Like only a few contemporary photographers, Miron Zownir has managed to create an extraordinarily consistent photographic work over the past four decades. Zownir, the "Poet of radical photography", as the legendary American author Terry Southern once called him, has been taking photos in conflict-ridden social milieus since the late 1970s and has remained true to his socially critical and taboo-breaking subjects to this day.
Miron Zownir was born in Karlsruhe in 1953 to a German mother and a Ukrainian father. He took up photography in the late 70’s in West Berlin and London and artistically embraced the anarchistic vision and rebellious spirit during the heydays of the punk movement in both cities. Already in his early black and white photographs, he explored the living environments and living conditions of people who consciously have chosen or been forced to lead a marginalized existence outside our society.
When he moved to New York in 1980 and after first exhibitions of his photographs, also alongside the works of Robert Maplethorpe, Miron Zownir quickly became recognized as an uncompromising chronicler of the city’s subculture. The renowned VILLAGE VOICE columnist Howard Smith back then called him "The Teutonic Phenomenographer", for his capacity to track down the daily madness of the local scene.
Zownir's photographs have been presented in numerous exhibitions worldwide since the early 1980s, including shows at the Neikrug Gallery, New York (1982), CNA Gallery, San Francisco (1983) and the Museum for Photography, Braunschweig/Germany (1988).
In 1983, Zownir's early photographs from New York were published for the first time in Germany in a special edition of the cult-magazine FOTOGRAFIE under the title "Greetings from New York by Miron Zownir". The APEX Edition MIRON ZOWNIR - Poet of Radical Photography followed in 1988, a monograph with early photographs by Miron Zownir from Berlin, London and New York from the years 1979 to 1986.
In 1989, Miron Zownir left New York City and moved on, first to Los Angeles, then to Pittsburg, where he lived until 1995.
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”). His award-winning anti-racism short film AUF OFFENER STRASSE (1993), was shown in numerous cinemas in Germany as an opening act. Another short film shot in Germany followed in 1996, the cynical gangster satirical NOW OR NEVER. Both films were produced by the Filmwerkstatt Münster and its director at the time, Herbert Schwering.
In 1995 Miron Zownir traveled to Russia. Instead of photographing the nightlife of the nouveau riche on behalf of the Hamburg Erotic Art Museum, Zownir photographed the homeless, dying and dead on the streets, train stations and underpasses of Moscow and documented the humanitarian crisis after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The shocking images have been firstly published in RADICAL EYE (Gestalten Verlag, 1998), a monograph that bundles Miron Zownir's photographs from 20 years, as well as later on exclusively in the photo book DOWN & OUT IN MOSCOW (PogoBooks, Berlin 2014).
During the ‘Holy Year’ 2000, he went to picture pilgrims in Lourdes and accompanied a fraternity of Christian flagellants in Spain. Topics that in Zownir’s opinion do not contradict with other social realities, that he has pictured in Europe's big cities. “Every human being is looking for some kind of salvation,” says the photographer, “a pilgrim as well as a junky. The only difference is the individual way of dealing with loneliness and misery."
In Berlin, where Zownir lives since 1996, he started to work on his documentary BRUNO S. - DIE FREMDE IS DER DEATH from 2000 on. The film premiered at the Berlinale in 2003 and was shown at numerous international film festivals.
In 2004 Zownir‘s photographs were shown by the CCCB in a 2000 years spanning collection of iconographic representations of the so called "European savages" in Barcelona and Valencia/Spain, curated by the anthropologist Roger Bartra and the historian and author Pilar Pedraza. Exhibited alongside works by Picasso, Ribera, Cranach, der Ältere, Goya, Buñuel and others, Roger Bartra defined the people portrayed by Zownir, as the modern representatives of individuals referred to as “savages " in the Greek mythology, who live close to us, but beyond the boundaries of what is considered socially acceptable. According to Bartra Zownir’s images show what we don’t want to see, because they confront us with the most intimate anxieties and terrors of our culture: "It is the outsider, marginal figure or representative of underprivileged classes, who are in their anxiety-provoking otherness perceived as a threat to the civilized European identity and therefore relegated to the realm of the monstrous."
The Fotomuseum Winterthur/Switzerland showed Zownir's work in the highly acclaimed exhibition DARKSIDE I (2008), which focused on photography as an important medium of representation and visual catalyst of sexuality, with works by Helmut Newton, Hans Bellmer, Man Ray, Pierre Molinier, Robert Mapplethorpe, Andy Warhol, Nan Goldin, Larry Clark, Joel Peter Witkin, Bill Brandt, Brassai, Nobuyoshi Araki, Francesca Woodman, Boris Mikhailov a.o.
DARKSIDE II (2009), also on view at Fotomuseum Winterthur, dealt with the human body under the influence of destructive forces such as violence, illness, war, dying and death. The unique collection included photographs by Miron Zownir from Russia, as well as pictures by the American reportage and war photographers W. Eugene Smith or Oliver Noonan, the legendary photo reporter and police photographer Weegee, as well as pictures by Alvin Balltrop, Robert Capa, Henry Cartier Bresson, Robert Frank, Larry Clark or Don McCullin.
