A Return To Film At The treehouse



In October of 2012, Bobby Asato opened a small shop on Ward Avenue to offer art workshops for keiki. With two young kids of his own, he thought it would be a good way to encourage them to continue to use their imaginations, sans omnipresent technology.

“I wanted to nurture their creativity and keep them using their hands to be creative, especially these days, with iPads and so much instruction in schools using technology,” Asato recalls.

But then, something he didn’t anticipate happened: While the workshops had a good turnout, it was the film cameras that he had sprinkled throughout the shop that really began to gain a following. Asato, who had begun shooting film photography several years earlier, had included the cameras, along with a collection of photography and art books, mainly to entertain adults who came to the shop with their kids. But soon, the cameras were attracting their own crowd.

Today, that shop, treehouse, has become a well-known, one-stop shop for local film photographers — as well as a gathering spot for these artists — and it’s on a mission to keep film alive.

In some ways, Asato muses, it was all a happy accident of timing. For a while, it seemed like film might go the way of other technologies — pushed aside as a relic, replaced by all things digital. But in recent years, film photography has been going through something of a resurgence.

Ironically, technology might have played a part in that comeback. While explaining how each film lens has different characteristics, Asato draws upon smart-phones for an apt comparison: Instagram’s various filters emulate the effect of certain film cameras.

“Smartphones have cameras, so there are more photographers than ever,” Asato continues. “Instagram and other apps kind of shed light on different effects that film does.”

Asato, it seems, is something of a purist when it comes to technology. Tucked in the corner of the shop is a record player. (A lot of customers ask if treehouse sells records. It doesn’t; it’s just what they prefer to listen to.) “I think they sound so much better than MP3s,” Asato says.

“Seeing technology grow so fast, I just think the analog side of things kind of means more, because of the process,” Asato says. “It just has that organic feel.”

Asato’s interest in photography was sparked while he was doing clothing design as a retail buyer, and later, as a free-lance graphic designer. When he had to incorporate images into his work, he found himself drawn to film photography versus digital. So he bought a few vintage cameras and became intrigued by the process of shooting film — the varied looks of different cameras and different films, and the added element of not being able to edit the final image. Shooting film, Asato says, requires “slowing things down, thinking about your shot.

“When you shoot film,” he explains, “you really think about your situation — whether it is lighting and exposure or composition — so you take your time to really think it through and take the shot.”

“It’s like you don’t really know what you got, and then a week later, you see it, and it’s like, ‘Oh, sweet!'” adds Chris Rohrer, a treehouse regular-turned-salesperson. “It’s like a Christmas present.”

As treehouse beefed up its film inventory, Asato realized that shops were no longer bringing in film processing chemicals and black and white photo papers. Wanting to keep film photography classes alive, treehouse started carrying these items and now supplies University of Hawaii and a number of private and public high schools with their film needs.

As another aspect of this mission to keep the art form going, treehouse also leads instructional workshops that cover topics such as black and white film processing and emulsion lifts.

The shop also hosts events, like the Film Camera Swap Meet, which takes place every other month and connects photographers looking to sell old equipment with those in the market to buy it. The swap meet attracts a number of both buyers and sellers, ranging from high schoolers looking for their first camera (who likely are too young to even remember film) to veteran professional photographers.

“The other thing behind that is to bring the community together,” Asato says. “A lot of people just come and check things out, and (at the swap meets), they are able to meet other people who appreciate film photography.”

Local hobbyist photographer Robert Nakama (whose first piece of a film photo series appears in our Snapshot section on Page 3) is among customers who like to hang out at treehouse and talk story. Nakama started shooting on a DSLR several years ago, and when he was introduced to film last year, he was hooked.

“Each type of film has its own characteristics in tone and color to it that digital cannot replicate,” Nakama says. “What I like about film photography versus digital is that it makes me slow down and think about each shot.”

Given the over-saturation of technology in our daily lives, Asato says that a lot of people may find that idea appealing.

“Those who are caught up in the fast-paced technology may appreciate slowing down and going through the process of creating and expressing.”

treehouse is located at 250 Ward Ave. on the second floor. For more information, visit treehouse-shop.com or find treehouse on Facebook and Instagram.