While mainstream photography feeds the advertising business with images full of glossy and glam, Miron Zownir prefers to hunt down personal obsessions, documenting the visible chaos and places of desolation, great perplexity and silent grief about the people who lost their lives in the uprise. He is known to be one of the most uncompromising photographers of today, exploring the photographed human body as a victim of impairment, disease, degeneration, violence and death.
To describe his artistic intention, Miron Zownir quotes from Kafka’s “The Castle”: “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”.
Incessantly looking at the things that surrounded him is exactly what he did, taking up photography in the late 70s to capture the hey-days of the punk phenomenon in West-Berlin and London. Emigrating to New York in the 1980s, and later to Los Angeles and Pittsburgh, where Zownir would spend the next 15 years, his pictures from that period give a penetrating insight to inner-city sub-cultural spheres, capturing the untamed lust at the gay parties, the hopelessness on the Bowery and the shadowy world of hookers or junkies.
After this period, Zownir travelled to Russia in 1995, where his street photography documents the homeless, dying and dead people. While he describes Moscow as “the most aggressive and dangerous city he’s ever been to”, his images from Russia are highly distressing to view, revealing the human tragic of radical poverty, which 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.
Extreme subjects and extraordinary forms of the human condition continued to be the central motivation of his work, picturing pilgrims in Lourdes and accompanying a fraternity of Christian flagellants in Spain in the “Holy Year 2000”. 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”, showing drug addicted homeless adolescents dwelling in run down houses and ruins in Odessa, TB patients, HIV-positive orphans or residents of various Roma camps – the fringe of society that has been invisible so far in the Ukrainian and foreign media.
How would you describe yourself in one sentence?
How could I describe myself in one sentence? Who is that simple?
Whom do you look up to?
Are there any personalities that have contributed to your successful career path?
What successful career?
Everybody is printing my photos but nobody pays for it. I break every rule and taboo and I have no lobby. The main stream media is still ignoring me which is another way of censorship. But nevertheless there have always been people that believed in me and appreciated my work. My relationships, some publishers etc. And the interest in my work is steadily growing.
Who or what has been the biggest influence on your way of thinking?
My early loneliness.
How did your photographic career start? What made you want to become a photographer?
I got rejected in several filmschools and was looking for another creative outlet. My girlfriend at the time studied photography. So I borrowed her camera and started to roam the streets. From the beginning I made photos of the homeless, outcasts, punks or the ruined and gloomy landscapes of Berlin.
What was your favourite project and why?
I was always interested in the shady side of life beyond the offical toothpaste smile of respectability and commercial lies.
How do you define creativity?
Creativity is definitely not limited to the world of art. But art is the only playground that allowes the ultimate freedom of expression.
If you had one advice for someone seeking to live a creative life, what would you tell him?
Be prepared for the worst. But it’s still better than the alternative of daily slavery for someone elses benefit.
Do you have a favourite quote that describes what you truly believe in? What`s your personal motto?
“Find out what you love and let it kill you.” (Bukowski)
What was the biggest challenge you’ve faced during your career as a photographer?
To document the dead or dying people in the streets of Moscow and being unable to help them.
What do you know now that you wish you knew at 21?
Nothing because knowledge isn’t everything. I’ve always been a dreamer.
Is there anything for which you would be ready to give up your passion for photography?
The health of someone I deeply love. But I’m not Faust and your not Mephisto.