Here’s to the working class

Photos by Clayton Patterson: A driver did an amazing job snugly parking his 30-foot moving van on narrow Eldridge St., with just a foot of space in front and behind the van.

BY CLAYTON PATTERSON  |  My goal with these photos is to give some positive exposure to those hard-working people who make our life easier, but whose existence is given hardly more notice than a passing shadow.

As someone who grew up at the bad end of the working class, I have never lost my love and respect for the struggling class. My mother was a nurse’s aide. My father was very eccentric, did not fit into the norm of the community, and I am not really sure how he earned a living. I have never tried to disconnect from or hide my roots. In fact, I have a deep spiritual connection to the working class and the people I grew up with.

So many of the kids I grew up with had a tough time adjusting to high school, as I did. It was our first real encounter with the middle class. A good number of my friends ended up quitting school. For the most part, the kids who succeeded moved up the blue-collar ladder and became tradesmen, cops, firemen, correction officers. The studious and bright ones became teachers, nurses, librarians.

In some ways my struggle was more difficult than the other kids’ was because I never felt I fit into the norm. I thought differently than 99 percent of the people I encountered. I had no desire to follow the path that was expected of our group, and — who knows why? — I always felt I was put on this earth for a special reason.

A hotel maid in Calgary, Alberta, overworked and underpaid. The writer was visiting his mother in an extended-care facility.

If I had to give a simple answer for what saved me from going down the path of ruin and destruction, I would say it was two people. First, there was Mrs. Goddard, a teacher who introduced me to art. And second, there is Elsa Rensaa, my partner, who was instrumental in steering me out of the bad end of the working class, and she always had faith in my abilities, my dreams, visions, high ambitions.

If you asked me, “What lesson could a youth from a troubled and disadvantaged background learn from your accomplishments and body of work?” I would point to my massive and historically relevant photo/video archive. I would explain that anyone could do what I did. First, I do not pretend to be a photography expert. I have always used moderately priced, easy-to-use, commercially available equipment. My color prints were done at a one-hour photo lab. The family who ran that business took pride in their work and were passionate about quality.

A Filipino washroom attendant at the Alberta College of Art in Calgary.

What makes my archive special is I did it. Just stay the course, no different than filling a glass of water one drop at a time. Just do it and eventually you will have a significant body of work. One of my greatest blessings in life is the rich and diverse Lower East Side archive that I have been able to build.

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2 Responses to Here’s to the working class

  1. My first awareness of Clayton Patterson was when I was on my way to the Essex Market one day. I passed an odd building with a huge window and it was filled with the photographs of all kinds of regular looking people. It said "Welcome To My Neighborhood." Several years later, I finally got to meet the man who took those photographs and then, next thing you know, there was my photograph on his window too.

  2. Stay up the great work! You realize, lots of individuals are hunting around for this info, you could help them greatly.

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