patricia lay-dorsey – falling into place

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Patricia Lay-Dorsey

Falling Into Place

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Self portraits are strange animals. For most photographers being at the wrong end of the lens is not our first choice. Besides wasn’t it Narcissus who was so mesmerized by his own reflection in the pond that he forgot to eat and pined away and died? Too much self-absorption can be dangerous.

But there can come a time when the only person who can tell your story is yourself.

That’s where I was when I started this self portrait project six months ago. I call this essay “Falling Into Place” because, in some strange way, I feel this IS my place, to see the world waist-high rather than face-to-face. Besides, it all started with a fall, a knee-buckling ankle-spraining fall onto an unyielding sidewalk one cold January day.

After the fifth unexplained fall in six months, I saw a neurologist who put me through a series of tests. Two months later he gave me a “75% certain” diagnosis of chronic progressive multiple sclerosis. Within the year he’d changed it to 100%.

Twenty years later I wonder who I’d be and what I’d be doing were it not for this unexpected assault on my body. I’m not going to say I’m glad it happened. Sure I’d love to be able to run another marathon, or bike another 200-mile weekend tour, or even open a flip-top can by myself. It’s a real pain to take a half hour to change into my swimsuit, to wet my dress because I couldn’t make it to the toilet in time, to ask for help opening every door that pulls rather than pushes. And more. Much more. Being disabled can really suck.

And it can teach too. Patience, humility, determination, even gratitude. How much I appreciate small things like being able to pick up my camera’s memory card when I drop it (again and again) on the floor. How proud I was last August when I drove by myself the 1300 miles to and from New York City. How pleased I am that my claw-like fingers can still hit the shutter release button.

So much of what I show in these portraits is private, the side of my life that no one sees. Until now, that is. And the strange thing about opening my bedroom, my bathroom, my nakedness to view is that my former sense of shame and embarrassment  is gone.

I now see my life as a disabled woman is normal in its own way.

-Patricia Lay-Dorsey


139 Responses to “patricia lay-dorsey – falling into place”

  • hold on, hold on….
    let me watch this AGAIN…

  • …ok, awesome,
    now let me watch it once more…!

  • Wow, Patricia… Words and images that go directly to the soul. I’m impressed and touched. Your energy, your courage, your will, your determination, your happiness, your acceptance, your teaching, your private moments, your sharing, your images… You’re big, as well as your essay. I’m really proud of having meeting you, even if it is just a virtual thing. Oh yes, as Panos, I will watch it again and again.
    Thank you, Patricia.

  • Hi Patricia,

    it’s great to see this final selection with the Beatles’ soundtrack: it rocks!
    I know that you are still shooting for the project in next months, so some small refinements can be introduced in this selection too… for example the picture of the book on the seat: at first sight I missed the cover and the smart link with the image that follows, just a little bit more prominence to the book’s cover should help. And I’m still missing the meaning of the shot in the coffee house… But these are just small things, again this essay is an effective glance into your life and the light is magic. thank you!

  • WOW ! Pat, I’ve just watched it twice and am absoluteley blown away by what you have accomplished so far , I loved the dead bird pic , the Norman Rockwellesque portrait of you as a younger Pat and the teaming of the running photo and your hand on your old bike really hit home.
    Great work Aunty!



    Stiller Freund der vielen Fernen, fühle
    wie dein Atem noch den Raum vermehrt.
    Im Gebalk der finstern Glockenstühle
    laß dich läuten. Das, was an dir zehrt,

    wird ein Starkes über dieser Nahrung.
    Geh in der Verwandlung aus und ein.
    Was ist deine leidenste Erfahrung?
    Ist dir Trinken bitter, werde Wein.

    Sei in dieser Nacht aus Übermaß
    Zauberkraft am Kreuzweg deiner Sinne,
    ihrer seltsamen Begegnung Sinn.

    Und wenn dich das Irdische vergaß,
    zu der stillen Erde sag: Ich rinne.
    Zu dem raschen Wasser sprich: Ich bin>

    –Rainer Maria Rilke


    Sonnets to Orpheus


    Silent friend of many distances, feel
    how your breath enlarges all of space.
    In the darkness of the belfry’s high beams,
    ring out like a bell. That which weakens you

    will grow strong from such nourishment.
    Move through transformation, out and in.
    What is your most painful experience?
    If the drinking is bitter, turn yourself to wine.

