Spring 2012



Slug, a member of punk band Sewage, circa 1992.

Clayton Patterson, ’76 BEd, moved from Calgary to New York City with his girlfriend, Elsa Rensaa, in 1979. In 1983, the couple (now married) bought a former dressmaker’s shop at 161 Essex Street in the city’s Lower East Side, long before gentrification would turn the area into, as he says, “the hip place it is today.”

From the beginning, Patterson began chronicling his changing neighbourhood in pictures, film and video, as the Lower East Side was morphing from a place where young, emerging artists could find small apartments for less than $50 per month into a trendy area where the same apartments can now rent for upwards of $2,500 per month.

In 1985 — and lasting until 2002 — Patterson began taking portraits of Lower East Side residents (such as the one shown here) using his graffiti-covered front door as his backdrop. The photos were eventually assembled into the Front Door Book.

“I didn’t realize it at the time,” Patterson said in The New York Times, “but I was capturing the last of the wild, free, outlaw, utopian, visionary spirit of the Lower East Side.”

Any doubt that he was capturing the last of that wild spirit was dispelled in 2009 when he received a notice from the sanitation department ordering him to remove the graffiti from his door.

To book a tour of Patterson’s studio, e-mail him at clayton161@earthlink.net.

– Kim Green