Clayton Patterson Photographed the Best of New York's Lower East Side


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Clayton Patterson Photographed the Best of New York's Lower East Side

The photographer Clayton Patterson is a living testament to the New York of yesteryear. Day after day, he captured that special time during the 80s and early 90s when the Lower East Side was both dangerous and the home of the city's creative class. His images document the more mundane, daily grind of living in the neighborhood, as well as the larger cultural clashes that occurred, like the Thompkins Square Riots in 1988.


Patterson has lived in the neighborhood for more than 30 years. During that time he has amassed an archive of over half a million photos as well as hundreds of hours of video footage that preserve the area's history, the characters and establishments that made it special. Be it street gangs, drag queens, or GG Allin, if it happened on the LES there's a good chance Patterson was there, doing whatever he had to do to get the shot. He has been arrested 13 times and battled countless lawsuits over the past 20 years, all related to his uncompromising documentation of lower Manhattan.

I was lucky enough to meet Patterson recently while shooting an episode for my documentary series, "No Your City," which profiles NYC street characters. When we met he was complaining about Taylor Swift being named the city's cultural ambassador and we hit it off instantly. He was even kind enough to let me feature a selection of his photos here on VICE today. So without further ado, I introduce you to the man I consider to be NYC's ambassador, Clayton Patterson.

- Nicolas Heller

For more on Clayton Patterson see the documentary Captured.

All captions by Clayton Patterson.

Bus stop ad. 1991. David Dinkins was mayor. Someone made a graffiti comment suggesting that the city was burning under his leadership.

Koch Vs. Homeless. 1989.

A man tatttoed his body with miniature traditional flash images and an assortment of tattoo artists' names.

The scene on Bleeker Street in 1989 after Mordechai Levy, founder of the JDO (Jewish Defense Organization) shot a man sitting in his van.