BIOGRAPHY - MIRON ZOWNIR

 

"Zownir creates a mysterious sense of timelessness that takes the viewer to the realm of hyper-reality. It is impossible not to feel an intense emotional response when exposed to Zownir's work. He is one of those rare artists whose empathy burns through his images, championing misfits and dreamers who live out their lives a long way beneath the radar of "acceptable" society - just in between the blank spaces of the newspaper obituaries, and the dark shadows of the tenement housing blocks."

(DAZED & CONFUSED)


PHOTOGRAPHY

Hailed by Terry Southern as the "Poet of Radical Photography" Miron Zownir's photographic work has been exhibited in galleries and museums in several countries from 1981 on. Some of his photographs were shown amongst artworks of the likes of Goya, Picasso, Alfred Kubin and Cindy Sherman in the exhibition ‘El salvaie europeo’ (2004) in Barcelona and Valencia.

In autumn 2008 Zownir’s photography was presented by the Fotomuseum Winterthur (CH) along with works of photographers like Robert Mapplethorpe, Man Ray, Nan Goldin, Larry Clark, Andy Warhol, Nobuyoshi Araki and others in DARKSIDE I, an outstanding exhibition which showcased a remarkable collection of photography that is dedicated to images of sexuality as a mostly central part of our existence.

Following Darkside I, the Fotomuseum Winterthur again presented Zownir’s work in Darkside II (2009) exploring the photographed human body as victim of impairment, disease, degeneration, violence and death with works by W. Eugene Smith, Weegee, Robert Capa, Don Mc Cullin and others.

Zownir took up photography in the late 70s during the hey-days of the punk-phenomenon in West- Berlin and London, delivering a tight portrayal of the movement and its peculiar attitude towards life in limbo between a utopian vision of anarchy and nihilistic self-destruction.

In 1980, Miron Zownir emigrated to the USA, where he lived for the next fifteen years; first in New York, then in Los Angeles, and Pittsburgh. In New York, back then arguably the world's most fascinating and permissive metropolis, Zownir's peculiar approach to cover the city's multiple-layered day-to-day lunacy was quickly recognised by the local scene as the TEUTONIC PHENOMENOGRAPHER (Village Voice). Shot in moody, expressionistic b/w, Zownir's pictures from that period give a penetrating insight to inner-city sub-cultural spheres, which, in their original local context, have since perished in the boom of the 90s. His lens captured the untamed lust at the gay-parties, just shortly before Aids massively claimed its victims; the futile protest of artists and offbeat performers; the hopelessness on the Bowery; the shadowy world of hookers or junkies.

Zownir's photographs of the 'Sex Piers' have become legendary documents by now. The shut-down and dilapidated port area located between the Westside Highway and the Hudson River, with its sunbathing section for nudists and the surrounding 'halls of the anonymous lust', was a popular meeting place among the gay- scene.

Zownir meanwhile has gained the reputation of being one of the most uncompromising contemporary photographers. Some critics claim that Zownir, in his own characteristic manner, ties on where Diane Arbus and Weegee had stopped. But when it comes to the basis of his artistic intention, Miron Zownir would rather point to a quote from Kafka’s ‘The Castle’ then being compared to other photographers: “If one has the strength to look at the things incessantly, more or less without ever closing the eyes, one sees much. But if one lessens the effort only once and closes the eyes, it all immediately vanishes into darkness.”

In summer 1995 Zownir traveled to Russia. Focused on street photography he took pictures of homeless, dying and dead people. According to Zownir, he experienced Moscow as “the most aggressive and dangerous city I’ve ever been to.” Yet even Russian militia couldn’t keep him away from depicting the blatant social and moral decline in the former Soviet Union. Zownir’s images from Russia are bitter and brutal, and highly distressing to view. The human tragic of radical poverty, that they reveal, ultimately climaxes in the utterly undignified act of dying in public. “It was Dante’s inferno,” Zownir would state when he returned to Berlin after three months of a terrifying descend into the lower depths of the Post-Soviet society.
His photographs from Moscow and St. Petersburg had been published among 150 other works from 1979-1997 in RADICAL EYE – THE PHOTOGRAPHY OF MIRON ZOWNIR (Gestalten Verlag, Berlin, 1997).

