Marcia Resnick Talks To Noah Becker About CBGB’s, the Mudd Club and Conceptual Art In New York City

Marcia Resnick, Mick Jagger, color photograph courtesy of the artist

January 9 - February 17, 2019 
TURN GALLERY 37 East 1st Street NYC 10003

By NOAH BECKER January, 2019

I've been trying to do an interview with famed NYC photographer Marcia Resnick for years now. Finally the situation has presented itself. Here is a discussion for Whitehot Magazine about her art practice and history as an artist and photographer. Resnick also has a show on currently at New York's Turn Gallery.

Becker: Did you attend an art school, how did you get into making photos?

Resnick: I was born in Brooklyn. I always loved art. When I was 5, my father put a drawing of mine into the window of his printing shop in Brighton Beach. A woman customer liked it and had it placed in a show at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum - I was in my first art show. Our house was filled with my mother’s perfect copies of famous paintings by Van Gogh, she also painted the Mona Lisa and I loved drawing and painting too. After spending two years at NYU, where I took my first photo class, I transferred to Cooper Union where I spent three wonderful years and became captivated by photography. The impressive faculty and guest lecturers were artists who lived and worked nearby including Hans Haacke, Larry Clark, Ralph Gibson, Duane Michaels, Arnold Newman, Hollis Frampton, Jay Maisel, Tod Papageorge, Anne Tucker, Dore Ashton, etc.

I felt guilty that I simply pressed a button to make my art. I began to paint on my photographs and experiment with different photographic techniques. When Allen Kaprow, the creator of “Happenings,” gave a talk at Cooper about Conceptual Art, Ed Ruscha’s books, William Wegman’s humor and the “light vs. smog” in Southern California, I decided to go to California Institute of the Arts to graduate school. Once in California, I bought a 1963 gold Chevy Nova and continued my photographic experimentation. “Manipulative photography” was accepted on the west coast whereas “straight photography” was the domain of the east coast. I studied “Post-Studio Art” with John Baldessari, was mentored by Robert Heinecken of UCLA, known for appropriating other peoples’ images in his own art and had Ben Lifson, a “straight photographer” as my graduate advisor. I had a full scholarship and a paid teaching assistantship which meant I was given my own classes to teach. I called my three semester Alternative Techniques class “Fun With Photography,” “Son of Fun With Photography” and “The Return of Son of Fun With Photography.”

Marcia Resnick, By Placing Fake Teeth Under Her Pillow, She Would Collect Extra Money From The Tooth Fairy, 1978

Becker: I'm thrilled to be introduced to other aspects of your art, did you also publish books?

Resnick: I returned to NYC after grad school in 1973. Because of the Women’s Liberation Movement, colleges were looking to round out their faculties with women. I began teaching photography at several colleges including Queens College, NYU and Cooper Union. With the money from CAPS and NEA grants, I self- published three conceptual artist’s books in 1975, “Landscape”, “See” and “Tahitian Eve.” I really liked the fact that books were a democratic way of dispersing art. I like the proportion of a book and the intimacy with photographs and narratives it provides. My autobiographical now out-of-print book “Re-visions, “was published in 1978. It will be re-published by Patrick Frey Editions in fall 2019.

The photographs in the show at Turn are from “Re-visions.” In 1975, while driving my car in Manhattan, I had a  car accident which left me unconscious and internally bleeding.  My entire life had flashed before me. When I awoke in the hospital, I began to think about all of the events which led to my being there, daily dissecting my life with a linear historical perspective.  I started to write down ideas. After I returned home, I continued to collect ideas in preparation for doing a thoughtful, ironic and humorous book about my life.

Marcia Resnick, She Played With Her Slinky Toys And Wore Banana Curls And Played With Her Banana Curls And Wore Her Slinky Toys, 1978

Becker: The photo of a hand with a candy cigarette is interesting, I love the view from above. Was there a line of thinking when you were making these? They kind of refer to the Surrealists for me...

Resnick: Though I love Surrealism, my immediate influencers were conceptualists, people who staged situations and then photographed them. Duane Michaels comes to mind. Ed Ruscha’s books, Allen Kaprow’s happenings, Wegmans videos and photographs, work by Robert Cummings and John Baldessari and Andy Warhol and the work of various performance and installation artists, like Vito Acconci, Chris Burden and Colette motivated me.

Marcia Resnick, She Would Demurely Sip Cherry Kool Aid From A Wine Glass And Puff On Bubble Gum Cigarettes, 1978

Becker: Are you the model for these images, like the image of a woman laying on the floor for example? Also the captions are interesting to me and have a wonderful way of pushing the narrative.  

Resnick: I NEVER use the term “captions” for my writing. “Text” will do. My model was the sister (Laura Rubin) of Amanda Rubin, one of my NYU students. After seeing her in Amanda’s photographs, I knew she would be perfect for my model.  I used Amanda's hands and lips in close-ups. I also used myself in a few images. That was me lying on the floor.

Marcia Resnick, She Enjoyed Making Loud Noises In Quiet Places, 1978

Becker: In your celebrity and rock photos how did you get into the lives of all those celebrities? It's clear they are your friends and not just commercial assignments.

Resnick: After the introspection of Re-visions, I did an about-face from my cool conceptual work. I wanted to explore a world outside of myself and moved on to another topic which had confounded me…the male species. My book "Punks, Poets and Provocateurs: New York City Bad Boys 1977-1982”, published by Insight Editions (2015) came from my series “Bad Boys”, which was born out of a fascination with the dynamic of a woman photographing men. The bands that played at the clubs were mostly men. They were the “enfant terribles” who became my first photographic subjects. I frequented artist’s bars and music clubs at night and Soho art galleries on weekends. There was a palpable electricity in the cultural milieu of NYC at that time. Rock musicians and artists alike were graduating from art schools. Painters were making films. Writers were doing performance art. Sculptors were doing installations. Artists were acting in films, making music and generally collaborating with each other. It was in this milieu that I taught photography by day and went out every night to hear music at CBGB’s, Max’s and the Mudd Club, which was also a venue for various artistic events, film showings, readings and theme parties. To allay the guilt I felt for spending so much time in clubs, I convinced myself that my photographic forays into the night, were my art.

Marcia Resnick, Klaus Nomi, black and white photograph

Marcia Resnick, John Belushi Sitting, black and white photograph

For the first time I focused on portraiture. I looked 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. I was always moving and even posing when trying to provoke or elicit responses from the people I photographed. I experimented with lighting and distance from the subject. This resulted in a range of vantage points from which I took pictures, from views from above to very close macro images. Pushing through crowds to get backstage at concerts became a necessary activity. When encountering my subjects backstage, I tried to simulate the look of a studio portrait, always attempting to isolate my subject from other people. I jumped on opportunities to get to know people when meeting them backstage or at clubs. Whenever possible, I arranged another meeting at my studio for a photo session.

Marcia Resnick, David Byrne, black and white photograph

Becker: What's coming up for you? 

Resnick: I’m looking forward to the new and improved version of “Re-visions” which will be published by Patrick Frey Editions in the fall. 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.” Though I got two “cease and desist” letters from Ripley’s, who own the words “believe-it-or-not,” I’ve begun working on a book of that work. I suppose I’ll have to change the title. WM


Noah Becker

Noah Becker shows his paintings internationally. A visual artist, saxophonist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine, Becker has also written freelance articles for many other major magazines. Becker's writing has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post. He has also written texts for major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010) viewable on Youtube. 

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