Profile | Marcia Resnick: Punks, Poets, and Provocateurs: New York City Bad Boys, 1977-1982

Johnny Thunders

Born in Brooklyn in 1950, Marcia Resnick studied at the Cooper Union, then went to California Institute of the Arts, where she studied with John Baldessari and Allen Kaprow. She returned to New York City in 1975 with camera in hand, spending her days teaching photography at Queens College and New York University and her nights at CBGB’s, Max’s Kansas City, and the Mudd Club.

As she remembers, “Guilty at spending so much time in clubs, I convinced myself that my photographic forays into the night, were my art. After taking candid pictures backstage or in dressing rooms at clubs, I would often invite people to my studio for photo sessions where atmosphere could be generated, lighting could be manipulated and props could be employed. My work with the Soho Weekly News, New York, and other periodicals gave me access to photograph people who were well known in the popular culture.” 

From her incredible archive, an incredible body of work has emerged, and a selection of photographs is on view in Marcia Resnick: Punks, Poets, and Provocateurs: New York City Bad Boys, 1977-1982, at Howl! Happening: An Arturo Vega Project, New York, running February 4 through March 2, 2016. Produced in conjunction with the release of a book of the same name, featuring text by Victor Bockris, the exhibition features contemporary silver prints and large archival pigment prints of rockers Johnny Thunders, Joey Ramone, James Brown, Iggy Pop, David Byrne, Klaus Nomi, and Mick Jagger; beat poets Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and Gregory Corso; and provocateurs and raconteurs Abbie Hoffman, Divine, Jackie Curtis, Quentin Crisp, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Christo, Anthony Bourdain, Fab 5 Freddy, Charles Ludlam, and the incomparable John Belushi, as well as bad girls Debbie Harry and Lydia Lunch.

Resnick chats with Crave about her work documenting the downtown scene during one of the greatest eras that ever was.

John Belushi

John Belushi

New York City in the 1970s was such a different place: nearly bankrupt, ripe with chaos and anarchy, and perhaps the most innovative and creative it’s ever been. Please speak about what it was like living and working as an artist then.

Marcia Resnick: People were moving to New York City from all over the country and even the world. This city was a magnet for the marginalized, talented and creative souls who wanted to reinvent themselves. Musicians, writers, artists, photographers, filmmakers and dancers would congregate at clubs like the Mudd, Max’s and CBGB where they would meet, enjoy the music and begin to collaborate on art projects. The punk scene was born in this exciting downtown milieu.

A certain type of personality is attracted to living on the edge, one that fits marvelously into the milieu that was New York then. You’ve distilled some of the best bad boys of the era for this exhibition. What are some of the qualities they shared as both men and artists?

I was curious about what I could learn about men as a woman photographing them. The punk rockers were primarily “bad boys” whose sound and visual style were against-the-grain. Bad boys can be both formidable and endearing. Being “bad” also makes one sexually attractive. Richard Hell wrote in his autobiography, I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp, “Playing rock and roll makes a person handsome.”

Punks, Poets, and Provocateurs has an inspiring mix of legends and cult figures. How did you decide who you would feature in the book and exhibition?

I began photographing a wider spectrum of subjects than punk rockers. NYC was full of artists from both earlier and contemporary eras who were united by their roots in the counterculture. The Beat writers like William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, artists like Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, filmmakers like John Waters and Jack Smith, musicians like Klaus Nomi and Johnny Thunders and performers like Divine and John Belushi, were all really punks at heart. I chose my favorite photos from the book for my exhibit.

William Burroughs photographed at the Bunker on the Bowery in New York City in the summer of 1980. © Marcia Resnick / Retna Ltd.

William Burroughs photographed at the Bunker on the Bowery in New York City in the summer of 1980.

© Marcia Resnick / Retna Ltd.

Of all the bad boys, who was your favorite to photograph and why? Who was the most challenging? Who is the one who got away?

John Belushi was the most memorable and challenging photo session. It took place at 6AM after a night at the after hours club AM-PM. John was twenty-four hours into a two-day binge without sleep. During this session, John produced a series of expressions with such passion and feeling that they seemed to represent the arc of his career.

David Bowie and Lou Reed are the ones who got away.

All photos: © Marcia Resnick 2015

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.