At the westernmost point of Oahu, the Hawaiian Island that is home to Honolulu and Waikiki Beach, is an area of desolate beauty called Kaena Point. Now a state protected nature reserve, it is sacred ground to indigenous Hawaiians. This is where the spirits of the dead are believed to gather and then leap into the next world. It makes for photographic landscapes that are unlike the usual beach and palm tree vistas one usually associates with Hawaii. It also makes for film photography well-suited for medium format and larger cameras.
Getting there requires one to drive about an hour from Honolulu, which is on Oahu’s south shore. At the northern side of the reserve, not far from the Mokuleia polo grounds, you park near a locked gate, and then hike 2.5 dusty, windswept miles to the point. That’s long enough for a photographer to appreciate the virtues of a small and light kit. Neither of which is how I would describe my Mamiya Press Super 23, a medium format modular camera system.
The Mamiya Press Super 23, which uses 120 film, is a photographic oddity – introduced in the late 1960s, too late to really be a true “press camera;” too unwieldy to be a pro’s usual “go to” medium format kit; and, while it was photography’s Veg-O-Matic camera that could slice and dice just about any assignment with a host of lenses, film backs and accessories, it has neither the Hasselblad’s classic lines nor Asahi Pentax 6×7 beefy manliness to make it a star.
However, what the Mamiya Press Super 23 does have is impressive value for photographers who want to use excellent Mamiya Sekor optics to shoot massive 6×9 negatives (as well as 6×7 and 645), and avoid the premium pricing for medium format film stars such as the Mamiya 7II or an RZ67. A search of listings on eBay for Mamiya Press Super 23 kits (body, 6×9 or 6×7 roll film back, 100mm F3.5 lens) found gear in good order going for US$250-US$350 plus shipping.
On a recent outing to Kaena Point, I took my Mamiya Press Super 23 body with the kit Mamiya Sekor 100 mm F3.5 lens mounted, and two 6×9 film backs. Using the Mamiya Press Super 23 reminded me that it has the ergonomics of a cinder block with a lens tacked on. But boy, am I happy with the two lenses I own: the already mentioned 100mm F3.5 and the Mamiya Sekor 150mm F5.6, which with the 6×9 film back has the equivalent 35mm full frame focal length of 65mm.
On the hike to Kaena Point, I had a 6×9 roll film back loaded with expired (2002) Fujichrome Astia, given to me by a friend who is my printer as well as the owner of Honolulu’s remaining family-owned photo store, Kaimuki Camera. At least I thought it was loaded with Astia. When we reached Kaena Point, I quickly converted the hard, early afternoon light into an exposure of 1/125 of a second at F16.
Eight shots later, I rewound the film holder land and discovered to my horror that I had just shot Kodak Tri-X at two stops off. I went ahead and loaded Fujichrome Astia, figuring I might as well get shots with the film I had planned to use.
I dropped off the Astia at a Honolulu processing lab and souped the Tri-X in Cinestill DF96 monobath. I took a guess and kept the roll in developer for nearly 9 minutes with minimal agitation, followed by a 5-minute fresh water bath.
The Tri-X turned out fine, if contrasty with noticeable grain. The Astia came out flat and dense, with no hint of its usual bright colors. But a couple of minutes work with Photoshop and the chrome turned bright and punchy.
The five photos with this article are from those two rolls. I was happy that I got anything usable out of either roll. And as a result of the outing at Kaena Point, I’ve started a personal project to photograph places in Hawaii that are considered sacred. As part of that work, I’m going back to Kaena Point but this time with the 4×5.
Floyd K. Takeuchi is a documentary and fine arts photographer based in Honolulu, Hawaii.
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