Eilon Paz spent nearly six years photographing record collectors, starting in New York’s East Village at the store Tropicalia in Furs before moving onto the private rooms where collections are kept in all manner of order and chaos.
What began as a blog became the book “Dust & Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting,” released on Record Store Day and currently being promoted with events on the West Coast. An exhibition opened June 5 at the Sonos Studio in Los Angeles, which on June 7 will become a pop-up record store with a series of DJs. On June 8 in San Francisco, Terroir Wine Merchants will host a book launch event.
After that, Paz will take a break before heading to Brazil and Columbia, where he will begin another similar photography project, this one dedicated to South American collectors.
“Going into a person’s private record room is what makes this book special, I think,” says Paz at the opening of the Sonos exhibit on June 5. “It’s getting into the people’s shrines, those rooms that no one else sees.”
Paz photographed about 130 collectors and nearly all of them made it into the book, which he published and is about to start a second run. It has been sold record stores and his website; round two will include distribution to book stores as well. We asked him what he learned about records and collectors on his journey.
You moved from Israel to New York in 2008. Why did you want to shoot record collections?
When I arrived in New York I had no work so I just spent all my time in record stores enjoying my time. I didn’t have this quantity in Israel. It was like a party. My assignments in Israel were to shoot a lot of musicians. I was thinking, how can I have a better use of my time and do a project for myself. I met with Frank Gossner, a German collector who collects West African records — he specializes in disco and funk records . . . talked about my idea and he took me took a few record stores.
The book and the exhibit begin with the only photograph taken in a record store. Why is that?
A Brazilian guy, his name is Jo-el, had a record called “Tropicalia in Furs” that was in the East Village of New York. Met him through Frank. Jo-el’s attitude is so different — he was enthusiastic and showed me his records and I was lucky the first one was him. If someone else had been first, less enthusiastic, I may have ditched the project.
What did you look for in a record collection to make it worth shooting?
It started with huge collections that filled enormous rooms. After that it was “What’s now? Another guy holding a record in front of their library?” I started exploring more creative ways of documenting this whole phenomenon, the people, the community, the records. At the start of a session I’d ask people to pull out some covers — things that inspired them or bizarre things, shapes and gatefolds and amazing packaging.
Some of the more fascinating photographs show the enormity of a collection but also feel extremely intimate. What did it take to get that sort of photo?
One thing I noticed after awhile, a lot of the collectors are OCD in a way. They pull out the record and, as a photographer, I say you have to take the plastic off. Some say “What?!” I’m very strict about it. They have to overcome the fear of removing the plastic. Then the next challenge to the OCD collector is not putting it back on the shelf, just putting it down. It messes everything up and they start to stress. Then at the end of the session they look and realize “This is my life.” I got that so many times and I started pointing it out to people — “Look, this is you.” They see their life in front of them; it’s a nice added value.
In many photos, a collector is seeing holding a single album. What does that one album mean to these people?
The posing photo is reserved to one question: what’s your comfort album? I let people interpret that question any way they want. It could something that made you jump and shout or something that puts you in a meditative state of mind. It could remind you of another person. We always listen to the records and I try not to talk too much.
I happen to love the photograph of Joey Altruda, the L.A. musician, flipping through 78s with records by Charlie Parker, Horace Silver, Esquivel and “Getz/Gilberto” lying around.
Joey showed me quite a few records and he showed me an album cover, I think it was a Miles Davis one. Then he pulled out a double bass and says “See this? It’s the same bass.” I got to hear so many stories. In a single photo session I get exposed to 40-50 albums that all have stories, so there was no way I could remember them all. I made it a rule to remember one album from each collector.