Photographer Alex Bartsch has painstakingly researched and sought out the original locations of 42 reggae record sleeve cover shots, and rephotographed them in situ. By meticulously matching the record sleeves with their background, Alex has created a fascinating series that represents not only serious patience and eye for detail on his part, but also paints a picture of the history of London’s reggae scene.
The records were originally photographed in various, largely obscure places around London between 1967–1987, and were selected for the project by Alex from his own record collection. To find the shoot locations Alex and Al Newman – founder of One Love Books which is aiming to publish the series – embarked on an arduous investigation to track down the artists, label owners, photographers and anyone else involved.
“Locating many of these has been a real challenge,” says Al. “Mainly it has involved Alex trawling the internet, asking questions on forums, using Google street view a lot, and cycling around London looking for spots and clues.
“Some of the locations were difficult to access and have involved climbing over fences, on to roofs, and even up the Westway for one Heptones LP. For 1000 Volts of Holt by John Holt, Alex had to gain access to the living room of former Trojan label owner Marcel Rodd in Hampstead to take a photo in front of the fireplace.” Many of the shots were originally taken close to the offices of record companies such as Trojan, Pama and Starlight/Black Music, in nearby Harlesden and Willesden.
In most cases, the photographs show how little the London settings have changed in the last few decades, and celebrates the original photographer’s composition by expanding the canvas. “The image on a record cover usually remains within defined borders,” says Alex, “instantly recognisable as a record cover, but not so much as a location. Approaching the scene from a wider angle and revealing the cover’s surroundings brought me, and will hopefully bring others, closer to the time and place of the original photo shoot.”
A book on the photographs called Covers: Retracing Reggae Record Sleeves in London is now raising funds for publication on Kickstarter. Some works from the project will be exhibited at Art Basel Miami in December.