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Rising Stars: Meet LaDawn Manuel

Today we’d like to introduce you to LaDawn Manuel. 

Hi LaDawn, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
I am an LA-based Cinematographer by way of Cleveland, OH. I’ve lived and worked in the DMV from 2015 until my recent move to LA. I suppose I’ve always had an interest in art . I started drawing when I was a child, that got me into painting, photography, and ultimately film. Creatively my inspiration comes from a lot of different artists Carrie Mae Weems, Larry Clark, Nan Goldin, Bradford Young, Ernie Barnes I could go on, these artists I feel no one else captures intimacy quite like them. My work is about self-discovery, intimacy, and vulnerability. I’ve run full force to and from these subjects in life and I believe my subjects do the same. It’s quite the journey. 

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
There’s no such thing as an easy path, my journey is ever changing. My first real challenge was believing I could be a cinematographer full time. I made the decision during my last year in grad school, summer 2017. That first winter was a doozy.  Covid shut the world down in 2020 so we all had new challenges to navigate.  I remember I was apartment hunting in Inglewood when the city decided to shut down indoor dining around the 2nd week of March, at that moment I knew I wasn’t moving anytime soon.  Currently my challenges tend to be more internal, learning not to judge myself by the things I haven’t accomplished because doing so discredits everything I’ve already done. I’m also learning it’s okay to pivot|expand my goals. I’ve always been so laser focused on being a Cinematographer but who says I can’t Direct as well, who says I can’t model, who says I can’t pant more?. In a way it feels like unboxing myself, it does not feel good though. Growing pains are absolutely real. 

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I believe being me sets me apart from others, my experience, the life I’ve lived. There’s only one me so no one else sees things the way I do. Being able to collaborate with others to make art visible is a blessing. My favorite part about film is capturing intimacy. With my work I want to take you on a roller coaster, bring you to your highest peak, and then crush you while slowly mending you back together. It sounds like a toxic relationship but can be a very beautiful journey if done right. Almost like Jazz but chopped and screwed if that makes sense to you. The stories we film usually aren’t about us, but I can always find myself in a little bit of every character, that’s what I try to focus on. I think these things are what sets me apart from others.

Is there anyone you’d like to thank or give credit to?
There’s too many people to name off the top of my head but right now I’ve been giving all praise to Aaron Hunter (Writer, Filmmaker). Aaron recently interviewed me for his article “The Body Is A Tool” featured in the most recent edition of Filmmaker Magazine .  It’s a conversation with filmmakers who specifically work in the camera department on the things we do to preserve and take care of our bodies. I feel this is a subject that should be discussed more. From playing rugby to carrying 40lb cameras around I’ve learned to listen to my body more so to be able to share some words on the subject was an honor.

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