    Be in this night of a thousand excesses,
    the magic power at the crossroads of your senses,
    the meaning of their rare encounter.

    And when the earth has forgotten you,
    say to the quiet land say: I flow.
    And to the rushing waters speak: I am.



    I have waited a long time to share Rilke with you, having wanted to recite the poem to you in New York…though, now I cant think of a better time to sing out. I have loved this series since the moment I first saw that magnificent self-portrait in the mirror (photo #4 above), as I thought to myself here is a person who is unafraid to sing out about loss and is able to describe the broken sense of self that each of us, whatever our scars or our healing, carry though often all too often backaged in the corner like an old bike. It seems that I have written so often about the specific photographs and the series as a whole already, so I will cloud over the powerful and remarkably beautiful experience for others. all I can add is that this story is not just about the peculiar world that you navigate each and every day with your joyous, dancing bones (your ruby exoskeleton and your golden one) but is in fact the story of each of our lives, the way we dribble around space, shift-shape into the world around us seeing and being seen, carrying all that carriage and backage of bones that is the welp shapre of our hearts. More over, i have always seen this story as a powerful long song, really a song of testament and witness, not only about your life, but about your life with Ed and all that this entails. but it has blossomed into a poem about our own expectations, the young girl running the marathon, the child who has discovered a dead blue jay, the overly protective mother shadowing her grown up son in the pool, the frightened women, the powerful sister, the remarkable and agile living of the life and the celebration of all that this entails: the silence between two people whose lives and bones and bodies know one another so well that words become superflous, shadows that contour the sidewalk or the trellis of late-afternoon light. IN the end, what I love about this story is not that, not for a moment, we feel pity or sadness for her, though I do feel the wheeling over of sadness which comes from all work that transforms and conveys the sense of wonder of this life, but only joy: joy for this powerful, passionate, filled-with-life vision of what it means to see, to reknew and to ambulate remarkably through a world “hip level”….

    deeply simple and beautiful and filled with life….

    and it sings to the rushing world : I AM

    with love


    just re-read what i wrote, egads, it’s gotta be still the flu, so many typos…i was trying to say this this is a Love song :)))…not only about your world, but about how each of us must learn and relearn and regain again what it means to live with life….and to celebrate that in the living….you already know how i feel about the pics and the arc of the story….i just cant wait to see this play out over the next six months and then bloom into a book….

    everything, always, falls into place…



    I was very much looking forward to see your final edit and I was not disappointed. You are such a beacon of light and energy in this world Patricia. We need many Patricia’s these days but there is only one!!! You came to the blog one day and it immediately felt like you were always part of the family. You did suffer when there was some tension among some members, you sent us a photograph of you dancing of joy when we launched BURN in New York… You are one hell of a woman Patricia and I cannot imagine this place without you around… Having you among us all is also such a testament to the way David looks at photographers…it does not matter the age, your background, whether you are famous or not, professional or not…produce excellent work, stay on the case and David will be there for you…. Funny story to share with you… I have been pushing my father who is a photographer who also previously joined a class of David to join the blog and try to continue to be mentored by David… He was telling me no, my english is not very good and above all, he was convinced that David would want to push and focus on young photographers who have their career ahead of them (i.e the years!!!)…I was telling him bullshit, that this was just an excuse… Well Patricia, you are the “Living Proof” (to use the title of one of Davd’s book) that it is never too late to start a career in pohotography. It is also such a blessing to see someone like David being able to welcome “emerging photographers” who are not exactly starting up their lives… I am sure that in that sense, you are an inspiration for many out there…. Now, beyond the example that you are setting Patricia, you have also done a very moving personal piece of work. It is so difficult to turn the camera on oneself…I know I could not do it… I love the way you are slowly constructing every piece of the puzzle….one more picture at a time, here and there… all I can say Pat is congrats and much respect for who you are, what you do and the work that you are sharing with us.





    beautiful work…favorites are 21 and 26

    “about how each of us must learn and relearn and regain again what it means to live with life….and to celebrate that in the living”

    thank you bob for putting that into words…

    feel better and looking forward to the next meet up…


  • your story moved me..
    I didn’t see them as self portraits.. (although I believe every photo we take is in some way a ‘self portrait’)
    I read them as you telling your story… (don’t know if that makes sense~ but it reads to me as your story, rather than a series of self portraits)
    through your eyes..
    It inspires
    and gives hope…
    Can’t wait to see chapter 2….


