Eilon Paz finds beauty in the most unusual places: vinyl records, guitar pedals, dirt biking. And then he follows his keen eye and passion to take remarkable photos. Because Paz is able to find the extraordinary in everyday life and people.
His photography is quirky, intimate, and genuinely striking. Looking at one of Paz’s portraits makes you feel like you’re sitting down with an old friend. He draws out something unique and undeniably compelling in every image. He’s passionate about his subjects and it shows. They are labors of love; the work of an artist.
We spoke to Paz about his photography this week, gladly soaking up his quiet wisdom. We talked about his life traveling the globe for the sake of an image, risking everything to follow your dreams, and the various oddities and passions that draw his eye.
[All italic captions were written by Paz.]
ANDY CARTHY (MR. SCRUFF) — MANCHESTER, UK
“The soul 12-inch section of my collection doubles as a handy chair.”
Can you tell me what drew you to travel photography?
First off, it’s the passion for traveling… exploring. Traveling allows you to fulfill yourself by constantly exploring new territories, meeting new people, seeing different lifestyles. You have to be naturally curious. If you can combine the traveling with making a living, then you hit gold!
What drew me into it? I’m originally from Israel, and I was establishing myself as a portrait and fashion photographer. Then, after a while, I wasn’t feeling fulfilled, in a way. I was doing really good with my career, but something inside of me was really not happy about just being static and doing the same thing over and over again, so I made a decision to dedicate at least three months of the year to take a long break and go travel.
That’s what started my travel photography career. The first story I shot was about a little town in Mexico called Tequila. You could probably guess what they make there.
Blue Agave fields surround the town of Tequila. As the sun goes down, the field’s color changes to deep blue. The town of Tequila in Jalisco, Mexico is the heart of the Tequila industry.
I shot a photo essay on spec and pitched it to an Israeli travel magazine. They published the story in their next issue. Then I took the same story and showed it to the editors of the top food magazine in Israel and they loved it and started hiring me for food and travel stories. This is how my career started to shift towards travel-based food assignments.
Churros. Ever wonder how they are made??? Montevideo, Uruguay
Tell us one of the most striking places you’ve visited?
Mali, in West Africa, no doubt about it! That was most definitely the most intriguing, fascinating place I’ve ever been so far. Back then, while doing the research of stuff that I could cover, I found out about Festival au Desert, a music and art celebration in the heart of the Malian desert, about 50 KM from Timbuktu, and documenting this festival became one of the main goals of that trip.
A young Touareg band performs on a small stage in the Festival in the Desert. The Festival in the Desert takes place every year in mid January at an oasis near the remote town of Timbuktu.
It was just an incredible experience. The festival was about an hour drive from Timbuktu, in the northern part of Mali. Just getting there was an experience worth a story. We (I was traveling with my friend, who is also a photographer) had to take overly crowded mini-buses — 5 hours to complete the 100 km ride — and then we had to find a boat, more like a large cargo canoe, to take us on a three day trip on the Niger river. To finish the trip we ended up on top of a cargo truck with a bunch of other local travelers, who were commuting to their homes, carrying whatever you can imagine. I remember that for at least two hours of that painfully bumpy ride, I was sitting on a torn down truck diesel engine, that one of the passengers brought along. It was a really wild adventure, painful and exhausting, but for us, it felt like heaven.
Everything was so raw, fresh and beautiful. It was our first trip to Africa. It struck a chord with us.
Candombe drumming in Montevideo, Uruguay.
Candombe drumming in Montevideo, Uruguay.
You live in Brooklyn now?
Yes. I’ve been living in Brooklyn for the past eight years.
What brought you there, specifically? And what in Brooklyn inspires you in your art?
Well, what got me to Brooklyn was … You know… the American dream! I was living in Israel, and I wanted to fulfill bigger dreams, be more successful, expand my horizons, and work in bigger industries. I did what a lot of people do, which is sort of a cliché. I came here just to follow up with my dream. Sad thing about it … I mean, it wasn’t really sad, but the timing was the worst! It was 2008, the big recession, no jobs to be found. The industry was really silent. There was nothing going on. That eventually turned out to be a good thing for me, because it motivated me to work on a personal project, just because I wasn’t working at all.
