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Clayton Patterson on the Lower East Side

Clayton Patterson on the Lower East Side

September 28, 2009

From Thursday’s New York Times profile on Clayton Patterson:

Over the years [Patterson] has amassed a huge archive that he estimates comprises hundreds of thousands of photographs, some 2,500 hours of video and 300 audiotaped interviews, plus a large collection of heroin bags he picked up off the streets, graffiti stickers he peeled off walls, books, articles, posters, postcards, tattoo art and other Lower East Side ephemera, “much of it rare because it was underground or illegal.”

“It’s empirical history, immediate history,” he explained. “I go where my nose leads me. It’s a wealth of material, but it’s one guy’s view of it. The history of the Lower East Side is dense, multicultural and diverse. There are multiple layers within the community. You had Jews, Asians, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, avant-garde filmmakers, tattoo parlors, the gay clubs, the art scene. It takes having documented all these different circles to get how they connected.”

In recent years Mr. Patterson, 61, has begun to edit books about some of those circles. Captured: A Film/Video History of the Lower East Side, edited with Paul Bartlett and Urania Mylonas, was published in 2005, and Jews: A People’s History of the Lower East Side, edited with Mareleyn Schneider, will be published next year. (Both are from Seven Stories Press.)

Mr. Patterson waxes elegiac when speaking of how his neighborhood has changed:

“The Lower East Side was a crucible for creativity. Artists and intellectuals were drawn here because they could afford to live and create here. When Lou Reed moved here from Brooklyn in the ’60s, he rented an apartment on Ludlow Street for something like $38 a month. Now it’d be $3,000. I don’t think there’ll be any more Lou Reeds on Ludlow Street. All of the geniuses who were here because of the cheap rents are gone.”

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