  • Oh Patricia, you made me cry!

    There is something so touching about this essay, all of the fragility and strength of you is expressed so beautifully- you go girl!

    My two favorite images are the one of the bird and the sandles and the one of you smiling on the bus…

    This is a great way to start the New Year, congratulations and the best for 2009!

  • Patricia,

    Thank you for wet my eyes throught your photopgraphs. You are so special, brave and determined. I’ll think about your essay when I’m feeling blue. You warmth my soul with the perseverance you show on being you and loving it. Your photos are so so warm and personal…I don’t have any words. I’m going to watch it again.

  • … i cant believe that pat is able to describe a “whole lifetime” with only couple photos…
    … brilliant…. one of my favorites ( maybe the “one” for me ), is the one with little framed picture on the wall… from the little girl… running…
    i cant take this photo out of my mind!!!

  • I am not a photographer. (forgive me). I came to this website because Panos directed me here, to see his work, (of course). I happened upon your work, Patricia. He has spoken so highly of you. Now I see why. I couldn’t help it, I had to comment. It is beautiful. I cried when I saw it. Your suffering comes through so clearly. I felt your pain. I saw the beauty that you see, in your life.
    I am, as I said, not a photographer, but I am an artist, a woman, a single mother of four. I am well aquainted with the feeling of pain. As my father died, I sang this song to him, (blackbird). Your pictures made me feel not so alone in this world of suffering. I thank you for giving me a point of relation at a time when I feel so alone. Bless you, in all your struggles, and joys, bless you.

  • Dear Patricia…I continue to enjoy the development of this body of work that you are making. Reading about its evolution over the past many months on Road Trips, your discussions with David etc. has been a real interest to me and I really look forward to seeing what emerges in the form of its ‘completion’.

    Thankyou for letting us into your life in the form of these small glimpses.


    P.S. I love Image 10, of the bird and your shoes. It just makes me smile.

  • PS
    i don’t see an image by patricia of a framed picture, but the photo being held of the girl running is, i think, patricia before she developed MS. ???


  • Dear Patricia. Reading the blog, i’ve heard about you and read your words. I just looked at your essay silently . i didn’t listen to the music. Honestly i wanted to go to you and listen to you. What affected me most is the fact that you are letting people know about your life and bravely, strongly making sure you’re heard with your pictures. Some are so tender, some harsh and realistic but then there’s the joy you seem to have about life and the people you’ve met who enrich you. You have some of that giddy glee that i know David has which is so inspiring. You’re a nice lady; i admire how much you push and change your mind about edits and have made this yours. they are your pictures and your life…no matter how they’re edited. That truth is powerful. You’re beautiful. thank you.

    anne henning

  • I am deeply touched by the responses thus far. Thanks to all who have allowed themselves to be open to my story. But I also want to invite critques as well as encouragement. This is such an amazing opportunity to learn.

    Freida, it is for you and others like you that I do this work. I’m glad it helps you know you’re not alone.


  • What an exquisite poem by Rainer Maria Rilke. He has always spoken to my heart. Thank you for sharing this, dear Bob.

  • Oh Eric, please ask your father to check out my essay and then see if he feels he is still “too old” to join our community! As for not being comfortable with English, I’m sure Audrey, Marcin and others would tell him it just doesn’t matter. We’re all about the language of photographs, the language of the heart.

  • running girl 17 & 12 , framed portrait hanging on the wall

  • Dear Patricia

    David wrote:
    “Patricia is not a professional photographer.”

    Yes, nobody will pay you for your essay (or maybe will?) so you can be a pro photographer, but if I don’t know you and this story I would say that this essay is full professional, very deep, reasonable and pried story.
    But I know you so I can say; this is full professional, very deep, reasonable and pried and very brave personal story.
    Hats off.

  • Chère Patricia,

    You know all the good of which I think of your work, I love your new images, the swimming pool, the bird, painting, the image of the running, the beach…
    What I appreciate in your your photography, it is this sweetness, this optimism, this courage, you are an inspiration for me, I am sure that you are realizing a work which will mark the history of the photography…

    Amitiés, audrey

  • Hi Patricia.

