Life & Culture

Photos of John Waters, Johnny Thunders and Jean-Michel Basquiat in 70s NYC

With an eye for the cultural bad boys of her day, Marcia Resnick turned her lens on the punks, poets and provocateurs in New York City

  • TextMiss Rosen

While living in a loft in Tribeca during the 1970s, American photographer Marcia Resnick began creating a series of portraits of the enfants terribles living in her neighbourhood, capturing an era of anti-heroes whose influence continues to be felt across the worlds of art, music, film, and literature today.

Whether photographing artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat, writers such as William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, musicians like Iggy Pop, Johnny Thunders and Mick Jagger, or the baron of bad taste himself John Waters, Resnick had an eye – as the title of her new book suggests – for bad boys; punks, poets and provocateurs.

Every night, Resnick would infiltrate New York’s downtown art scene, hitting up CBGB, Max’s Kansas City, and the Mudd Club to catch the latest happenings. Here, she discovered subjects that she could photograph there and then, and also at her studio. Here, Resnick reflects on her Bad Boys photo series, which can be found in full in Punks, Poets & Provocateurs New York City Bad Boys, 1977–1982 (Insight Editions).

“My fifth-floor loft on Canal Street had 2000-square feet of mostly open space with windows that looked over the Hudson River. It was bathed in sunlight by day and the light of a punk club by night. I liked the intimacy and loosening of time restraints in the studio, where photographs were the product of prolonged conversation and interaction. I embraced the ‘give and take’, the confrontation and collaboration of picture-taking.

In my studio, I was amused by the antics of such provocateurs as Abbie Hoffman and Brion Gysin; the latter decided to suck on the big toe of his four-toed left foot. Charles Ludlam could manipulate his face as if it were made of putty. I solicited most photo sessions, but was also solicited by people to photograph them.

Trying to elicit responses from the men I photographed, I moved, posed, wore provocative clothing, and behaved seductively. When I showed Joseph Beuys ‘a little leg’ after walking alongside him down the spiral ramp of the Guggenheim Museum toward the portable studio I had set up, I got an iconic shot of the usually stoic artist. The photograph of Beuys cracking up with laughter became a cover of the Soho Weekly News.

I sensed kindred spirits in the faces of the men I photographed. I believe they also recognised the enfant terrible in me. As for the divide between male and female behaviour, that, thankfully, will remain a delicious mystery forever.”

Punks, Poets & Provocateurs New York City Bad Boys, 1977–1982, published by (Insight Editions), is out now