Underground Photos From New York’s Seediest Years
May 15, 2019 11:45 PM   Subscribe

Miron Zownir captures the provocative energy and aggressive hedonism of the city in the 80s. Hailed by Terry Southern as the "Poet of Radical Photography," Miron Zownir took up photography in the late 1970s when he arrived in West Berlin. Moved by the spirit of punk, Zownir embraced the utopian vision of anarchy and nihilistic self-destruction that flourished openly on the streets and in the sex clubs, drug dens, and nightlife of West Berlin and London.
posted by bongo_x (9 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
For a related but still distinct perspective on an adjacent time and place, check out Ai WeiWei's New York Photos 1983-1993. The exhibit was a few years back (I saw it when it came through the Hirshhorn) but was also published as a book.

These are gorgeous images. Thank you for sharing.
posted by nightrecordings at 4:51 AM on May 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

In the next decade, Nelson Sullivan captured a lot of what it was like to be in NYC via his never-ending capturing of moments via video. It's amazing how much the city has changed each decade.
posted by xingcat at 5:20 AM on May 16, 2019 [3 favorites]

I am of two minds about this article. I lived next to the meat packing district and in the East Village back then, and I don't recall hookers, addicts, and drunks as having a utopian vision of anarchy and nihilistic self-destruction. I don't even recall them being sinister, morbid, forbidden or dangerous They were just playing out bad hands as best they could. Making them part of one's own retrospective fantasy utopian vision of anarchy and nihilistic self-destruction seems wrong. I'm not sure why. It can't hurt them. They are mostly dead.

On the other hand, they were sometimes kind of beautiful, and this is the only record we are likely to have of them.
posted by ckridge at 6:45 AM on May 16, 2019 [19 favorites]

Wow I love seedy photography and these feel really creepy. Like Terry Richardson if he found models already abused, didn't abuse them himself. OTOH the framing on this one (NSFW) is amazing.

More of his work on his page. And some of his Berlin photos. Even the modern photos have this blown-out-contrast look, so I guess it's intentional and not just bad digitization.

(This whole thread could probably use a NSFW tag.)
posted by Nelson at 7:12 AM on May 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

I love these images; thanks for the post!
posted by carmicha at 8:16 AM on May 16, 2019

While I love to see photos from this era and they bring back deeply visceral memories of these locations for me, I really do not like this kind of nostalgia. Street walkers are not romantic, the city was plagued with heroin, crime was insane, there were 1826 murders in one year, cops were working to rule, mental health was de-funded, we had an SRO crisis, and the city was filled with garbage and graffiti.

I too miss affordable rents and the days before gentrification, but the grit was very real.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:22 AM on May 16, 2019 [5 favorites]

Nostalgie de la boue is a trap. I didn't grow up in 80s NYC, I grew up somewhere worse that hasn't truly recovered, and I always find the old NYC images interesting because of the ways they tally or contrast with my own memories, but I do not in any way yearn to return to even the present city, much less the one of 1983 or so.
posted by praemunire at 2:57 PM on May 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

The years go on and 70s-80s NYC just seems more and more unreal, and how it could have possibly existed without being stomped out of existence. At the same time it wasn't that long ago.

That Lincoln Swados guy sounds like quite the character, and who was apparently also Lou Reed's roommate (ctrl-F "circumcision") in his year at Syracuse University.
posted by rhizome at 3:44 PM on May 16, 2019

If you're still interested in the gritty downtown NYC vibe, I'd recommened the dark comedy film 'Mixed Blood' (1984) by Paul Morrissey. It's pretty sassy & gritty. Don't watch the awful trailer, it really misrepresents it.
posted by ovvl at 5:21 PM on May 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

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