Clayton Patterson, Videographer

Jun 17–29, 2021


Jack Smith and Clayton Patterson on the set of Shadows in the City (1991) in April 1989. Photo: Uzi Parnes

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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.

Organized by Ron Magliozzi, Curator, Department of Film.

  • This film series is part of Virtual Cinema.

    Film at MoMA is made possible by CHANEL.

    Additional support is provided by the Annual Film Fund. Leadership support for the Annual Film Fund is provided by Debra and Leon D. Black and by Steven Tisch, with major contributions from The Contemporary Arts Council of The Museum of Modern Art, Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, MoMA’s Wallis Annenberg Fund for Innovation in Contemporary Art through the Annenberg Foundation, the Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP), The Junior Associates of The Museum of Modern Art, the Samuel I. Newhouse Foundation, Karen and Gary Winnick, and The Brown Foundation, Inc., of Houston.


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