Miron Zownir Interview
Moskau 1995, Miron Zownir
Following our discovery of freelance photographer, scriptwriter and filmmaker Miron Zownir and his haunting visual depictions of fringe cultures and society’s underbelly we wanted find out more about the man behind the lens and his experiences and relationship to his work. For our interview with Miron Zownir click to read more.
How would you describe you work to someone who may not of encountered it?
I’d tell him have a look at my books or my films. What’s the point of describing a photo?
What did your earliest photographic work look like? In style and in content?
My style or the content of my work didn’t change much. As a photographer I have to respond to a change in society. You are only a mirror of what’s out there and of what you choose to document. Maybe in the eighties my photographs where more interactive since I followed people more persistently and provoked their reactions. Now I probably focus more on the moment where the person I photograph isn’t aware of me. My priority is always the authenticity of the moment. It is secondary if someone is aware of me or not.
From the beginning I was always more interested in the down and outs than the successful, the subculture than the mainstream. I was always fascinated by outcasts crossing the borderline, trespassing into a world that is supposed to be off limit.
How did you find the transition between Germany and America when you moved there in the 1980’s?
Before I went to NYC I lived in Berlin and in London. So I moved from one big city to another rather than from Germany to the States. I was ready forNew York City from the beginning.
What is the camera you reach for the most? And what setup do you find is best suited to your style of photography.
Actually I never got sponsored by anyone so I don’t see the point to talk about my equipment. It’s light, handy and pretty discreet and of adequate technical standard.
Your photography deals with the “fringes of society” but where do you see yourself within society and has documenting these fringes changed or altered how you see yourself within society?
I always have been and still am at the fringe of society. If nobody publishes or exhibits my work anymore I have no existential back up. You cannot kick some ones ass and expect him to applaud you. A fighter doesn’t get paid by his opponent either. The establishment doesn’t reward you if you show or express what it doesn’t want to see or hear.
Which medium do you find the best platform for your expression?
Definitely writing since it is all up to you.
Are the themes that your work explores such as obsession, death, insanity, fear, violence and loneliness ones that affect you personally? What impact has your relationship with photography had with these themes on a personal level?
If it wouldn’t affect me there wouldn’t be any point of devoting my life to it. Nobody is immortal, everybody could get victimized by violence or potentially commit a violent crime, most people have some kind of obsession or fear, nobody can be certain that himself or someone he cares for doesn’t get insane and when facing death everybody feels lonely. I’m aware of it and I make aware of it. There is no way to ever live in a world without it, unless you alter people into robot like creatures. Of cause there is a tendency towards that but I prefer it imperfect with all emotional ups and downs, defects and shortcomings. That doesn’t mean I expect fate as it is or that I don’t believe in a better world. But definitely not in a perfect world created through face lifts, silicon titts, life -extending medicine, political remedies, religion, media hypes, Hollywoodheroism, more TV stations or ethical correctness. Wrong or right is just a matter of who can effort the better lawyer or has the stronger lobby. If you’re beautiful and unknown you will never be as beautiful as someone who is ugly and famous. I guess that’s one of the reasons I’m not a celebrity Paparazzi or a fashion photographer.
Can you tell us the period of your life when you were documenting the “sex piers” of New York located between Westside highway and the Hudson River, from what I gather it was a pretty intense time?
I would say it was the time when the sexual revolution was at its peak. It is strange and sad that with the outbreak of Aids many hopes and dreams about sexual or any kind of freedom got shattered. In the early eighties there was little fear of such a devastating epidemical outbreak.New Yorkwas boasting with its sexual vibration. Every nightclub and even the streets where full of exotics, sexual misfits and freaks. The society was still hungry for all kinds of different artistic expressions. It was a time when a real change in taste, attitude, expression or style came from the streets into the media and not vice versa as it is today. Life wasn’t as organized and people weren’t so obsessed with health, money and fame. In the seventies and early eighties it was hard to find anyone who didn’t smoke, drink, abuse drugs or fuck with a condom. And the moral opposition didn’t have much to object about it. Nobody cared about them. The Sex piers at the West Side Highway was one of the many places that demonstrated that “I do what I want”-spirit. Of cause it was more secluded and purely for homosexuals. Not even the drag queens where welcomed there. But it was an anarchistic-like playground for people getting out of the closet to let their steam off.
