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Photographer Clayton Patterson: Keeping it real through the years, through his lens

BY THE VILLAGE SUN | Since the 1980s, Clayton Patterson has been capturing gritty images of the Lower East Side — and the East Village, the part of the LES north of Houston Street that was rebranded to make it more real-estate friendly.

From the arts and music scene to the drag scene to the drug scene, Patterson has tirelessly trained his lens everywhere, documenting it all. He knows many of his subjects personally from the neighborhood, and has documented them at different stages of their lives.

Here are some of a smattering of photos that Patterson recently pulled from his archives and sent to The Village Sun.

Agathe Snow
Artist Agathe Snow, right, at a dance marathon at the Whitney Museum in 2005. (Photo by Clayton Patterson)
The Allen Street Boys hanging out on the Allen Street Mall last year. (Photo by Clayton Patterson)
Kathleen at the Pyramid club on Avenue A. (Photo by Clayton Patterson)
Jim Power, the East Village’s “Mosaic Man,” and his late sidekick Jesse Jane in front of Clayton Patterson’s front door in 2002. (Photo by Clayton Patterson)
A firefighter back in 2015. (Photo by Clayton Patterson)
Anne Hanavan, the lead singer of the band Transgendered Jesus, in 2011. (Photo by Clayton Patterson)
Arrests at a deli that was actually operating as a “cocaine spot” near the photographer’s home circa 1980s or early ’90s.
Rocco of the Satan’s Sinners Nomads street gang, right, getting a “hand poke” tattoo at their clubhouse at E. Fourth Street and Avenue D in the 1980s. (Photo by Clayton Patterson)
Performance artist / rock singer Kembra Pfahler. (Photo by Clayton Patterson)
Street art from 2008. (Photo by Clayton Patterson)
Artist Joe Coleman and snake. (Photo by Clayton Patterson)
The drug scene. (Photo by Clayton Patterson)
Guitarist Darryl Jennifer of the hardcore band the Bad Brains playing at CBGB in the ’80s. (Photo by Clayton Patterson)
A family in front of the photographer’s front door, which he often uses as a backdrop for local subjects. (Photo by Clayton Patterson)
Composer and musician Butch Morris. (Photo by Clayton Patterson)
Collecting cans. (Photo by Clayton Patterson)
Iconic actor Taylor Mead in his Lower East Side apartment nine years ago. (Photo by Clayton Patterson)
Monica Shay, who went by Kathryn (her name is misspelled on the memorial, above) was an East Village homeless and housing activist who was close to the Revolutionary Communist Party. She was fatally shot in her Pennsylvania country home in 2011. (Photo by Clayton Pattterson)
A stabbing victim gets assistance on Essex Street. (Photo by Clayton Patterson)
Local graffiti artist LA II (standing in front, in tan shorts) who collaborated with Keith Haring, at the opening of a show of his own work at the Clayton Gallery and Outlaw Art Museum in 2002. (Photo by Clayton Patterson)
Memorial candles outside the former CHARAS/El Bohio cultural and community center on E. 10th Street. (Photo by Clayton Patterson)


  1. Martha Gotwals Martha Gotwals November 26, 2022

    Thanks for your incredible portraits. Have to ask if you ever took pictures at Dan Lynch’s, where my late sweetheart Charles “Honeyboy” Otis was the drummer in Bill Dickey’s house band. It would mean a lot to see anything there…and to the musicians there who still keep in touch.

  2. Barbara Kahn Barbara Kahn November 26, 2022

    Clayton is an NYC treasure. When our neighborhoods are at such high risk of demolition, he has preserved our legacy with his camera. And he supports Downtown artists with the NYC Acker Awards. I’m proud and honored to have had his camera pointed in my direction.

    • clayton patterson clayton patterson November 27, 2022

      Barbara! What an honor. A legend from Theater For The New City. BTW, Dec 11th, NY ACKERs, Theater For The New City.

  3. Anne Hanavan Anne Hanavan November 26, 2022

    Clayton is a hero and one of the most important artists of our time!

  4. Karen McKeon Karen McKeon November 26, 2022

    I was raised in the E Village till I was a teenager. I miss it. Clayton’s work is a fine example of the beautifully artistic, eccentric, gritty, romanticized neighborhood that I was lucky enough to call home.
    I have a picture that he took in front of his door of my best friend that’s no longer with us hanging on my wall. Looking at his work is like thumbing through the pages of my past and of my heart.
    (There are pictures of my family and me outside of Ortiz Funeral Home that I’d love to get my hands on.)

    • Clayton Patterson Clayton Patterson November 26, 2022

      Whose funeral and what was the date?

  5. Clayton Patterson Clayton Patterson November 26, 2022

    Thank you, Lincoln and John Penley. Over the years I have many photos of both of you in the archive. John, I am trying to save Elsa and my archive. Working on doing a second Front Door book. Over the decades I have taken 1000’s of photos of neighborhood people in front of my front door. Some people I have documented from young children to now having their own grandchildren. Here is a slideshow created by Burning Buddha. Gryphon Rue went through a stack of my photos and curated a show with them for St. Marks Printed Matter. BTW, Lincoln — starting many years ago at The Villager– now at Village Sun, has published many photos of mine in the papers.

  6. John Penley John Penley November 25, 2022

    Clayton Patterson and his wife Elsa Rensaa have accumulated a massive archive of both still and video images from the LES. I would like to suggest that Clayton look into an established NYC archive for their work. It would be a shame for this work to possibly be lost when Clayton dies. I would suggest either the NY Public Library or Tamiment Library at NYU, where mine is. They have done totally amazing work like none other.

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