Marcia Resnick On Bad Boys, Drugs and Dinner at William S. Burroughs' House

David Hershkovits
Marcia Resnick is a photographer who made her name as a chronicler and member of the 1970s-80s New York demimonde. Her work has not been widely shown nor collected in books, yet her eye is behind many of the most iconic images of an era ravaged by the culture of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll that defined it. With the arrival of AIDS and the subsequent death of many of the people she photographed, Resnick dropped out of the scene to redefine herself, teaching the lost arts of the dark room for 15 years at universities in the area. We know what happened to dark rooms. Fortunately for Resnick, hundreds of photographs lost to a disreputable manager turned up, making it possible for her to begin showing them again and to work on a book with Victor Bockris. "Bad Boys: Punks, Poets and Provocateurs," an exhibition at the Deborah Bell Gallery (511 W. 25th St., opening this Thursday) is a good place to start to get to know her work as is her Facebook page where she has been posting dozens of photographs.

David Hershkovits: What's your definition of a Bad Boy?

Marcia Resnick: In the press release it says Bad Boys are bad from evil to naughty to cruel to good. A Bad Boy doesn't have to be the prototypical James Dean character. A Bad Boy is someone who is spectacular in some ways. Who has charisma and who is daring in his arena. I do have some bad Bad Boys in the show. Quentin Crisp was bad in an elegant way. Johnny Thunders is bad in a prototypical way. He was so bad that he was self-destructive. He was self-destructive in a glamorous way, or so people thought.

The photo that I took of him that they are showing is of the time when I met him at the Gramercy Park Hotel. He spent a lot of time in the bathroom and I photographed him looking at himself in the mirror. I photographed him in the bathtub. That should be enough said.

DH: You also have a photo of John Belushi in the show.

MR: I might have had the last photo session with him. I was at [the after hours club] AM/PM really late one night and I saw John and I had met him several times before and I said, "When are we going to do a photo session?" And he said, "now" and it was five in the morning between Saturday and Sunday and I went about my business. And when I got home there was a limousine waiting for me with John and his entourage. Well, I took advantage of the situation. We all went upstairs. He was unusually giving in this photo session. This was September '81 and he died in March '82. And I even saw him a few days before he died. He was in New York before he flew to California where he died.

DH: Who else is in the show?

MR: Klaus Nomi. I shot him on several occasions. When I first saw him he was a pastry chef and I photographed in his normal attire. And then he started to metamorphosize as the man we know and love. He was just beginning to reinvent himself when I took the photos. He was an enfant terrible. But I just remember him as one of the sweetest guys.

DH: Any others?

MR: I have the summit -- the dinner with William Burroughs, Andy Warhol and Mick Jagger, the three kings of the subculture. That was at the Bunker, William Burroughs' home on the Bowery. And that was something that Victor Bockris put together for his Conversations with William Burroughs book. I got to photograph everyone eating, but I didn't get a picture of the food fight. It was a cacophony of clashing egos. It was very, very odd. Two people would talk and one person would leave the table. And then there were these moments of silence. Victor was doing his Victor thing. He only interfered when things got really quiet. There were people talking at all times, but I remember when Andy took me aside because I had mentioned Kenneth Anger and Andy had a bad experience with Kenneth Anger and he had warned me against having anything to do with Kenneth Anger. When I first arrived it was just William and Andy and they were talking about young boys. Mick arrived late and that's when things began to get strange. And the food was not very good.

DH: How was Jagger?

MR: I had photographed him for High Times just a little before that and we had a good rapport during that photos session and I was the one that invited him to come. He was ok. He threw a piece of bread at me. I had said something.

DH: Can you talk a little about the role of drugs in that period?

MR: They had a role. There was a lot of drugs in that period of time. And I was part of the drug culture as well as anyone else. A lot of these people are dead now because of AIDS or drugs or because of themselves and how they adapted to drugs or sex and what happened afterwards. There's a mythology about drugs, that was even occurring then, that it helped your creativity. And as people got older they realized it impeded their physical health. Heroin was really popular among people in the art culture in that time. Cocaine had its big heyday in the '80s. I think these drugs are still being used by really young people who are going through the same things that we were all going though when we were young.

DH: Do you think the drugs helped their creativity?

MR: You can't separate the man from the drugs. Who's to say whether those books and art works and skits on SNL would have been created without the drugs because the drugs were so prevalent in people's lives. I think that the drugs certainly contributed to the way people express themselves, however, the fact that people expressed themselves was not dependent on having those drugs. They would have expressed themselves probably in other ways.

"Bad Boys: Punks, Poets and Provocateurs," an exhibition at Deborah Bell Photographs 511 W. 25th St., opens January 13th. 

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