Monday, November 09, 2009

LES Artist.

Photographer Clayton Patterson in New York's Lower East Side.

One of the best things about the internet? It's like a constant revolving exhibition space. So, say, when you miss a photography exhibit that you really wanted to see, you can kind of create your own version of it. I was really excited to head over to ALIFE Presents, the gallery space on the LES to see the retrospective of Clayton Patterson's work, but I just didn't make it. The exhibit ended yesterday, but Patterson's work endures on his site and now a piece of it will be shown here--think of it as IWANTTOWEARIT Presents.

Clayton Patterson is a photographer/activist/artist. He's used his lens to capture his home as well as to help the homeless. His work provides a visual record of the Lower East Side as it was before the hipsters headed in and took over. The gentrification of one of New York's most notorious neighborhoods left little evidence of the way things were. In Clayton's photos you see what was; the kids who used to chill on the street corners, mostly Latino families who shared space with a Jewish population and a border with Chinatown, and the thugs who lived and died on the streets. There are no ironic hipsters in Patterson's shots, only records of the streets in gritty glory.

The way I found out about this exhibit and Patterson's work was through a friendly conversation with a woman on the PATH train. Gloria was sitting next to me leafing through a copy of a book from the exhibition, and my nosy self couldn't contain her curiosity. She told me about the show at ALIFE. It turns out that she used to live on The Lower East Side and knew a bunch of the people in the photos. She pointed at one person and then another and said, "This one's gone from drugs, that one was shot, this one has three babies." She also really loved that the pictures gave her an instant portal back to her teen closet, and so did I.

Patterson was a Streetstyle photographer before the genre really existed, when Streetstyle had more to do with streetlife than putting on a show. Clayton's work has also been put into a documentary. He used his camcorder as a tool of revolution, setting in motion a debate about homelessness and police brutality that made it all the way to the Oprah show in the '80s.

He didn't stop filming what he described as the "aquarium" of life on New York City streets, even after he was arrested and put in jail. Even though gentrification eventually won the battle for the LES, we have Clayton to thank for a historic look at what was. Through Clayton, the LES lives.

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