Looking Back

Richard Renaldi

January 3, 2017

Miron Zownir, NYC, 1983. Courtesy the artist


We asked Richard Renaldi to tell us about a picture that means something to him, and why. Renaldi’s series Manhattan Sunday, recently at the Benrubi Gallery, is on view the George Eastman Museum from January 21 to June 11. 


Miron Zownir cruised the streets, piers, and nightclubs of New York City throughout the 1980s, his camera belching forth the operatic grunge of lower Manhattan. He was particularly adept at getting transsexuals and homeless men to pose while flashing their dicks, and shooting frame after frame of men giving blowjobs along the West Side piers even though he isn’t gay.

This image, from his book NYC/RIP (2015, PogoBooks), was made in 1983, when SoHo was perfectly suspended between its abandonment by the garment and textile industries and its seizure and subjugation by global capital. Zownir’s subjects in this hilarious image, gleefully sermonizing with the aid of a dry-cleaning bag and spats, could already see it coming.

The photograph was taken 33 years ago on Prince Street looking west at the corner of Wooster Street. Had it been ten years earlier, the pair could have turned around and been welcomed for lunch at 127 Prince Street, which housed the restaurant FOOD for several years in the 1970s. FOOD was founded by artist Gordon Matta-Clark; its mission was to feed and employ the community of artists who lived and worked in SoHo’s cold-water lofts. Donald Judd, Robert Rauschenberg, and John Cage were just a few of the artists who contributed recipes and programmed special meals there.

Today, 127 Prince Street houses the men’s branch of upscale yoga apparel store Lululemon. In an online review, one admirer calls it the “best mens [sic] athleisure store in NYC.” Zownir – outsider, filmmaker, former club bouncer, full-time nonconformist, whose extraordinary and raw photographs comprise a visual dictionary of the grimy guts of New York City in the ‘80s – would doubtless have a choice response.