By James B. Eldred
Records are naturally photogenic. More so than cassette tapes, CDs or any other form of media. Whether in massive stacks lining the walls of a records store, or in small shelves and crates in someone’s home; the large pictures on the album sleeves, not to mention the intricate grooves of the records themselves, just seem to beg to have their picture taken.
No one knows this more than Eilon Paz. Since 2008, the Israeli-born Brooklyn-based photographer has made it his personal quest to photograph record collections of vinyl enthusiasts and document them at his website, Dust & Grooves. In just four short years, he’s managed to chronicle the impressive stashes of over 30 collectors around the world, from his own backyard in Brooklyn, to far away destinations such as Ghana and Istanbul. Not bad for a project that started out of unemployment-derived boredom.
“I arrived to new york four years ago, it was just in the beginning of the recession in the US and there were literally no jobs anywhere. No one was working. So I had a lot of free time to wander around the city,” Paz said.
While exploring the city and what it had to offer, Paz discovered local record stores, and was blown away by the selection that many of the smaller, independent merchants had to offer.
“Living in Israel, we do have records and its a nice variety but it’s nothing close to what's going on here!” he said. “I love vinyl, and suddenly it felt like I’m in heaven. So one day I was just, ‘Oh, maybe I should do a photo project for people who love vinyl!”
Paz’s first feature went up in October in 2008, and he says that the overwhelming positive response to it was almost instantaneous.
“I created the blog and people started telling me they wanted to see more. I wasn't aware of what I was doing but all of a sudden I saw the reaction from the community and I saw how big it is and I started approaching other collectors and that got the ball rolling,” he said.
Because of the early interest in his site, Paz has had no problem finding collectors. He contacts them through friends, on Internet message boards or through a submission form he has set up on his website. Nearly all of them jump at the chance to be featured.
“No one besides my friends or fellow DJs had ever looked at my collection,” said Jamison Harvey, a DJ from Ashbury Park, NJ who was featured by Paz in 2009. “I was thrilled to share it with another vinyl enthusiast. It was an honor to be one of the first few [that Paz featured].”
Since the project has grown, the only reservations some collectors feel about being showcased on the site is the fear that their collection might not compete with the others already featured. Margaret Barton Fumo of Brooklyn was featured on Dust & Grooves in June of 2011, and she said that while she welcomed the attention, after the fact she got a little worried about what others might think of her collection.
“At the time my collection wasn’t as massive as some of the others featured on the site,” she said. “I did feel a little anxious about being sized up. Having worked at a record store for years, I know how critical collectors can get.”
Thankfully, reaction of Margaret’s very unique collection, which includes a good number of rare and hard-to-find prog and psych albums, was positive even though the collection itself was smaller than others that Paz featured before. That’s because, according to Paz, size doesn’t matter when it comes to profiling collections, at least not anymore.
“In the beginning I was attracted to the size of the collection because they’re more photogenic,” he said. “But now, I try to think about stuff that will interest people beyond the music. I want to see how records affect people’s lives and their community. It’s more than the music.”
No matter the size, Paz believes that showing collections is important, as it gives weight to the idea that there’s something worthwhile and meaningful about a physical record collection that’s lost in today’s digital world.
“If your music is in ‘the could’ then how much do you really know about it?” You can’t feel it. You can’t see it. You can just shuffle it on your iPhone. You don’t even know what’s playing. With vinyl, people are consciously appreciating music a lot more,” Paz said.
Harvey agrees that there’s something about records that just can’t be replicated with digital music.
“No one ever remembers their first MP3 download. But you remember the first record you bought,” he said.
And as Paz and those he profiled extol the benefits of a physical collection and the physical medium, Paz himself is working to take Dust & Grooves out of the digital world and into the physical one as well. The first-ever Dust & Grooves photography exhibition was held earlier this year (inside a record store, of course) and Paz has even bigger plans for the project; a full-color Dust & Grooves book featuring all-new photographs and collector features is now in the works.
According to Paz, the book has to be even more diverse than his website, so he’s casting the widest net for collectors than he ever has before by planning a massive, two-month road trip across the United States. Along the way he’ll hopes to profile 30 collectors from all walks of life, from big cities to small towns, from the American heartland to the west coast. It’s a big project, and it’s one that Paz sees as more than just a book about collecting records.
“I look at it as a social and anthropological project. I want to see how collecting and preserving records affects people’s lives and the lives of those around them,” he said, adding that he’s making an extra effort to be wide-ranging in his selection of collectors to be profiled. “I want to see the extremities, not DJs or radio station guys, but devoted collectors of all walks of life.”
Fans of the Dust & Grooves website should not fret though, as Paz has no plans of slowing the site down anytime soon.
“It’s going to keep going. I don’t think I’m ever going to stop. I’ll do it until I can’t move anymore.”