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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.
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!