“Little Brother is watching Big Brother”: with these words, while being interviewed on the Oprah Winfrey show, Clayton Patterson summed up the changes taking place in New York in the late 80s and prophetically far beyond.
Captured is a documentary released in 2008, directed by Dan Levin and Ben Solomon, which takes Patterson as its subject; he is an artist, photographer and videographer who lives in and documents the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Patterson was born in 1948 and grew up in Western Canada. In 1972, after studying art at university, he met artist Elsa Rensaa. The couple have been together ever since but have never married as in true counterculture style they didn’t want to be a part of the system. She is his life partner and archivist, a task that seems insurmountable given his rate of productivity.
Clayton began his career in New York in 1979 and he exhibited as a mixed media artist. Growing to loathe the pretension of the Soho art clique he struck out on his own, exploring Manhattan until he eventually discovered the Lower East Side where he immediately fitted in, loving the energy, inventiveness and the freedom to be whatever he chose. He and Elsa decided to put down roots in the neighbourhood and in 1983 they bought 161 Essex Street after going to forty-two banks to get a mortgage.
Clayton has documented the Lower East Side since 1980 through photography and film. His subjects are the homeless, the drug users, the revolutionaries, artists, musicians and drop-outs that have made the neighbourhood so vibrant, creative and anarchic.
Perhaps his most important contribution to New York history are his films of the Tompkins Square Park Riot which took place on August 6th-7th 1988. Clayton filmed all night and ended up with four tapes which showed the extreme police brutality and violence which made the headlines. He refused to hand his tapes over to the police and was subsequently jailed for ninety days.
Patterson’s collection of photography, video, art, press clippings and random ephemera, comprise a vast archive of Lower East Side history. He even has scrapbooks containing the bags used to sell heroin, each one branded differently according to dealer. This great documentary lauds a little known New York hero and is well worth a watch.