PUNK IN BERLIN | in: East Village Eye, New York, April 1982 | Punk is a provocation, a revolt against parents, the institutions, the mass media, police — the whole fucking living situation for which no one wants to be responsible. In a society where one's basic physical needs are met through social legislation and high taxes, self destruction is one of the few outlets left to people. To destroy yourself to the point where even the most professionally ignorant can't avoid reacting — at least to get disgusted — is better than to be one of innumerable nothings. Reaction — instead of well behaved ignorance — to make the society aware of the potential of thousands of individuals who won't compromise anymore with silence. In New York City, it was music that made punk popular; in London it was music and riots which made people aware; in Berlin it was the provocation, destruction, self-destruction of a new kamikazi generation which made the society afraid.
A STUNNING COLLECTION OF EVERY KIND OF DEPRAVITY AND DEGRADATION | in: BIZARRE, London, 1997 | STURGEON'S LAW, formulated by SF author Theodore Sturgeon, says that 95% of everything is shit. This is true of review books too. So when Radical Eye landed on our desk and opened to a fabulously sinister black-and-white photograph of a naked man playing an organ, we thought, "No. The rest of it can't possibly be as weird as this."
And we were right. It's weirder.
Radical Eye is a collection of pictures by Miron Zownir, who started out photographing punks in Berlin in the 1970s, then moved to the USA where he began chronicling fringe sexuality, freaks and down-and-outs in New York. When the Soviet Union collapsed, he went to Russia to continue his work there.
The result is a collection of every kind of depravity and degradation you can think of, the dregs of humanity at its lowest ebb: compulsives, deviants, destitutes, drug addicts, uglies, abnormals and freaks, all shot in stunningly bleak monochrome, every image filled with shadows. These are not comfortable images; they are not easy to look at, and even harder to examine. Yet there is something compelling about them: they are simultaneously raw, dangerous and frightening, while still recognisable, immediate. Human.
Our first reaction to the book was to grab an interview with Zownir, but he was somewhere in Eastern Europe, on tour with a circus of midgets. There are several midgets in Radical Eye and one on the cover, and they're all naked. And it gets weirder than that. Apparently the publishers have had problems getting publicity for this book; a lot of magazines have refused to review it. No shit. Well, most magazines don't want to depress the fuck out of their readers. Or disturb them.
Radical Eye is an almost apocalyptic collection. Zownir's world is one of no future and no hope; existing only for the minute, whether in drugs, sex or desperation. The emotions on display here are not attractive ones; the sexuality on display is sordid, not erotic, with some images so strong that even we couldn't print them. It's a fascinating, compulsive and disturbing view of an alien world only one step from yours and mine. This stunning collection - won't change your life, but it'll change the way you look at life. Best book of 1998? Book of the decade, more like: if you're looking for a way to sum up the tension, weirdness and despair of the end of the millennium, you won't find anything more succinct than this.
Radical Eye: the photography of Miron Zownir, is published by DGV. See page 89 for information on how to get a copy at a bargain BizARREprice.