Long before we had apps like Huji and Gudak, there was real analog photography, using real film cameras. But like everything that the digital revolution has made quick work of, film photography is now a dying art, and the cameras themselves now easily falling into disrepair.
Enter 57-year old camera technician Virgilio “Dong” Gales, owner of one of Manila's renowned camera repair shops, Dong Camera Repair Center. Nestled along Hidalgo Street in Quiapo, Dong Camera Repair Center has become a go-to for analog enthusiasts in need of specialized repairs. Mang Dong, as many of his customers know him, is one of the few remaining repairmen in Manila who can fix up film cameras.
There's an air of old-school romance in Mang Dong’s quaint repair shop. Some film cameras are encased in glass, some are stacked alongside vintage avian photography, one of his old hobbies.
Mang Dong's claim to fame is that he can repair at least ten cameras a week. His clientele ranges from professional photographers to studio owners and student enthusiasts. His shop has also been recognized by an international publication as a top analog camera repair shop. But even as Mang Dong holds all these distinctions, his inspiration remains simple: “Masaya lang ako mag-repair. Pag nakabuo na ko ng isang camera, kontento na ako dun. Mission accomplished."
Mang Dong also remains hopeful about the future of analog. “Nasa hobbyists ang film photography ngayon,” he says. And it's true. He still has a legion of enthusiasts who take photos of his shop and geotag it on Instagram. It shows that film photography isn’t dead, but simply in the shadows of digital photography.
Andy Warhol once said, “The idea of waiting for something makes it more exciting.” The same can be said about analog photography. It takes a lot of attention to detail and patience, but each shot feels like a tiny miracle—much like the bustling little repair shop at the heart of Hidalgo. Like analog photography, Mang Dong’s craft is a tiny miracle in and of itself, a glimpse of authenticity in an age of instant filters and faux-Polaroid apps.
In the digital age, how long can we hold on to our analog remnants? And how long before this shop also gives in to the times? Change is inevitable, and with it the disappearance of the things that we love. But, for now, Mang Dong is content to accomplish his mission and keep his craft alive.