Zownir’s focus on extreme subjects and extraordinary forms of the human condition continued to be the central motivation of his work. In the ‘Holy Year’ 2000, he went to picture pilgrims in Lourdes and accompanied a fraternity of Christian flagellants in Spain.
Another photo book, THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW (2010), was again published by Gestalten Verlag . “As in life, there is simply no room for this kind of photography in traditional lifestyle media - or for Miron Zownir’s chosen subjects”, publisher Robert Klanten stated in his preface. “While mainstream photography has thrown off its original reportage mandate to become the vicarious agent of the advertising business – glossy and glam, even in its grittier incarnations – or to supply us with iconic images of historic events, with instant placeholders destined to become part of our collective memories and lore, Miron does not seek out such landmark visions or events, but prefers to hunt down personal obsessions and the inherent existential state of his protagonists.“

In 2014 Miron Zownir’s photographic documentation from Moscow 1995 had been published in its entirety under the title DOWN AND OUT IN MOSCOW by Berlin-based Pogo Books Publishing.

A grant by the Robert Bosch Foundation in 2012/2013 enabled Miron Zownir, in partnership with the editor of the Ukrainian literary and art magazine “Prostory” Kateryna Mishchenko to work on the photo book project "Ukrainian Night". They toured several parts of the Ukraine and met with a wide range of realities of urban life in different regions. Through close contact with local activists they obtained insights into the often abysmal social life of different marginalized groups, for example drug addicted homeless adolescents dwelling in run down houses and ruins in Odessa. In the course of their photographic journey Zownir, whose father was Ukrainian, photographed also TB patients, HIV-positive orphans or residents of various Roma camps, showing the fringe of society that has been invisible so far in the Ukrainian and foreign media. In his b / w photographs signs of the revolution are already perceptible. The images demand a social and political reflection of the now ubiquitous nationwide crisis. In 2014 Zownir again went to visit Kiev and documented the Majdan as the central square of the visible chaos of the post-revolution, as a place of desolation, great perplexity and silent grief about the people who lost their lives in the uprise. 

The photo book UKRAINIAN NIGHT with over hundred photographs by Miron Zownir and essays by Kateryna Mishchenko will be published by Spector Books in spring 2015.

LITERATURE

The publication of the German language crime novel KEIN SCHLICHTER ABGANG (NO EASY WAY OUT) in 2003 marked Miron Zownir's debut as an author of noir-style fiction. A bizarre, gloomy pulp story, which was published as an original paperback by MirandA Verlag, known for their German editions of the works of Harry Crews, Lydia Lunch, Henry Rollins etc.

When reading Zownir’s debut novel it is not far to seek to ask oneself how much of Zownir’s own life might be put in his first-person narrator, a failed script author named Roland Skollani,  who ends up as a debt collector...or vice versa.
The fact remains that Zownir experienced all the depths and abysses of daily survival as a debt collector in New York. Also in his two subsequent,so far unpublished novels THE FALSE SMILE OF THE SUN and LANA, with which Zownir completed a trilogy of thrillers within an American Hardcore Setup, one can easily find traces of the author’s life.

Like Eddie, the main protagonist in THE FALSE SMILE OF THE SUN , who returns from the hapless fishing trip from Alaska to Seattle, completely broke and with his vocal chords ruined by vomiting, Zownir himself  worked  in the early 1990s on a rotten fishing cutter  and sailed for months through a fished out Bering Sea.  In Zownir’s novel LANA he describes the unstoppable downward spiral of Landau, a former sketch artist at the Chicago police, who is turning into a life of crime to save his psychotic daughter from the nastily reality of Brooklyn and in the end loses his struggle for freedom.

As an author Zownir reports from abysmal landscapes of lost souls, and offers a vison and a perspective, that can only be taken by someone, who has seen a lot more than the usual and ordinary, but who also allows himself the creative freedom of a fictional  carrying on.

