“I grew up around film photography. Since I was a kid, my grandfather showed me all the film cameras that he had, and we built a dark room in our garage. I was exposed to it at a really young age,” Malcolm Dia tells us. As an art director and founder of Manual NYC – a community-focused photo company – it seems natural that Malcom’s creative journey started early on. After moving to New York six years ago, Malcolm soon became known in creative circles for taking those unpredictable disposable cameras with him everywhere he went, as he documented his life and the city and the people that surrounded him.
Despite living in a digital-first world, Malcolm found there was still a demand, and desire, for analog photography. And that’s how the seeds for Manual NYC were planted. “We started the company with just a disposable camera that we've been rocking with for the past three years. We also have a private lab that we use in Crown Heights that develops all the film. So we offer a good all-in-one service, providing the tools, providing the service to develop them,” Malcolm says. At the beginning, Manual NYC was providing the disposable cameras and developing them, but the output was still digital: you only received physical prints on request. It wasn’t long before Malcolm felt a need to bring some tactility back to the process. And even more importantly, turn those who were fans of analog photography into a real community.
“I started becoming friends with all these young kids who were shooting film and doing incredible things in the medium,” Malcolm shares. “I noticed there was no community aspect to what was going on and I wanted to create something to help support them and their careers.” So now, alongside offering disposables and developing services, the brand has added fostering young creative talent to its offering. “Our goal is to really grow with kids as they get into photography from the start,” Malcolm explains, noting that photographers currently on their roster are between 18 and 24 years old, and find Manual NYC either through the shop itself or organically through mutual connections.
The idea is that Manual NYC provides everything from the cameras and film development tools, to actually mentoring the young photographers – providing education, support, exposure and opportunities for collaboration and work. Essentially, the team at Manual NYC thrives on elevating those around them. It’s the true meaning of community.
In the spirit of collaboration, we teamed up with Manual NYC to see how they envision the merging of fashion and function – reflecting the essence of our Cloudnova sneaker. Their home base of New York has long been known as a hotbed of emerging creative talent, and we tapped Ysa Perez and Michael Kusumadjaja to show us the city – and their muses – through their own lens. Ysa’s muse came in the form of dancer-turned-florist Nyesha, whereas Michael chose to document a day in the life of young father Anwar, who’s also his barber.
Aside from seeing photography as one of the purest forms of creativity and self-expression, Malcolm recognizes the wider power of the point-and-shoot way of life. “I feel like in the past few years, especially with the boom of social media, photography has become more important than ever,” he reflects. “Even last year, dealing with Black Lives Matter and the protests that we had going on in New York, documentation was an extremely important part of the movement.”
So where exactly does Manual NYC find its purpose in the spaces between art, activism and reportage?
“I see us as being a creative partner, with these kids as they go on and document their life. Whether it's artistically – for a magazine or editorial – or if it's more real life – like documenting what's going on in the world – I feel like we can help support them with whatever journey they take,” Malcolm clarifies. “It's been a tough year for a lot of people. A lot of creative kids have struggled to not only make work, but make a living. So we try to support people in whatever way possible.”
Due to the pandemic-mandated global shutdown we’ve all navigated this past year, we’re feeling that collective need for real-life connection now more than ever. To meet with like-minded creatives and collaborators, to be able to travel – or just explore and rediscover our own cities – and to find a meaningful existence both on and offline. Blending digital and tangible experiences, however, has always been at the core of Manual NYC’s ethos, and it’s only been strengthened by our extended time spent in relative isolation.
“The physical side has always been extremely important to me with Manual. From the start, I never wanted it to be a digital business. I really wanted people to be able to interact with us in their lives, and that manifested in a few ways.”
– Malcolm notes, referencing the parties, exhibitions, and workshops that Manual NYC has organized in the past.
As the world slowly starts to return to normality, Malcolm is planning even bigger projects to serve both the brand, its message and its talent. “We're all cooped up,” he laughs, discussing Manual NYC’s upcoming projects that focus on giving back to the local community and businesses that have been impacted by a year of closures and uncertainty. “We want to stretch our legs a bit. I think it'll be fun.”