Three and a half years ago, deep in the heart of Ghana surrounded by dirt roads and tin sheds, Eilon Paz sat calmly outside of his hotel enjoying a beer. He was there waiting for vinyl to appear. Sitting at the same table with a bottle of his own was Frank Gossner, a New York City record collector notorious for both his love of West African music and the lengths to which he’ll go to get it. Gossner’s home collection overflows with funk and highlife singles picked up on repeated digging trips to Africa; catch him DJing in Bangkok or Berlin and you’ll be savoring the absolute rarest of grooves, hand-picked from crumbling record stands and stifling living rooms.
A seasoned vinyl ace, Gossner is something of a legend for getting great music out of Tamale and onto his turntable. But that day in 2011 was yielding nothing. “Since there’s no flea market or stores, you have to just be patient,” Paz remembers.
Their chosen spot was the small town of Mampong, a dot on the map that Gossner had eyed with hopes of scoring big. “In Ghana, because it’s been picked over so many times, the way to find good records is to go to really remote places,” Paz told me over coffee at a spot near his Brooklyn apartment. “You have to go really, really far out–to the outskirts. And this is what we did.”
Paz is fascinated by vinyl, but his true calling is photography. The creator and curator of the blog Dust & Grooves, he’s been chasing down the world’s greatest record collectors for the better part of a decade, capturing them at home amongst their shelves of beloved 45s, 78s, and LPs. It’s a project that’s taken him all over the world, from airy Argentine courtyards to cramped Tokyo stacks, through Detroit dens and more than a few Brooklyn lofts.
By the time they arrived in Ghana, Paz had already photographed Gossner and his massive collection–but the African excursion held the thrill of even more dazzling imagery.
Dust & Grooves is Paz’s life’s work, and the results are stunning. With his masterful photography and fiery love of music, he’s won over the global vinyl community; over 150 collectors, from Gossner to Mr. Scruff to Gilles Peterson, have welcomed Paz into their homes and put their libraries on display, turning the project into a living log of music and the people who have given up their lives to it. This spring saw the leap from digital to print with the release of Dust & Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting, a gorgeous (and mighty) 416 page photo book loaded with quotes, interviews and images of some of the best record stashes on the planet.
But how to compile an entire book of vinyl collectors? What rhythm could it take, other than a flat repetition of the same cliche shot: a happy owner smiling in front their wall of records?
As he gradually built the book, Paz answered these questions by letting the vinyl scene’s deep variety speak for itself. Turn the pages of Dust & Grooves and you’ll catch Robert Johnson test pressings, entire shelves of horror movie soundtracks, a sizable dose of J Dilla and directions on How to Speak Hip. Owners cling to their favorites with care, pressing their fingerprints onto music that’s already a part of them. There’s X-rated album art, obscure German jazz labels and apartment feng shui. The book is beautiful and vast; reading it is a lesson in the wide wildness of culture that’s found its way onto wax.
“There are so many aspects of vinyl–it’s not just about the music,” Paz said. “I would pursue a collector if I knew they had expertise in graphic design and album art. There’s one guy in the book who holds the world record for most colored vinyl in the world. There’s a French guy who buys only defaced cover sleeves.” Pausing to reflect on all the collections he’s encountered, he almost regrets that the book made him choose. “This was like one shot!” he smirked. “This is like you’re DJing for God and you don’t get another chance.”
Dust & Grooves began in 2008. It was then that Paz packed up his camera equipment and moved from Israel to New York City with hopes of making it as a photojournalist. But despite his experience (and best of intentions) his timing couldn’t have been worse. Paz landed in America just as the economy was tanking. “Everybody was frozen,” he said. “Nothing, no productions. Budgets were cut down. I just found myself kind of like a tourist, walking, thinking ‘What should I do?'”