His main protagonists are drifting through downtowns, gutters and wastelands of American cities like NYC, LA, Seattle or Pittsburgh, cities in which Zownir himself lived restlessly for more than fifteen years. Whether in rundown apartments, stuffy nightclubs, swanky luxury apartments, hard benches, depressing motel rooms, on highways, depraved homeless shelters or the brutal open street itself - all places of the events are only way stations, where anyone can lose everything any minute...

The bourgeois, the misfits, the criminals, the police, the racists, the politically correct as well as the desperate or the optimists: Nobody is able to escape and no one achieve one’s ends...
Zownir plays around with clichés, in order to break them unexpectedly;  he shows uncompromising and defiant humor, not bowing to the choice of the masses, and let his heroes now and then search for a rest of unconsumed feelings and unsold dreams, for painkilling sparks of the senses,  that will still brighten even the darkest scenario.

PARASITEN DER OHNMACHT a new book with 36 bizarre short stories and hard-boiled poetry as well as a selection of images from Zownir’s recent photographic researches was published in autumn 2009 by mox&maritz Verlag.

In his short stories, poems and aphorisms Zownir combines the primary matter of aggression, obsession, sexuality, death, greed, loneliness, love, hate, eating and -be-eaten in an explosive sum, that  rips all literary conventions and catapults the reader into insane visions and a perverted present world . Or brings him down to earth with naked, painful facts and a big bang.
The book will be translated into Bulgarian (supported by Goethe Institut Sofia) and published by Black Flamingo Publishing, Sofia.

13 short stories and poems out of this book were read by actor Birol Ünel (Head On, Soulkitchen)  for the German language audiobook  BIROL ÜNEL LIEST MIRON ZOWNIR- PARASITEN DER OHNMACHT released by  Deutsche Grammophon / Universal . The congenial soundtrack was composed by FM Einheit (ex-Einstürzende Neubauten).

In 2014 UMNACHTUNG, another crime novel by Miron Zownir was published by mox&maritz Verlag, Bremen.

FILMS

During his residence in America Zownir had not only worked as a photographer but also ventured into filmmaking. He wrote and directed several underground short films, working mainly with producer Chosei Funahara, a founding member of legendary NYC band Plasmatics. Another of Zownir's collaborators on these films, as director of photography, was Alexander Rockwell, who would go on to direct the films “In The Soup” and ”Four Rooms”. Zownir also developed a series of film exposés for the Japanese author and director Ryu Murakami (“Tokyo Decadence”).
The first two short films Zownir shot in Germany were SKINHEAD LANE (1993), an anti-racism spot, and NOW OR NEVER (1996). He directed the documentary BRUNO S. - ESTRANGEMENT IS DEATH (2003), a feature-length portrayal of Bruno S., the street musician, painter who found fame as the protagonist of Werner Herzog's „The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser“ and „Stroczek“. The film debuted at the International Film Festival Berlin in 2003 and was shown at numerous other film festivals around the world.
In 2006, Zownir directed VALUEV VS VIOLENCE, a spot against violence, in which Nikolai Valuev, the Russian boxer and heavyweight champion gives his opinion on the topic of aggression. The soundtrack was contributed by Alexander Hacke, known as member of the legendary German industrial band Einstürzende Neubauten.
Zownir’s full length film PHANTOMANIE features forgotten performers like Bruno S., shortly before he died, renowned German actors like Natalia Avelon, Hans Michael Rehberg or Geno Lechner aswell as Berlin underground musicians like Gina D'Dorio (Cobra Killer) and Rummelsnuff. The soundtrack for PHANTOMANIE was performed and produced by Alec Empire.  He then directed the music video FREIER FALL for Rummelsnuff (2010), and a short film called FUCK UP (2012)

Zownir currently works on his second full feature film BACK TO NOTHING which will be completed in 2015, starring among others Timo Jacobs, Rummelsnuff, Milton Welsh, Birol Ünel, Meret Becker. The soundtrack was contributed by King Khan.