In 2010, THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW, another photo book with an extensive and uncompromising collection of photographs from New York, Berlin, post-communist Eastern Europe, France and Spain was published by Gestalten Verlag in Berlin.
A grant from the Robert Bosch Foundation enabled Miron Zownir to work with the editor of the Ukrainian art-literary magazine PROSTORY Kateryna Mishchenko from 2012-2014 on their photo book project UKRAINIAN NIGHT. The book with over a hundred photographs and essays, written by Kateryna Mishchenko, was published by Spector Books, Leipzig in spring 2015.
In the same year, Miron Zownir won an award at the LEAD AWARDS 2015 in the category “Reportage Photography of the Year” for his photo series BERLIN NOIR, published in Zoo Magazine No. 45.
His photo book MIRON ZOWNIR - NYC RIP, a broad collection of his New York Photography was published by PogoBooks in 2015, including a foreword by the American singer, author and actress Lydia Lunch.
In 2016, the House of Photography/Deichtorhallen in Hamburg devoted a comprehensive retrospective to Miron Zownir with over a hundred photographs, curated by Ingo Taubhorn. For the second year in a row, Zownir again received an award for his photography published in Zoo Magazine No. 49 at the LEAD AWARDS 2016.
In the same year, Zownir started a new photo project and photographed the eve of the Trump era in California during the US election.
In 2017 his photo book BERLIN NOIR was published by Pogobooks Verlag. BERLIN NOIR combines the early photographic work of Miron Zownir, who roamed the city with his camera in the late 1970s and discovered his fascination for photography, with photographs taken in the reunified capital after his return from the USA in 1996.
Further international exhibitions followed, a.m.o. Art Photo Budapest (2017), Interzone Galleria, Rome (2017), Brotfabrik Galerie, Berlin (2018).
During a residency in Romania, to which Miron Zownir was invited in 2018 by the Visual Kontakt gallery in cooperation with the Goethe-Zentrum Klausenburg, Miron Zownir created his photo series ROMANIA RAW. The thematic focus of his photo project was the documentation of the living conditions of the Roma communities in Transylvania and in the capital Bucharest. The images have been presented in several exhibitions in Romania in 2020, including the Art Museum Cluj-Napoka, Romania, curated by Olimpia Bera in cooperation with the University of Art and Design and the Goethe Institute. The photo book ROMANIA RAW was published by the GOETHE INSTITUT CLUJ NAPOCA and PogoBooks in the course of the exhibition of the same name during the European Month of Photography 2020 in Berlin.
The Museum for Arts and Crafts in Hamburg (2019) and the Museum for Photography/Helmut Newton Foundation Berlin (2020) presented the early photographs by Miron Zownir from Berlin and New York in the exhibition "WOLFGANG SCHULZ AND THE PHOTOSCENE AROUND 1980". Both museums dedicated an exhibition to this period of important upheaval in the history of West German photography, which includes the work of the legendary FOTOGRAFIE publisher Wolfgang Schulz and presented outstanding works by photographers whose works were formative for the years around 1980.
In 2020/21, the Reinbeckhallen Collection for Contemporary Art Foundation presented Miron Zownir's early Berlin photographs in the photo exhibition BERLIN 1945-2000: A PHOTOGRAPHIC SUBJECT, together with the works of other German and international photographers who took pictures between the immediate post-war years and the end of the 20th century in Berlin, such as Sibylle Bergemann, Gundula Schulze-Eldowy, Arno Fischer, Nan Goldin, Herbert Hensky, Will McBride and Roger Melis. The exhibition was curated by Dr. Candice M. Hamelin.
Under the direction of Italian photographer Letizia Battaglia, who died in 2022, the Centro Internazionale di Fotografia in Palermo dedicated a comprehensive retrospective to Miron Zownir in 2021. The exhibition Zeit wirdknapp / Non c'è più tempo showcased works created between 1977 and 2019 was curated by Gaetano La Rosa and realized in cooperation with the Goethe Institute Palermo. The exhibition catalogue APOTHEOSIS AND DERISION accompanied this major solo exhibition.
In 2022, Miron Zownir's photographs from the series UKRAINIAN NIGHT are on display in the WESERBURG - MUSEUM FÜR MODERNE KUNST, Bremen, and in the Kunstmuseum Gelsenkirchen. Both museum exhibitions were created in cooperation with Galerie K'. 50 photographs by Miron Zownir from Moscow, London, New York City, West Berlin, Berlin and the US metropolises of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas will are on display in 2023/24 in the exhibition DIX AND THE PRESENT at Deichtorhallen, Hamburg.
Since 2014, Miron Zownir has been represented at international photo fairs in London, Paris and Los Angeles and in solo and group exhibitions worldwide by Galerie Bene Taschen. The Collogne based gallery also represents some of the most renowned artists in contemporary photography in its portfolio, such as Sebastião Salgado, William Claxton, Arlene Gottfried, Larry Fink, Jamel Shabazz, Jeff Mermelstein, David LaChapelle, Gregory Bojorquez, and Joseph Rodriguez.
© Copyright photos Miron Zownir. All rights reserved.
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