Marcia Resnick: As It Is or Could Be is the first comprehensive presentation of the photographer’s wide-ranging work
Rochester, N.Y., (February 9, 2023) – The George Eastman Museum, in collaboration with the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, recently announced the first-ever museum exhibition dedicated to longtime photographer Marcia Resnick. Following presentations at Bowdoin and in Minneapolis, the exhibition opens at the George Eastman Museum Saturday, February 11.
Resnick is an innovative American photographer who is well known for capturing the electricity of downtown New York City during the 1970s and early 1980s through her portraits. Marcia Resnick: As It Is or Could Be will feature these portraits alongside the artists’ less-known experimental and conceptual photographs, highlighting Resnick’s overlooked role in the history of American photography while emphasizing the continued relevance of the aesthetic, social, and political issues explored through her lens.
Co-curated by Lisa Hostetler, former Curator in Charge, Department of Photographs at the Eastman Museum, along with Frank Goodyear, Co-Director of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art; and Casey Riley, Chair of Global Contemporary Art and Curator of Photography & New Media at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the exhibition will run through June 11, 2023.
Born in Brooklyn in 1950, Resnick began her undergraduate studies at New York University, where she took her first photographs, documenting people and current events such as anti-war demonstrations. In 1969, she transferred to nearby Cooper Union, where she began experimenting with photographic materials and first encountered Allan Kaprow’s Happenings. Intrigued by Kaprow’s desire to challenge the traditionally distinct realms of art while blurring life with his artistic practice, she pursued graduate study with him at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), where she also encountered and studied with John Baldessari and Robert Fichter. It was while at CalArts that Resnick began pushing the boundaries of traditional photography, applying oil paint to her images and toying with the scale of her photographs, at times expanding them to billboard-size. A number of works from Resnick’s student years, including a painted photograph of her parents, are featured in As It Is or Could Be.
In 1973, having completed her MFA, Resnick embarked on a cross-country road trip with her friend and fellow photographer James Welling. While traveling with Welling, she photographed him from behind overlooking the Grand Canyon. Excited by the chain of spectators created by the image (the viewer is seeing what Resnick observes while Welling looks out at the landscape), Resnick decided to explore this telescoping effect further through her series See (1973-1975), of various people seen from behind while observing diverse landscapes. In her subsequent series See Change (1974-1975), Resnick continued to probe the conceptual possibilities of photography by experimenting with the impact of small “interventions” in the original See photographs, including drawing or painting on them, or cutting out fragments. Both series are represented in the exhibition, as are the four photobooks Resnick produced between 1975 and 1978: See, Tahitian Eve, Landscape, and Re-visions.
While the history of the photobook genre is usually presented through male photographers such as Robert Frank, Ed Ruscha, and Garry Winogrand, As It Is or Could Be presents a compelling question to that narrative. Both the exhibition and the accompanying catalogue, in an essay by co-curator Casey Riley, emphasize Resnick’s contributions to the development of the form, and explore the feminist themes present in her photo books. Further challenging traditional ideas about how photographic artwork should be presented, in Re-visions, the artist began experimenting with adding short texts to her photographs. In this series, Resnick began to develop a distinctive verbo-visual language that often blurred social commentary and humor, a voice she would later develop during her time at Soho Weekly News (SWN).
In 1979, Resnick began working as a staff photographer for Soho Weekly News (SWN), an alternative newsweekly founded in 1973 that hoped to compete with the Village Voice. From 1979 until the magazine’s demise in 1982, Resnick’s portraits were included in almost every issue of the magazine, at times on its cover. While at SWN, Resnick photographed various famous figures including authors William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, musicians James Brown and Mick Jagger, artists Christo and Andy Warhol, activist Abbie Hoffman, and New York City mayor Ed Koch, among many others. She also photographed many emerging cultural figures who would go on to become household names, such as composer Philip Glass, artist Laurie Anderson, and visual artist and hip hop pioneer Fab 5 Freddy. Resnick’s ability to draw out her subject, as well as her personal relationships with some of these figures, resulted in intimate portraits that capture a lesser-known side of these celebrities.
As Resnick photographed those in the downtown scene, she also embarked on a new series titled Bad Boys, in which she flipped the traditional dynamic of men looking at women by turning her lens to men and probing the idea of the “bad boy.” The exhibition features a number of celebrity portraits and “bad boy” photographs, as well as works from “Resnick’s Believe-It-or-Not,” a regular column she was commissioned to produce for SWN’s humorous Centerfold section. As in Re-visions, Resnick carefully combined text and image to produce witty and humorous commentary, often exploring what it was like to live in New York City.
Following a number of personal and societal shifts – including the demise of Soho Weekly News, a difficult divorce, and the drastic changes in the cultural scene of downtown New York – Resnick focused her energies on teaching, instructing at Queens College and NYU. Though she stopped actively producing photographs in the early 1980s, Resnick’s work endures as far more than a record of the 1970s cultural scene in New York: it is a testament to the innovation and creativity that stems from eschewing tradition and pushing boundaries. Marcia Resnick: As It Is or Could Be and the accompanying catalogue, published by Yale University Press in association with the Eastman Museum, Bowdoin College Museum of Art, and Minneapolis Institute of Art, aims to bring to the fore Resnick’s overlooked role in the history of American photography. The catalogue includes essays by the three co-curators as well as an afterword by Laurie Anderson. Awarded the 2022 Photography Network Book Prize, the catalogue is available in the Eastman Museum shop.
About the George Eastman Museum
Founded in 1947, the George Eastman Museum is the world’s oldest photography museum and one of the largest film archives in the United States, located on the historic Rochester estate of entrepreneur and philanthropist George Eastman, the pioneer of popular photography. Its holdings comprise more than 400,000 photographs, 28,000 motion picture films, the world’s preeminent collection of photographic and cinematographic technology, one of the leading libraries of books related to photography and cinema, and extensive holdings of documents and other objects related to George Eastman. As a research and teaching institution, the Eastman Museum has an active book publishing program, and its L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation’s graduate program (a collaboration with the University of Rochester) makes critical contributions to film preservation. For more information, visit eastman.org.
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Photo: Marcia Resnick (American, b. 1950). See Changes #8, 1974. Gelatin silver print with applied graphite.
Courtesy of Deborah Bell Photographs, New York, and Paul M. Hertzmann Inc., San Francisco. © Marcia Resnick
High-res images are online at https://eastmanmuseum.box.com/
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