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Plundering Atlantic Records' Vaults


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Scratching Under the Vinyl Era


Courtesy of Elektra Records Archives

Findings in Warner Music’s archives so far include a photo of the Doors with their billboard in 1967. More Photos »


The images have been scattered about in dusty and moldy warehouses, relics of the pre-Internet age when photography was integral to selling music, and the photographers — names like Irving Penn, Annie Leibovitz, Lee Friedlander and Robert Mapplethorpe — went on to become nearly as famous as the subjects they captured and defined.

“Every day is like, what am I going to find today?” said Grayson Dantzic, the archivist for Atlantic Records in New York. With colleagues at Warner Music Group, Atlantic’s parent, he is part of an ambitious project to recover the company’s story — and a good chunk of American cultural history as well — by excavating the contents of nearly 100,000 boxes from warehouses around the globe, whose accumulated photographs and other memorabilia track popular music from the Edwardian and Victorian ages to disco and jazz, from Beethoven to Miles Davis.

In an industry whose product is now compressed into tidy digital bits, the project is an exercise in record-keeping that is partly motivated by the urgencies of economics. The material is potentially quite valuable, and the company is searching for ways to make money from it, through high-end art books, sales to collectors and applications for iPads.

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