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Edited by John Strausbaugh
Designed by Kenny Petricig
Published by CLAYTON BOOKS, LLC, New York 2020

the camera book cover
Book cover
56 p. | size 6 x 9" | many color images | cover photo by Mike Auer

1. Becoming an artist
2. Clayton caps
3. Wall of fame, hall of fame
4. Moving pictures
6. The camera is key
7. Mentoring and inspiring
8. Publishing
9. The Clayton gallery & Outlaw Art Museum
10. The New York Acker awards
11. Find your tool. Make your statement.

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In May and June 2020, demonstrators and rioters took over the streets of American cities in all 50 states, day after day, night after night, protesting police brutality. It’s been described as the largest protest uprising in America in fifty years. It even spread to cities in other countries. The immediate spark was the death of an unarmed middle- aged black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis, killed by a police officer who knelt on his neck for nine minutes. But the protesters weren’t outraged at just that incident. They were enraged that brutal cops, crooked cops, psycho cops in police departments around the country are condoned and protected by an entrenched system that includes politicians, prosecutors and police unions. This particular cop, Derek Chauvin, had 18 prior complaints filed against him, which had resulted in some minor disciplinary action, but it didn’t keep him off the streets. Unluckily for him, the murder of Mr. Floyd was captured on cellphone by a courageous 17-year-old girl named Darnella Frazier. She posted her video on Facebook and it went viral, sparking protests and demonstrations everywhere. Her video also goaded reluctant prosecutors in Minneapolis to charge Chauvin with murder.

What this means is that the power to show police brutality to the world — or any abuse of power by an authorities — is in the hands of virtually all citizens today, since virtually all o us carry cellphones. Media scholar call it “citizen journalism.” It’s a power I understand well. I went a long way to demonstrate it more than thirty years ago, in 1988, when I documented New York City police officers running amok. We didn’t have cellphones back then, but I did have a new device, the handheld, commercially available video camera. I became famous not only for documenting police misbehavior but for standing up to the authorities who tried to silence me about it. I was on Oprah’s show. I inspired others, like the famous artist and activist Ai Weiwei, to use the video camera in the same way. And I made myself a target for some police brutality of my own. When I was on Oprah’s show, I held up my portable video camera and declared, “Little Brother is watching Big Brother.” Little Sister is too.

That’s only one of many ways I have used the camera, both still and video. The camera was already an essential tool for me for several years by 1988. On the Lower East Side of Manhattan where I live, I’ve always been “the man with the camera.” Writing about me in the New York Times in 2005, John Strausbaugh observed: “If you have attended any public gathering on the Lower East Side or in the East Village over the last 25 years — a punk rock gig, a community board meeting, a poetry slam, a Santeria service, the infamous Tompkins Square Park riot in 1988 — chances are you’re somewhere in Clayton Patterson's archives. He was the bearish man with the billy goat beard and the biker fashion sense mingling with — but never blending into — the crowd, observing everything through a still or video camera..." That is true, but I have never thought of myself as a photographer. Richard Avedon was a photographer. He went to photography school. He was a professional. He knew the equipment. I don’t know a Pentax from a Rolex. I didn’t go to photography school. I’m an artist with a camera.

I have a mantra:
Art is life, and life is art.

If you only understand art in a limited, traditional way — art only as paintings in museums or rich patrons’ homes — you’ll need to broaden your perspective to understand what I mean by that. I am not a traditional artist. I don’t work in a studio. I make my art out in the world. I spent a short time in the corporate art mainstream, and could easily have been a success there, but it was not for me. I have made my art and made my way outside the mainstream, where you have to survive as an artist whatever way you can, by whatever means necessary. You have to follow .•our ambition and rely on your creativity. You have to find your niche.

The camera has led me to mine. As I describe in these pages, my cameras have taken me on some grand adventures I probably never would have ~ad otherwise. Through my cameras I have gained intimate knowledge and priceless insights into a variety of cultures and communities. From Hispanic street life on the Lower East Side to the neighborhood’s Orthodox Jews. From crag performers to tattoo artists. From high fashion and celebrity culture to the homeless and the discarded. From the avant-garde to the everyday. And more.

Because I’m an artist, everything and anything I do is art. My whole life is a work of art, a vision of many pieces coming together and making the artist. I do not see the difference between imagination, good conversation, concepts, dreams, painting, video, photography, connecting people with ideas and concepts, developing those ideas and concepts, creating books or making clothing. Documenting police brutality was part of my art. And when I was arrested for that, I turned my court appearances into art, too. Whatever artists create is art, as long as they are conscious of what they are doing and have the skills.

To show you what I mean, first let me tell you a little bit about how I started out, and my long road from there to here

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“Writer and videographer, artist, activist, and self-styled outsider, Clayton Patterson has lived through and broadly documented more facets of underground history on New York’s Lower East Side than anyone else over the past nearly 40 years.” —Ron Magliozzi, Curator, Department of Film, The Museum of Modern Art

“Clayton Patterson’s art emerged in the ruined fields of the Lower East Side while capturing daily events in the streets of the poverty-stricken neighborhood. The brutal clash between the wretched and authoritarian forces, the threatening realities of gentrification and censorship became his main subject matters in the 80s. His battle for other outlaws and for his own survival earned him local and international acclaim, and confirmed him as a bold, prophetic, visionary leader." —Istvan Kantor, artist

“I will always be thankful to Clayton and consider him the real deal— and artist, archivist and activist who was inspired by and captured the raw, essential unexpurgated life force in a legendary creative community and in the lives and faces of the everyday people who lived there.” —Marc Levin, Producer, Director, Blowback Productions

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