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March 14, 2023

German Photographer Captured the Underground of '80s New York at Its Seediest Years

Step back into a different New York—before the capitalistic white-washing and the family-friendly gentrifying. A New York at the zenith of its mania; a New York that no longer exists...

Drug-crazed, crime-ridden and totally out of control. For a radical photographer there was no better place to be than 1980s New York, and that’s where Miron Zownir landed after making the decision to emigrate from Germany. Zownir would spend the next 15 years in America, moving on to Los Angeles and Pittsburgh, but it’s his first nine years in New York that stands out as the most professionally compelling, and perhaps the most personally challenging.

Zownir found himself surrounded by a population far removed from mainstream society — even to describe these New Yorkers as living on the fringes would be to suggest a degree of acceptance and inclusion that was rarely evident. Unlike in Europe, where Zownir had observed sub-cultures existing in self-imposed segregation, in New York they were all swimming in the same murky waters.

Junkies; prostitutes; avant garde artists; the mentally ill; criminals; exhibitionists; gender explorers of all persuasions — this extraordinary theatre was playing out on the streets around him, and Zownir was determined to record every last bit of it.

If his photographs are sometimes hard to look at, they were no picnic to take either, and Zownir recalls the physical danger he felt when approaching potential subjects. His practice came with a lot of personal risk, and he insists that although he would never knowingly provoke a situation to violence, he was always ready to defend himself if necessary.

(Photos © by Miron Zownir)


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