Local lens: Capturing folks over the years on the L.E.S.

LEFT: Miguel of JAE bodega; MIDDLE: Chopo, left, and Dominick.; RIGHT: Locksmith Edwin Natal Agosto.

BY CLAYTON PATTERSON  |  I have always enjoyed documenting people as they grow older.

I first photographed Miguel when he was 15 years old working at the same bodega as he does today. The ownership of the business has changed over the years, but Miguel, now 30, still is working at the same location. JAE, as it’s now called, on Stanton St. is one of the lonely bodegas in this part of the Lower East Side.

The last time I photographed Chopo (at left in photo above) and Dominick (at right) was 20 years ago. Chopo I have continued to photograph since he was around 6 years old.

I first met and photographed Edwin Natal Agosto around 1985. Our front door was made of heavy metal and leaned inward. It was very difficult to get a lock that fit and worked. Eddie came to the rescue. He was studying to be a locksmith and it turned out that he was a very good one. He passed all the needed exams and got his license. His craft took him to Harlem, a place that had its share of complicated security issues. Eddie was the one guy to call to solve the problem. Eddie eventually moved to Puerto Rico and is now back in N.Y.C. and trying to move back to his home base — the L.E.S. And guess what? When he arrived back in the neighborhood we had a lock problem and he immediately took care of it.

Local bottle pickers.

Over the years I have continued to photograph the Chinese bottle ladies. Most of them are elderly. I admire how dedicated they are to the work and how hard they work. This young girl in the pink shirt I photographed a couple of years ago when she was a much younger teenager. Here she is with another woman, sharing a light moment together.

A few years ago I heard from a neighbor that an elderly Chinese bottle collector was sexually assaulted on Norfolk St. around 4 a.m. I sent out a mass e-mail and Alice O’Malley was the one who stepped up. The police were not doing much about it, so Alice and I started to put pressure on the politicians to do something about this outrageous crime. It turned out that there was a sexual predator attacking woman in the community.

Eventually — maybe a coincidence — but in the early-morning hours Alice heard a ruckus in her building’s hallway. She opened her door and there was a man on top of a lady. Alice drove him off, got a good look at him, and the cops picked him up. Alice became a witness and testified in court. The guy was given a long prison sentence, though ultimately was charged for robbery. The sexual attacks stopped. Good job, Alice!

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2 Responses to Local lens: Capturing folks over the years on the L.E.S.

  1. Edwin Natal Agosto

    Thanks Clayton. I read the short story about me and how we meat. I'll be returning to Puerto Rico this next Tuesday 31st. I will stay in touch and continue to see if I can finally make that move to the LES. I've always wanted to return to where I grew up at. The Lower East Side has many stories. I myself wrote a Sci-Fi bit which had to do when I was growing up on Broome and Suffolk streets. It got me a pretty high grade in boricua College. Once again thanks my friend and it was really nice getting together with you and your wife again.

  2. I would like to assume that sir Edwin Natal Agosto has Filipino blood? He resembles a Filipino and the last name's quite Filipino. Same as him, my father is a locksmith in perth. He was very motivated to help us through college and I will always be inspired by his dedication.

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