A lot of development shops are small, really just drop off locations, and don't value the photographers that are really trusting them with their art. I wanted to create a place where people could come in and develop their film for really great prices but also be a space where they could hang out, grab a coffee, check out some incredible zines and photobooks, and really create community - and that's exactly what we were able to do.
Over the course of that summer, we developed thousands of rolls of film, launched some big collaborations with Carhartt WIP, Marc Jacobs, The Standard Hotel and we really made our shop a community space for anyone that wanted to drop by and hang out. It was special.
Tell us more about the brand partnerships Manual has worked on.
We've actually done a lot of collaborations. We've had the pleasure of working with Nike, Converse, Dior, The Whitney Museum, Puma, The North Face, Carhartt WIP, Marc Jacobs, Alexander Wang, and now you guys! Lots of great projects that I'm super proud to have been a part of.
You have been doing free film development for photographers at BLM protests across the country. What have you been seeing and learning?
I truly feel like photography and documentation is more important now than ever. When everything started popping off in Minnesota around George Floyd's death, I looked back at some archival photos of civil rights protests through American history and I was so surprised to see how little has changed. We're using the same signs, having the same conversations, and fighting the same battles. I wanted to do something to help support everyone fighting across the country so we started to offer free development to anyone shooting protests and rallies. We were blown away by the response we received, and as of today we've developed hundreds of people's rolls of film with more to come - including the PPE collaboration disposables we sent out. We're going to keep the program going for as long as people continue to stand up for racial equality across the country and the world.