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Photographer pays tribute to Lower Manhattan’s LGBT scene of the 1980s

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Clayton Patterson’s “Portraits of the Pyramid” glimpse into the neighborhood’s LGBT community and drag scene of the 80s and 90s

“Sun PK”
Photos courtesy Clayton Patterson/GROUPE.

As Manhattan continues to give rise to one gleaming supertall tower after another, the battle to hold on to the borough’s reputation as home to unapologetic creativity and uniqueness becomes all the more urgent. These days, Lower Manhattan is under major development with megaprojects like Essex Crossing taking shape at the former vacant plot of land formerly known as SPURA to the ill-received plans for a trio of waterfront skyscrapers that will drastically change the landscape.

But for those missing the neighborhood’s wilder days, there’s a new exhibit from photographer and activist Clayton Patterson, who documented daily life in the Lower East Side and the East Village in the 1980s and ’90s. Patterson has amassed a collection of portraits that are heavily inspired by the neighborhood’s drag performance scene and LGBT community along with other aspects of life from the neighborhood gangs to the Tompkins Square Park Riots of 1988.

“Portraits from the Pyramid,” now on view at Lower East Side menswear boutique Groupe, shares a selection of Patterson’s nostalgic images that showcases vivid portraits of drag performers who frequented the iconic Pyramid Club which still stands today (and maintains its reputation as one of the best dance clubs in the city).

“Sister Dimension {Alan Mace)”

Patterson also remembers the Lower East Side and East Village as being incredibly diverse, with residents of all ethnicities and backgrounds (from Hell’s Angels to drag queens) roaming the streets. “Unlike SoHo, which was more of a careerist place for artists, the Lower East Side was an expressionist place, where it was more about just being an artist than being famous or rich,” says Patterson in a statement.

“At the Pyramid Club, security would be people from the hardcore scene, which is supposedly very antigay,” Patterson explains. “But all of these stereotypes didn’t apply there. It was like a free zone.”

Catch more images from “Portraits from the Pyramid” on display at GROUPE, located at 198 Bowery, Mondays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Sundays from noon to 6 p.m. The exhibition will run from October 18 through January 17 and many of the portraits are being made available for purchase.