A Q&A with Bobby Asato of Treehouse

He is keeping film thriving in Honolulu. Learn how Bobby came up with the name, veered into analog photography, his most obscure product, and what camera he recommends for a unique look.

Just off Ward Avenue, tucked away above Jenny Craig, is the Hawai‘i film fanatic’s dream. A treasure trove of film photography products, Treehouse, owned by Bobby Asato, provides everything from darkroom chemicals to film negative scanners for smartphones.

Bobby opened the shop in 2012 as a kids’ art and crafts shop, with film cameras and books for the parents bringing them by.

The rise in popularity of these products, as well as the lack of local film suppliers, encouraged Bobby to expand. Treehouse is now the go-to place for anything a budding or experienced film photographer needs. Not to mention that he is always playing a record from his collection behind the counter, so why aren’t you at this shop right now?

Why did you choose the name Treehouse? 

“I thought it was appropriate because the old and young can relate to it. Older folks were once kids, and when you go into a tree house it takes a lot of your imagination, so I thought it was fitting. When I went home to tell my family, ‘Oh, I thought of a name, it’s Treehouse!’ my daughter was like, ‘Oh it’s perfect, it’s on the second floor!’ So it made sense and I just went with it.”

film photos treehouse hawaii

Many film services and businesses have stopped or closed. Why get into it now?

“I think there is a re-interest in film and in lomography. There are still universities, community colleges, private schools, and high schools that have darkrooms and they need a local supplier. I’d hate for that to just stop. Along with that, it just seems like there’s a big comeback in it. I’m going with that gut.”

How do you manage getting business in this location?

“It was really hard in the beginning, but I just took advantage of Facebook and Instagram and it seemed to really pay off. I think my clientele are more savvy in the way they use Yelp [etc] to get the word out, but it did take time. We also participated in the [Honolulu] Night Market, Art and Flea, and some other events to help get word out. It’s been busier now that I’ve built a client base over the past year and a half.”

books treehouse hawaii

How do you see Treehouse evolving?

“All of 2013, we had workshops for kids promoting creative arts, and that was very successful. In the near future, we want to teach workshops with film, like teaching people how to process black and white negatives at home, shoot in medium format, use a Holga camera. I’m also interested in DIY kits, like one example is a thing called Inkodye. It’s an ink that is UV-reactive, so you can put it on a shirt or cloth and use your photo negative to create your own design.”

Impossible film hawaii

What is the most obscure film product you offer?

“I would say Impossible, which is film for Polaroid cameras but it has a unique characteristic to it and it’s kind of a pain in the butt to try and get right. So basically, what’s different from these and original Polaroids is that these naturally turn out de-saturated and soft so they have this vintage look to them. They look like they’ve been in a shoebox for 20 years, but it takes at least 30 minutes for the picture to come in and a pack of eight costs $25.50. It’s a tricky film to shoot but it has a really unique look to it.”

slim and wide treehouse hawaii

What is a good everyday camera for an amateur film photographer in Hawai‘i?

“If they want unique-looking stuff, I think the Superheadz Slim and Wide point and shoot is good. They are from Japan, they’re plastic, and there are no settings and no flash so it’s good for shooting daytime outdoors. The low quality and wide-angle lens actually gives the photos their unique look.”

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