Man of the People

History is written by the victors and victory requires a cruelty that they don’t like to cop to, so written history is always incomplete. If we want to really understand ourselves we need to seek stories that are not in the official record. The problem is there is not a lot of support for the collecting the other side of the story. It is left to a rare breed of caring, ambitious people who have the vision to recognize what truth is in danger of being lost.

The Lower East Side of Manhattan has such a champion in the person of the artist Clayton Patterson. His love for the people of the L.E.S. and their struggle has manifested itself in a dedicated chronicle that goes all the way back to his arrival in 1979 with his partner in life and art, Elsa Rensaa. He has been photographing in the streets and collecting artifacts since the very beginning. The archive amassed in their Essex street home/studio/gallery is incredible.

In the last two decades he has publicized the history of the Lower East Side in a series of collaborative books. Each volume does a great deal to preserve otherwise forgotten stories of the lives of the working class and immigrant communities in the last half century. His latest, ” The Street Gangs Of the Lower East Side”,  is a prime example. Together with Jose “Cochise” Quiles, a L.E.S. resident who spent the the better part of his life in the street gang Satan’s Sinners Nomads, through a compilation of first hand accounts and his own photographs he gives us a nuanced account of the complexities of life here and insight into the motives and experiences of local gang members starting in the 1960’s. 

In addition to decades of art and the numerous books he has produced, he has himself been the subject of a documentary film. Originally released in 2008 the film, “Captured”, has become a slow burning underground touchstone. In telling the story of  his now almost 40 year long effort to preserve the  voice of the people of this neighborhood the movie tells the story of the neighborhood itself. It is a must see for anyone with an interest in any of the cultural waves that started as ripples here: from the fight against police brutality to punk rock and hip hop.

for full bibliography and history of Clayton’s work click here!

Purchase the book here!