Eilon Paz loves photography…and records. He’s spent six years photographing all things vinyl for his book, “Dust & Grooves.” Paz initially self-published two editions of the book, which included photographs of more than 130 vinyl collectors and their collections, along with interviews. Due to the success of his self-published editions, Paz was approached by publisher Ten Speed Press, who will release a third edition of the book in September 2015. In addition to the book, Paz created a website for the project, inviting collectors to connect with each other and share their love of records. PDN corresponded with Paz via email to learn more about the project:
PDN: You started this as a personal project, and because you also collect records. How many records do you have now? Do you have a most valuable record?
EP: Correct. I started collecting records before I was into photography. Growing up in Israel in the late ’70s and ’80s, vinyl records were the only way to own and collect your favorite music. I started with listening to my parents’ records, moved on to my brother’s records, and then at the age of nine, I bought my first vinyl record. It was Paul McCartney’s “Pipes of Peace.”
Since then, I lost my entire collection, but started collecting again once I moved to Brooklyn. As I write in the preface of the book, “I’m just a casual collector.” My collection does not come close to the collections I visit and document. I do share the nerdiness about music with my subjects, but they are way more advanced and dedicated than me.
PDN: How did you find your subjects?
EP: At first, I had to start talking to the few people I knew in [New York City] who were into music and vinyl. I remember sitting in the subway and reading an article in the Village Voice about this German guy, Frank Gossner, who lived in Brooklyn and had been chasing rare and obscure funk records in West Africa. Frank loved my idea and connected me with a couple of record store owners.
Record stores were always a hub for information and a meeting point for passionate music lovers. Eventually I started a blog and posted some photos in it. I called it “Dust & Grooves.” It was just a personal photography project, but soon I discovered that there is an entire community of vinyl collectors who were anxiously waiting for my next post. The popularity of “Dust & Grooves” brought people together, and I started getting emails from people who suggested themselves or their friends as subjects.
Since this was a self-funded personal project, I couldn’t travel specifically for the purpose of shooting collectors, so I started incorporating it into my personal and professional travels. It was only at a later stage [that] I started traveling specifically for this project.
PDN: Did you just shoot stores or personal collections or both?
EP: My focus was always and still is the personal space of the collector. I tried to stick to it fanatically, but sometimes it’s just impossible. Some of the collectors actually live in their record stores. Some amazing notable collectors had to move their collection out of the house by a strict order from their partners. I also met a record dealer who doesn’t have a home, and he sells all these amazing records from his beaten car. I never had to offer anything in return. The collectors were all happy to tell me their stories and show me their most valuable records, and for many different reasons. No one had really documented this scene in that way before, and they really appreciated it and trusted me to show them in the best way possible.
PDN: What equipment did you use? How much time per subject did you have? What was the concept?
EP: My first camera was a Canon AE-1 that belonged to my dad. I still use a Canon 5DMark II and III. I try to use fixed lenses most of the time. It allows me to retain a certain look to the work and lets me shoot in very low light situations. If artificial light is really necessary, I might use one or two remote TTL strobes, place the strobes at the corner of the room and try to imitate ambient light.
My initial approach was to let the collectors play records and I’d just snap photos, casually. But some things deserve more attention—beautiful artwork on a record would deserve better lighting, dealing with reflections and angles. Sometimes, the covers would inspire me to play around with a collage technique and come up with completely different images. The elaborate collages were a result of a technical problem. “How do I photograph a tiny room, with so many records and details, without using a super wide angle lens that will distort?”
PDN: The trade book is due out later this year. Are you going to continue the project?
EP: The rabbit hole is only getting deeper and deeper. I keep shooting and posting new features on the website. Stuff that didn’t make it to the book. I feel I have a commitment to a huge community that gathered around this project. I can’t stop now just because there is a book out.
For more on the book or the project, please visit Dust & Grooves.