Above from left: Johnny Thunders; William S. Burroughs, Jean-Michel Basquiat
All photos by Marcia Resnick © 2016
Dirty rebellion downtown in NYC : Smart shooter Marcia Resnick captures much more than the slit, grit and anarchic spirit of 70s New York. She captures the very soul of punk. Studs, zips, dyed hair and the snappy snap stare of a cooler than cool eye. Resnick talks punks, poets and provocateurs:
Saira Viola: When did this great punk adventure start for you?
Marcia Resnick: It really began in 1972 when my roommate’s boyfriend, Rodrigo, brought his friend from Colombia to our apartment. He was Billy Murcia, who was the drummer in a band called The New York Dolls. I met the other members and actually took pictures at their first gig, at a party. I was in grad school in California when they became popular at the Mercer Arts Center. It was years later in 1977 when I re-met Johnny Thunders who was then in the Heartbreakers. That’s when I started to meet musicians at clubs and photograph them.
SV: You’re probably one of the coolest shooters on the block. How did you get to be one of the ‘hippest,’ names in photography, when professionally, the industry is dominated by men?
MR: Thanks for describing me as both “hip” and “cool.” When I first began in photography, I was fueled by the energy of the Women’s Liberation movement. Women were encouraged to engage in any endeavor that men were known for.
SV: How did you manage to get the photographs published, printed, and acknowledged in such a male-dominated industry? In many ways, people view you as a pioneer for female photography despite the success of Annie Leibovitz. Do you think the industry has opened up more for women?
MR: From 1979-1982, I had a humor column in the Soho Weekly News in NYC which included a photograph and a paragraph called Resnick’s Believe-it-or-Not. My relationship to the newspaper enabled me to get to photograph certain people who, ordinarily, were not available to the average person. For example, I got to spend two days following and photographing NYC’s Mayor Ed Koch for the paper. I got to photograph cover stories. And I got to photograph for other periodicals from there. Yes, way before this, Annie Leibovitz photographed for Rolling Stone Magazine and continued to do so for many years, which led to her working for other periodicals. Women have been photographing for many, many years. As we get more liberated as a society, all industries are more open to women and other minorities, including the LGBT community.
SV: Who would you say was the most defining influence of the punk art movement in 70s NYC?
MR: Definitely Andy Warhol. He not only produced great paintings but also produced Interview magazine, experimental films, books, music groups like the Velvet Underground, the Factory where art was created and Superstars gathered, etc. The punks learned from this interdisciplinary and collaborative way of making art.
SV: Out of all the provocative, eccentric, and/or gifted mavericks you’ve photographed, who stands out in your mind and why?
MR: John Belushi was the most memorable and challenging photo session. In early September [of] 1981, I spotted John Belushi in the New York after hours club, AM-PM. John was on a twenty-four hour binge with no sleep. I asked him when he would do a photo session with me and he said “Now.” As it was 5:00 AM, I didn’t believe him. Upon returning home, John and his entourage were waiting in a limousine in front of my building. Once inside, he paced around like a caged animal, fidgeting incessantly, uncanny for someone who was such a fluid performer. In one vulnerable moment, he peered from behind his flailing arm. John produced a series of expressions with such passion and feeling that they seemed to represent the arc of his career. The outcome of this session became Chapter 15 in Bob Woodward’s book Wired, The Short Life and Times of John Belushi.
SV: Did you ever get nervous or intimidated by the people you took photographs of? If so how did you deal with it?
MR: I was a little intimidated before I photographed Mick Jagger but, like stage fright, the nervousness goes away when a photo session begins.
SV: Who would you say feeds your own inspiration?
MR: I’m inspired when I look at the work of master photographic artists like August Sander, Avedon, Guy Bourdin, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Diane Arbus, Man Ray and Germaine Krull (to name a few).
SV:. You chose Victor Bockris to pen the pastiche that accompanies these iconic images. Why?
MR: From 1977 until today, Victor and I maintained a collaborative friendship. He introduced me to Andy Warhol and William Burroughs and he had interviewed many of the people who I had photographed, like Joey Ramone and Richard Hell. We both were fixtures in the NYC downtown music and art scene.”
SV: There’s clearly a punk renaissance going on that has revived the myth and legend of arguably one of the most exciting eras in music . Can you shed any light on what happened at the now infamous, ‘orchestrated,’ dinner party with Andy Warhol, William Burroughs and Mick Jagger?
MR: One evening in NYC in 1980, rock legend Mick Jagger, literary luminary William S. Burroughs, and art prodigy Andy Warhol had dinner in the Bunker, Burroughs’ residence in the Bowery. At first, Andy and William were bantering about young boys. When Mick arrived the conversational dynamic changed. Those three counterculture egos in one room were so large that it became uncomfortable. There was no subject they could all agree upon. At one point, a food fight erupted. Not wanting to add stress to the already complex situation, Victor thwarted my picture taking and I took only one roll of film.
SV: Now, it’s fair to say you’ve photographed a who’s who of underground talent from Belushi to Bourdain. Was there ever any sexual frisson between you, the young ingénue, and the big guns of that time? Are you happy to blur the lines between shooter and subject?
