‘Ahead of her time’: West Village’s Marcia Resnick tells her stories, and punk rock history, through photography

Marcia Resnick, West Village photographer, with camera in hand
Marcia Resnick with her first Nikon camera
Photo by Bob Krasner

When you see a reference to Marcia Resnick, it’s most likely as a photographer, which she is. 

Essays will also refer to her as a conceptual artist, which is true as well. But at her core, Resnick is a storyteller. She has been telling stories visually from the time she was ten years old, when she created her own version of “Oliver Twist” complete with drawings that incorporated text.

In the mid-70s, she began to self publish photo books such as “See” and “Landscape” which, although they did not have any accompanying words, revealed their backstory through the order and juxtaposition of the images. Even the numerous life-size vintage dolls presently in her West Village apartment look as if they all have their own secrets.

Resnick, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, graduated from James Madison High School in the number two spot; Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was number one. She went to college at age 16 1/2, where she became interested in photography.

Resnick’s first foray into the field was less than auspicious; her attempt at developing the film that she shot at the 1968 Columbia University riots ended in disaster. It turned out that when the chemicals are too hot, the film disintegrates.

But she persisted, moving on from her grandfather’s “terrible” Argus C4 to her first Nikon, with some worthwhile ambitions.

“I started to know what would happen in that rectangle if I looked at things in various ways. I wanted to make images that were beautiful to me, with elements of curiousness, mystery and intrigue,” she recalls, adding, “ and definitely not boring.”

Marcia Resnick with her doll collection
Marcia Resnick at home in the West Village with her “pandemic family”Photo by Bob Krasner
Doll at piano owned by Marcia Resnick
There’s always a tea time concert going on in the cornerPhoto by Bob Krasner
Marcia Resnick with untitled piece about her doll collection
Marcia Resnick with an untitled piece, one of her many doll oriented creationsPhoto by Bob Krasner

Resnick’s first gig out of college was teaching at Queens College, the first of seven different educational institutions where she has been employed. In those days, you could afford to buy a 2,000 square foot loft on Canal Street on a teacher’s salary, and she managed to hold onto it from 1975 until 1990. 

Those were also the days when you could walk backstage at CBGB’s and chat with Richard Hell or the Ramones and set up a photo session, which she frequently did.

“I was really into the punk musicians,” she admits. “I started with the Talking Heads — they were art school people, like I was.”

Although she photographed the first New York Dolls show, among other landmark 70s bands, she wasn’t cut out to be a live photographer.

“I wasn’t very good at it, “ she admits, “but I had a vision.”

A serious car accident led to her next book, “Re-visions,” which was distributed by a Canadian publisher.

“I literally saw my life flash before my eyes,” she recounted. “While I was recovering I realized that I wanted to do a book about my memories.”

The mix of wry images with succinct hand-written text “tackled the more nuanced human experience of adolescence with a sense of humor and wit,” according to her New York gallerist Deborah Bell, who wants people to note that “Marcia’s body of work is not dependent on nostalgia. The work in all of her series holds up today — it is just as relevant and prescient as it was at its debut 40-50 years ago.”

Marcia Resnick's self published books
Three of Resnick’s self-published books ( clockwise from upper left: See, Tahitian Eve, LandscapePhoto by Bob Krasner
Sitting on top of the cabinet are Shmo and Myrtle, frequent riders in Resnick’s carPhoto by Bob Krasner
Marcia Resnick with portrait of William Burroughs
Resnick with her portrait of William Burroughs, at the opening of the Howl! Archive galleryPhoto by Bob Krasner

Resnick’s teaching career led her to collaborate with some of her students, such as Amanda Rubin, whose hands and lips are pictured in the book.

“I went to NYU and took a class in photography with Marcia and it changed my life,” Rubin recalled. “Marcia knew everyone and I thought she was the coolest person I had ever met — tiny, cute as a button in a micro mini, cowboy boots, hair in pony tails and a tiny t-shirt that said ‘My Daddy is the #1 Trucker.’ She gave us an education in some of the really good conceptual art photographers at that time and made us feel thrilled and excited to be part of her world. To me she was a super star.”

Resnick continued to capture images of the downtown stars (and the uptown crowd that hung out below 14th Street), resulting in images of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Johnny Thunders, Iggy Pop, John Belushi, Andy Warhol and many more.

Her book “Punks, Poets & Provocateurs: New York City Bad Boys, 1977–1982,”, adds reminiscence to the mix, giving the reader a pretty good idea of what the scene was like in a very vital time in New York City. 

The artist also enjoyed a good run at the Soho Weekly News with her regular column, originally titled “Resnick’s Believe It or Not.” You will probably not be surprised to learn that a cease-and-desist order promptly arrived from Ripley’s, forcing her to change it to “Resnick’s Believe It……..’” That work is the subject of her next book, which is still in the planning stages.

Resnick’s photography was recently the subject of a major traveling retrospective that debuted at Bowdoin College and is chronicled in the accompanying book “Marcia Resnick: As It Is or Could Be,” published by Yale University Press.

Her upcoming show — which opens Sept. 14 from 6-8 p.m. at the Deborah Bell Gallery, 526 West 26th St., Room 411, and continues through Nov. 4 — contains highlights from that exhibition and it is worth noting that all the prints are vintage. 

Resnick, musing about what she feels is the takeaway from her work, says that “ I hope that my photographs inspire people to think outside of the box more often.” And, she adds, “I hope that they laugh … at the funny things.” 

For information on the gallery, visit deborahbellphotographs.com/upcoming and  deborahbellphotographs.com/marcia-resnick . Marcia is online at marciaresnick.com and on Instagram at @marcia.resnick.