Smogranch Journal: Six Month Update

Here is what it looks like today…..the “Smogranch Journal Cover” is officially becoming a part of me. I can’t tell you how many people see the bag, and then this journal, and say “Oh man, where did you get THAT?” Arthur doesn’t know it yet…..but I’m gonna secretly work on the backpack idea. I will have to be sly, trick him perhaps, but it’s coming.

The New “Smogranch” Bag

Feast your eyes on the prototype of the new “Smogranch” bag.

Handmade, hand-sewn in the wilds of Northern New Mexico. One bag, one photographer at a time. The leather comes from a tannery in Italy and is cured without acid. This leather has personality. Every time I look at this bag it looks different. Designed to be light, soft and simple. Take everything out and this bag rolls up tight or crushes down. It’s thin, simple and designed to hold ONLY the essentials. Slots on the inside and outside hold journal and iPad. Inside main pocket handles M rangefinder, audio recorder, sunglasses, wallet, small portfolio. Outside pockets hold film, pens, cards, music, etc. As you can see by the photos below, my “Smogranch” bag comes with a journal companion as well as a handmade internal “pouch” because I have so damn many loose ends. At home at work or at play, this bag will take you places you’ve never been and will do so in style. Not for the timid. Not for the weak. Boy bands, political pundits and safety freaks need not apply. This prototype was talked out, designed, cut, sewn and eventually born via the fingers of a true master as the moon shown full and the landscape did battle with the elements.

There are many slight changes in the works for this bag. A little more here, a little less there. Like anything organic, I must live with it, learn it and deliver it to the master once again.

Moments after sliding it over my shoulder for the first time the world took on new flavor. And faintly, in the distance, I could hear coyotes yipping and cackling just outside the light from the fire.

Blurb Limited Edition: Flemming Bo Jensen

I think this entire thing can be traced back to Viking blood.

There is this guy named Flemming Bo Jensen, which sounds pretty Viking to me. Earlier this year, he and I and several others were on a long and twisted Peruvian path together. I saved him from being killed by a lethal spider, something he will owe me for FOREVER. He entertained us all with reenactments of Star Wars, with a peculiar Australian tinged English with Danish overtones. Not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination, Jensen came alive as the day progressed, muttering to himself while assembling the photographic puzzle in his head. Across the barren and sometimes merciless Peruvian landscape we did our best to bond together while securing our most thoughtful and lasting images. Most of his time was spent in tireless pursuit of “Coke Zero” but during brief breaks in the hunt he managed to squeeze off a few frames with his beloved Fuji X100. The results of which you see here.

In all seriousness, I wanted you to see what he created from his time in Peru. Working for Blurb I run into a variety of photographers. There are those I run into who realize I work for Blurb and say something along the lines of “Well, if you guys had X, Y and Z, THEN I would use your platform.” In my experience these folks rarely end up making anything of note, not because they don’t have the work or the talent but more because they are always looking for a reason NOT to do something, or they are so bound by tradition they are somewhat beholden to others. As they say, “The path to enlightenment is as thin as a razor’s edge.” Another group of photographers looks at a platform like Blurb and says, “Hmm, this looks interesting, I think I’ll play around.” These tend to be the people who end up making interesting things. Our young Viking friend falls into this second category. Flemming and I had traded messages in regard to the 6×9 format. He sent a few early images, I urged him to keep playing. The book sample grew, got better and slowly took on the look of what you see here. And then he went further. Adding an editioned print, the custom leather cover, certificate of authenticity, signed, numbered, etc, which ultimately puts HIS personal stamp on the item.

This method, procedure, isn’t new people, but I’m always amazed at how few photographers do this.
The vast, vast, vast majority of photographers I speak with are all standing in line with tradition being the primary driving force. “I want a mainstream, traditional publisher to do my book.” “I want them to design, market, advertise and sell my book.” I totally understand this. I love traditional publishing and frankly traditional publishing can do things for you that self-publishing can’t and there is the perceived idea that having an imprint from a publisher means that you are a “real” photographer. Again, I get it. However, I see this as ONE option, not THE option. As we all know, due to economic factors, MUCH has changed in the publishing world. A few days ago I met with a photographer who recently took work to a mainstream publisher and was told, “If we can’t sell 25,000 copies we aren’t going to publish.” I was told by another publisher, “We don’t take chances anymore, we publish slam dunks.” Another friend called me with a “great deal” from a publisher which was roughly $15,000 out of his pocket, up front.” Again, don’t go hating people, I admire traditional publishers and buy their publications on a regular basis, but the fact of the matter is that due to these current conditions there are great bodies of work that simply will not get published. The first group of photographers complains, snipes at others getting published and waits around. The second group goes out and does something about it. And continuing with my theme of being perfectly honest… one point in my “career” I was more in that first group of photographers. Luckily I’m not any more, but I know how it feels. Finding salvation isn’t easy.

In essence, many of these small runs books are embracing the things that self-publishing does well, and second, embracing those things that traditional publishing struggles with.
Things like small runs, customization, books of few images, ultra-personal projects that might not have a large audience but yet still demand to be published. Sometimes we lose track of the strategic importance that having the ability to make ONE book offers us. Sometimes when I “release” a book, or make it public, I’ve already made two or three private versions of the book. I know my abilities well enough to know that “perfect” books right out of the gate are probably beyond me.

Looking at this body of work we see a story that perhaps doesn’t have an international, mass appeal, however, by limiting the copies, adding the customization, Jensen has created an “object” more than simply a book. I love this idea. If a photographer is successful, has a good database of those interested in his or her work, then creating, positioning and selling a book like this is an attainable goal. Not everything is meant for mass consumption. Not everything is meant for fame, glory and recognition. And funny enough, items like these have a remarkable way of becoming more important as time goes on.

I was able to Skype with Jensen yesterday, or at least I think I did. He began mumbling gibberish. I initially thought he was using a dialect from that planet that Yoda is from but then realized he was “speaking Danish.” After further consideration, I realized that Danish is a “fake” language because NOTHING really sounds like that, and he was unable to repeat what he claimed was our “conversation.” You spend enough time with someone and you will ultimately see the cracks in their facade. When I see an item like this I get excited about what I’m going to see next. What will he, or you for that matter, dream up. I applaud Mr. Jensen on this endeavor and hope that it sparks something in all of us.

And most importantly, don’t forget to use the force.

PS: There has been a tremor in the force. According to Jensen the books have MOSTLY sold out, so if you have any itch to buy one of these babies you better scratch it now.

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.