M.R “Yes. Often. But, as to blurring the lines, I don’t think so. I am intrigued by the give and take between sitter and photographer, the many exchanges and provocations that take place during a photo session.”
SV: What do you think these photos managed to achieve?
MR: As a book, “Punks, Poets and Provocateurs, NYC Bad Boys 1977-1982 contains my photographic interpretation of a unique era by looking at the talented artists who dared to upset the status quo.
SV: Yes, and that radical spirit has been rekindled of late. Have to ask, as someone who lived that trip, have you caught HBO’s new show, Vinyl?
MR: Yes, I’ve watched it and keep doing so out of curiosity. I’m curious about things that I’m not familiar with like the business of making records. And I’m curious about how much further from the reality of the times depicted the series will go.
SV: The cultural synergy of music, and art, seemed to have so much more momentum in the 70s. Why do you think music moved the moment then and not so much now?
MR: The DIY aesthetic of the punk bands of the 70s has been replaced by calculated, choreographed and spectacular efforts to make music that is the product of many professional specialists working together. As a result, a lot of music today simply lacks soul.
SV: Could I ask a little about your personal aesthetic and how it reflects the spirit of the times? Would you say you shoot off the cuff without any of the usual photographic constraints like tonal range? Also, why did you decide to focus on these subjects’ faces, abstracted from their social backgrounds? It harks back to the work of Robert Frank, but the images are also shorn of detail. Can you explain a little about the aesthetic process?
MR: Firstly, I don’t consider my shooting style as off the cuff. And, although I’m not into Ansel Adams’ Zone System, I do take lighting and composition very seriously. And, although Arnold Newman, known for “environmental portraiture” was once a teacher of mine, I prefer to primarily photograph just the individual, isolated from his environment. And, as much as I adore Robert Frank’s work, my work is very different from his. In most cases, I am interested in what happens when there is eye contact between me and the person I am photographing. As far as the spirit of the times is concerned, any kind of experimentation in the arts was encouraged.
SV: Britain is currently celebrating 40 years of punk, which gave birth to the movement when the country was in chaos: post war poverty, class conflict, and racial tension set the tone for a punk explosion. Were there parallels with NYC?
MR: A lot of people believe punk began in the USA. The MC5 and Iggy Pop in Detroit. Then the New York Dolls followed by the Ramones, etc. When punk became popular, NYC was bankrupt. There was a blackout, which prompted looting and drugs were openly sold in the streets. But apartments were cheap and people came from everywhere to live in what people thought was the cultural capital the world. NYC was a place where you could re-invent yourself.
SV: You’ve spoken about your personal aesthetic and how you deliberately chose to capture these artists away from their environments. Is there anyone who you wish you’d been able to photograph, who for one reason or another, couldn’t make it to the studio?
MR: I wish I could have photographed Lou Reed and David Bowie.
SV: Talking shop – Photoshop can make a bad picture look generic and a good picture look better than average. What’s your view on Photoshop, Snapchat and Instagram?
MR: I don’t have a view on Snapchat or Instagram because I don’t use them. I like to print my photographs from the negatives on silver gelatin paper. But I have digitized many of my images for licensing purposes and sometimes printing. I do retouch dust particles and imperfections and make improvements in digital files in Photoshop. I actually realized that I had images from the New York Doll’s first gig because of Photoshop. My negatives were way too dense and Photoshop easily fixed that!”
SV: Now for a gear change: Is there a ‘punk’ position on the rise of potty-mouth, Donald Trump?
MR: I don’t know if there is such a thing as a punk position. I know my own position is one of aversion and disbelief!
SV: This tableau of punk icons easily stands the test of time. Why do you think that is?
MR: I think the time between the late 70s and the early 80s heralded the last years of the counterculture to which these punk icons belonged. The following advent of Aids caused a paranoia which led to a distrust of sexual expression and a stymied nightlife, all poison to the counterculture.
SV: Finally, if you could choose – Who would you like to photograph you?
MR: I don’t really like to be photographed. But if it could be someone from the past, I suppose George Hurrell. Because he would light me so that I would look like a 1930s movie star.
In a screaming sea of tinsel puppets and naked selfies, Marcia Resnick shoots smart and sharp.
Ron Mann produced this video called “Marcia Resnick’s Bad Boys” in 1985. It has since been restored and focuses on New York photographer Marcia Resnick and her male subjects:
Visit Marcia’s website
Marcia Resnick’s new book, “Punks, Poets and Provocateurs, NYC Bad Boys 1977-1982,” is available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and through local booksellers. Published by Insight Editions. It has a commentary by Victor Bockris and additional texts by John Waters, Richard Hell, Gary Indiana, Max Blagg, Liz Derringer, Roy Trakin, Kristian Hoffman and myself. It includes the culture heroes of the 1970s and early 1980s, taken in New York during the period of the counterculture’s final climax. The book features Rockers Joey Ramone, David Byrne, Iggy Pop, and Mick Jagger; Poets William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg; and Provocateurs John Waters, Andy Warhol and John Belushi among others. Text taken from Marcia Resnick’s website