Clayton Patterson Didn’t Only Document the LES with Photos

July 15, 2015 | Aymann Ismail

Long before the Sugar Sweet Sunshine bakery opened on Rivington Street and rents in the area soared through the roof, legendary street photographer Clayton Patterson has been shooting the Lower East Side. Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, the neighborhood was notorious as a magnet for crime, drugs, and prostitution and the lensman was there, preserving some of its history through his methodological documentation of all the grime and glam. But Patterson’s photo-centric attributes don’t represent his only creative output, he’s also a prolific artist and his work is currently on display at the Howl! Gallery for an exhibit he entitled, “Outside In.”


“People know me through my photography but the reality is, that I’ve made a lot of art through the years.” Patterson told ANIMAL. For example, did you know he painted the Houston – Bowery wall back in the 90s without permission? It’s true. In addition to photos, he has been cataloguing downtown by collecting contraband and other objects that characterized the neighborhood, such as hypodermic needles, drug baggies, packets of lube, and bullets. Seeing the urban artifacts assembled and haphazardly poking out his sculptures was like staring at a time capsule, like his tribute to the Bowery or as Patterson describes it, the “real skid row.” It’s made up of broken bottles and colorful drawings of drunk people.


Also in the show are several of Patterson’s signature hand-embroidered hats, drawings, painted mannequins, a leather jacket, and an electric guitar. Despite the variety of mediums, his body of work is highly recognizable. After giving me a tour of the show, hs showed me some of his best shots.


Clayton’s memory is inhuman. He scrolled through several of his seemingly endless portraits of the Lower East Side and was able to describe each with surprising detail. “You know that tavern at 80 Saint Marks, the theater, it’s called Barnacle Bill Tavern? This is Barnacle Bill!” he said as he pointed to a photo of a man sporting a huge grin. With each image, Patterson was able to recall a particular anecdote about it. Although his assemblage of NYC is wildly impressive, Patterson is pretty humble about it.

“Anybody can do what I do what I did, you just have to do it,” said Patterson. “If you’re a kid in the neighborhood and you just start photographing neighborhood people, if you do it long enough and stay at it, you too can have an amazing collection. You can do what I did, that’s important.”

(Photos: Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork)