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Clayton Patterson | Videographer
MOMA | Jun 17–29, 2021
Organized by Ron Magliozzi, Curator, Department of Film.
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patterson moma screening

Canadian-born multimedia artist and writer Clayton Patterson has lived through, and broadly documented, more of outsider culture and the evolving history of New York’s Lower East Side than anyone else of his generation.

The virtually unseen archive of VHS and 8mm videos he shot there between 1986 and 2001 numbers over 2,000 tapes of astonishing diversity. Whether recording the underground culture of drag performers and tattoo artists; hardcore music venues and gallery openings; the lives of Hispanic and Orthodox Jewish residents and the homeless; public meetings, political demonstrations, and police activity; or the destructive transformation of his neighborhood through gentrification, Patterson used the moving image to build a sense of community among the people he engaged with.

Always resolutely on the fringe, as a videographer he is best known for recording the battle between New York City police and protesters in the streets around Tompkins Square Park on the night of August 6, 1988, an event that led to multiple court appearances and appearances with Oprah and others on the talk show circuit. Two years prior, a fateful meeting at the Pyramid Club with pioneering Downtown videographer Nelson Sullivan introduced Patterson to the affordable handheld video camera. Sullivan “danced with it, whirled it around, posed with it,” inspiring free participation in the activities he was shooting; and for Patterson, too, the camera became an extension not just of his eye but of his body.

Rarely using static or intentionally artful compositions, he mastered shooting without looking through the viewfinder, holding the camera over his head or on his hip to produce tapes that he never edited after the fact. The works in this program—all being presented in premiere screenings—were shot with a consumer model Panasonic AG 155 VHS camera Patterson purchased in late 1986.

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