The hero’s of that time where Bukowski, Burroughs, Crump or the Sid Vicious and not Lady Gaga, Harry Potter, Lagerfeld or that royal sister, what’s her name?
Is there an image you have taken that continues to have a resonance with you to this day or has a story behind it that has a great personal meaning behind it?
Well yeah. How could I forget those starving and dying people. They sometimes still hunt me in my nightmares or influence characters in my stories. If you are the last companion of someone dying and you can’t even slip him a cigarette because he doesn’t have the strength to inhale it anymore. And you make a couple of photos of him and continue along your way to look for someone else that’s something you got to live with. You may ask yourself do you give a dam about that person or are you just happy you got a good photo out of him? How would you feel dying so miserably and some asshole comes along and slaps you with his fucking flash across your helpless body and soul. How much do you really feel for that poor devil more or less than for a good photo? You can’t do shit about his situation why do you document his misery? To get money – no. To get praised – no. Because you enjoy it – no. To make aware of something – maybe. What do you expect out of it – nothing. Why are you doing it anyway – probably because I feel something for these people I can’t express in any other way. You could call an ambulance, pray or cry – I guess, I could as well stay home and watch TV.
What makes you keep returning to photographs these fringe environments? What is it that keeps drawing you back into these settings? Would you consider it a kind of addiction?
I wouldn’t consider it a kind of addiction, it’s rather a kind of morbid passion. I could do without but I don’t. Don’t ask me why.
What mysteries of the world do you feel have you yet to explore? And if you had an endless amount of money and uninhibited access to any scene, group of people anywhere in the world what would you explore?
I guess myself. I’m still digging into my subconscious. With an endless amount of money you don’t explore anymore you try to grab things and own them. I would buy all the wilderness there is left and make sure nobody would touch it anymore. If I had enough money I would do a lot of movies I can’t do now because of a lack of budget. Support people I like, live near the Ocean, be as happy and miserable as ever.
If you could share a group show with anyone, dead or alive, who do you feel would best compliment your work?
Reinhard Scheibner a great artist who is still alive and totally underrated. If I’d say Goya why should it make a difference if I see his work in a context to my photos or in a solo exhibition? As a matter of fact I’ve been already exhibited with Picasso, Albrecht Dürer, Lucas Cranach, Arnold Böcklin and Goya in an exhibition called El salvaje europeo. And at the Museum Winterthur in Dark Side 1 and Dark Side 2 along with Weegee, Robert Capa, Man Ray, Enrique Mentinides, Robert Frank, Andy Warhol etc.
Your work has had a definite resonance within contemporary photography in approach and style but, who would would you consider to be pushing the boundaries within photography at the moment?
I’m not that up to date with contemporary photographers. Of course I know Mapplethorpe, Cindy Sherman, Larry Clark, Nan Goldin and so on but nobody new that really impressed me. Of those mentioned I like Larry Clark the best. On an emotional level I don’t see anyone that pushes the boundaries as far as I do.
What is your desired response to your work?Do you find the outcome creates a therapeutic release?
Actually I don’t care. I prefer a good write up to a bad review. But I’m not longing for something particular. Surprise me! If someone writes an honest article or has a true opinion that’s good enough.
A therapeutic release for whom, me - no. Someone else- anything is possible.
You have described the camera as your cover and a safeguard in certain situations has this somewhat imaginary shield ever let you down?
Emotionally probably more often than I’m aware of, since my sleep is not peacefully. In the act of work actually not that I can remember
Berlin 2008, NYC 1982
How did your collaboration with Rummelsnuff come about?
I have seen a photo of him and cast him in my movie “Phantomanie”. After that I did a music video “Freier Fall” for him. Collaboration with Rummelsnuff was always fun and easy. Even if he doesn’t look it, he is a very easy going guy.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
I’m travelling a lot to the East where life is still rough and in a transition – working on a new photo book. I’ve just finished a new book of short stories called “Dead Beat”. And I’m writing at the moment on a novel about a German Serial Killer. It’s a collaboration with my girlfriend Nico Anfuso. Nico did 3 years of research on him and visited him several times in prison when he was still alive. I’m also working on a new audio book of my short stories with actor Birol Ünel (Head on) and FM Einheit (former member of Einstürzende Neubauten).
If you want to take a look at more of Miron Zownir’s written, video or photographic work more can be found here….