I started documenting vinyl collectors in their personal space. First here in Brooklyn, and later branched out to the rest of the world. I called it Dust & Grooves and published my photos and stories on a dedicated website. Soon enough, the photos and stories became a great documentation of an ever growing hidden community of vinyl junkies. There was high demand for these kind of stories and my audience grew rapidly. After three years I created a successful Kickstarter campaign and self published a book, now in its third edition.
The book is called Dust & Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting.
During a vinyl digging trip to Ghana.
What drew you to record collecting? And what made you excited about documenting that?
First of all, it’s the music, because I’ve always been a music fan, a music nerd. I always collected records. And I think just coming here to Brooklyn and hanging out in record stores and flea markets and just seeing and absorbing the vinyl scene here, which was totally different from what I used to know in Israel. It was bigger, and the amount of records and the variety was so different. The vinyl scene here was already booming, with old time collectors and new the new kids, everybody was buying records. Being immersed into that, inspired me to start that document.
Joe Bussard sitting in his basement with some of the rarest 78s in existence. The brown paper record jackets behind him are all uniformly discolored in the middle as a result of Joe’s hands sorting and searching through them for the past 60 years.
My motive in life is to always converse with things I love. I know that it’s sometimes hard to fulfill, but it has to be some kind of a guiding light for me. I don’t want to be stuck doing things that maybe make more money but also make me miserable. That’s why I’m trying to focus on things that I’m truly passionate about.
Julia digging for records in New Orleans.
Are you still taking pictures of vinyl, or have you moved on to another passion project?
I still do, but not as much as I used to do. I might work on a volume two of that book, but at the moment, I feel like I have to move on. I actually started a new book project, and it’s called Stompbox: A Visual Exploration of the Guitar Pedal. It’s a new book that I’m working on, which shows you the effect pedals of famous (not only) guitar players from all over the world. It’s still in early stages and I’m very excited about that.
Night shot of the Fitz Roy mountains in Patgonia, Argentina.
What do you look for when you’re taking a picture in terms of emotion and composition?
It’s a combination of things. I’m trying to think…Okay, what is it? Of course, lighting is very important. The composition thing is more like an instinct for me and probably to a lot of photographers. I think it’s about the aesthetics of the frame and balancing the frame, or sometimes unbalancing it intentionally. That’s kind of something that separates a good photographer from just a person with a camera.
Parrandas festivities in Remedios, Cuba. The firework chaos called “Las Parrandas” takes place every Christmas in Remedios, Cuba.
Then I think being sensitive is key for great photos.
A portrait of Hitler Ignacio Da Silve Tabares, a retired police man from Montevideo, Uruguay. Part of the photo essay, “Hi, my name is Hitler!”
It could be sensitivity to human interactions, to timing, to light, just seeing things differently, especially these days when everybody could be a photographer. When I say everybody, it’s everybody! Everybody has a phone with a great camera and the best filters in a touch of a button. So, what makes a good photographer?
I think it’s the sensitivity and paying attention to details.
Faces. There is an enchanting effect on the subject when I get really close. It’s almost like they get into a meditative mode. I love taking straight on portraits like these. The closer, the better.
Where are you off to next on your travels? Do you have any big trips planned?
In the past two years, I have a new passion, which is dirt-biking.
Trans American Trail motorcycle trip that started on August 2015 in New York and finished on November 2015 in California on a KTM 690 Enduro. All dirt roads. The Grand Canyon.
Yeah. It kind of took over my life. It’s a great passion. I’m researching and dedicating much of my time to that world, the dirt-biking world. During the spring and summer, I plan to drive out to British Columbia, in Canada, and document a certain group of people who ride dirt-bikes over there. It definitely will be an adventure for me, combining again a new passion with photography.
Somehere in the Bolivian Altiplano.
It seems like you allow your passions to draw you to your subjects, which I find really interesting.
Yeah. My motivation is not money. Sometimes I put myself on it. I say, “Oh, yeah, I wish I had more money.” But I don’t know. If I can make a living in a way that allows me do things that I’m passionate about and just live, I’m not saying getting wealthy, just get by, I guess you can say I could be happy with that.
I love signs and street messages. It is an ongoing project I’m working on.
Seeing colors. Ghana.
Not sure what it is about this shot that always makes me smile. Ghana
Scenes from my boat ride on the Niger river.
In Cameroon, Obama is a doctor and he owns a snack bar.
People with things on their heads. Another obsession of mine.
Fishing and cooking at the town of Carloforte, Sardinia, Italy with the Carloforte Tonara crew.