The New Smogranch Leather Journal

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a journal keeper. I started taking notes, writing stories, back when I was in elementary school, but I really began in earnest when I got my first internship at the Arizona Republic newspaper in Phoenix. I had no money to buy books but I lived close to the public library, and during one fateful day I stumbled into a book titled “The Adventures and Misadventures of Peter Beard in Africa.” In short, it changed my life. I had been keeping a journal prior to this day but Beard showed me just how far a journal, or diary, could go. What I was doing, and what I’m doing now really doesn’t resemble Beard in any way. He makes art. I make notes, in both photo and word form. Beard’s books are incredible and beautiful, mine are informational, some might say boring.

Over the years I’ve used just about every type of book imaginable. I’ve used the super-cheap black and white journal books from the grocery store. I’ve used notepads, fancy, leather-bound books and one year I even used a single, HUGE, yearly planner which ended up becoming so large and so heavy I couldn’t actually carry it anywhere. But over the past few yeas I’ve settled on the Moleskine Cahier as my go-to book. It’s small, simple and fits in my shoulder bag.

The Cahier itself is a pretty basic book. Moleskine has a long legacy of famous users and they are readily available in a variety of local haunts. But the book itself was a little “normal” for me, which put me on the lookout for something to spice it up.

A few months ago I got a call from Arthur at Renaissance Art in New Mexico. We decided to meet in a local coffee shop, and when Arthur walked in he had the coolest shoulder bag I’ve ever seen. “You know what will happen if photographers see that?” I asked. “We all have a bag fetish that can’t be denied.” He calmly picked it up and turned it over with an expression that said, “What? “This little thing?” Inside his bag were more leather goodies, each cooler than the next. I salivated a huge pool of drool out on the table in front of me.

Toward the end of our meeting Arthur pulled out HIS Cahier notebook only his was covered in a beautiful leather cover. My eyes went shut and I began breathing in short, gasping heaves. For a brief moment I thought about mugging him in the parking lot.

So over the past few months I’ve been able to spend a bit more time at Renaissance Art and during this last visit I was able to have my own leather notebook covered, cut, trimmed, sewn and imprinted. The leather comes from Italy and is processed without the use of acids. This particular leather is thin, super soft and continues to change and weather the longer you use it.

After the cover was made and placed over the notebook I scurried around Arthur’s workshop looking for the right light to photograph it. “You should do a documentary on this book, make a picture of it every three months,” Arthur said. “Great idea but the first image will start with you.” I answered.

Over the past few days I’ve pulled this thing out at a variety of places and each time my fellow photographers begin their own drooling process. This is only the tip of the iceberg for me. I see many more leather objects in my future. Shoes, bags, covers, etc.

Experiencing the birth of my Smogranch cover turned out to be more than just time spent in the workshop. Not only an expert on all things leather, it turns out that Arthur is also an expert on tea. A short tea experience followed the leather experience and I was exposed to some of the best tea I’ve ever had. People, there are many parts of this experience I wish to share with you, beyond the fact I now have a nice leather cover for my journal. This beauty was made by hand, which for me is so important. In an age of instant everything, an age of mass-produced, sterile, cheap foreign goods, the idea of getting something made by hand is all-powerful. Whether it be a print made in the darkroom, a pair of shoes cobbled by hand or leather bag made to house your beloved M9, for me it makes a HUGE difference. This process is also about slowing down and enjoying the experience of the process. We could have had tea in the parking lot, banged down some cheap leaves, but we didn’t. We took our time, used no less than four different tea cups and Arthur even added in some flute while he was explaining the tea and the reasons behind why it is prepared the way it is. I guess it boils down to intent, to purpose and to meaning.

Okay, and for those of you looking for the bag…….next to my boots.

17 Responses to “The New Smogranch Leather Journal”

  1. Wait. Where the picture of *the bag*?

  2. Brian Miller says:

    Stuart, down boy!! You have to come to NM to get your own. :))

  3. Larry says:

    Once again, you come across the coolest people. Looking forward to seeing the journal cover…

  4. Gorgeous. That’s like Notebook porn. Used to have something similar. Lost it. Might need a new one in NM…oh and that bag is looking kewl!

  5. Sean says:

    You need him to cover one of your saddles in that leather too.

  6. Lefse says:

    Looked at the bags at renaissance-art.com – couldn’t find the nice bag you depicted in the article?

    The RARB small seems to be a nice one for two rangefinders with the usual stuff. Just what I need – bag number 14 will be it!

  7. MarkusA says:

    The best – so much character in the notebook. Just like an artists book. Nice bag as well – I collect bags, I use a Belstaff bag when I don’t want to look like a ‘photographer’; they are good but I prefer the pre-history look of distressed leather. ! Great stuff Daniel.

  8. Eric Labastida says:

    at first I thought you were doing all that work.

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