    Thank you for having the courage to show us this essay.

    I like the essay very much. You have shown some compelling pictures and I’ve been positively surprised by your essay. “surprised” because after having red the intro, I had certain expectations of pictures in the “sentimental”-category. Well, maybe that’s just me, but I’ve seen my share of essays on similar topics were the pictures are just too obvious. You pretty much avoid the traps. I’ll point to some of the places were I think you actually did present obvious, border-line boring pictures.

    The picture of you holding a photograph with yourself running a marathon (#17)is the style I had expected. To me it’s too obvious a picture to be included in the essay. The picture with your hand holding the bike wheel is in the same category, though somewhat more subtle. To me it balances on the edge of being too sentimental for my taste. The picture with the painting of you on the wall (#12) is the strongest of the “broken dreams”-series. It pretty much obliviates the need for the other pictures mentioned above. I’ll try to explain.

    If you have scleroses or other conditions there is a lot of things you cannot do (like marathon or bicycle racing). But, we know that. so, show the things we don’t know – like you have done so briliantly in some of the other photos. For example the picture with you singing at the piano. It just blew me away. Here you reveal a lot of your personality (eg. tatoo, “No War”-sign). At the same time the picture is filled with love for life for it’s own sake. A closer look might reveal hints of your condition, but it’s not the prominent feature. Thus, to me, this picture tells me a lot more about you, your life and your attitude than any other picture in the essay – though it’s not your best picture here evaluated after pure aesthetic/artistic values (whatever that means). Some of the other pictures really shows you potential as a photographer.

    What I’m trying to say is that pictures like number 5 (love the toe nails) and 6, just to mention a couple, show that you not only are an eminent visual story teller, but also have very good “eyes”.

    All the best,
    Soren Larsen.

    NB: It’s obvious that english is not my first language – and I’m worried that I come across too harsh. So, I have deleted a lot in the above and I hope you’ll take it all in the best meaning (and that my text still makes sense).

  • 8, 9 and 10 are my favourites. I think I will retain this feel that old ladies in scooters are spying me anywhere I go.

  • Yes, nobody will pay you for your essay (or maybe will?) -marcin luczkowski

    i will, i’d pay loads, i’d even invest to be sure it became available in print, and i’d not feel sinsister when it attracts a cult following,… if Ms. Lay-Dorsey would let me have just a teeny weeny editorial influnce ;-) xxx O X O

    All the best,
    Soren Larsen

    good job Soren, it’s not easy trying to explain something so complex, you did well.

    Congratulations Patricia. X O

  • Hello Soren Larsen,
    I understand what you want to say about the photo of the marathon or the cycle, but I am not of your opinion, I like these photos because they are exactly understandable by all, and require no explanation…
    Best regards, audrey

  • Soren, your English is fine. You have given me just the kind of honest feedback I’d hoped for. You help me look at my own work with fresh eyes. Thank you.


  • Joe, your in-depth critique on Road Trips was invaluable to me. I so appreciate your help in my finetuning this project…which, as you know, is ongoing.


  • Yes, I would hope that in some small way my work would help move photography forward, especially in terms of giving others the courage to tell their own stories with as much honesty as possible…especially if their story differs from the norm.

    Too many of us turn our cameras outside of ourselves and try to tell stories we can only guess at. I’ve seen this done too many times in photo essays featuring persons with disabilities. It was my gut reaction to all-too-many sentimental portrayals of those “poor” disabled folks that compelled me to start this project in the first place and to do my best to keep it REAL.


  • First coffee of the day in hand, I sit to see what is happening on Burn and start to read your introduction. It brings tears to my eyes. They are not tears of pity, perhaps tears of empathy but more so, I feel your work evokes a note of understanding. The world is so full of destruction, hate and unkindness and I wonder how many acts of understanding it takes for people to find their hearts. I believe this is one step in the right direction. Congratulations Patricia.

  • i was moved to tears.. just beautiful….. my emotions mixed because i have had a mother very ill the past few months and have been documenting.. bringing my camera every time i visit… while she is now in an “awakening” period… … the sensitiviy of being so up close and personal with a loved one is life changing… and i sense the same thing watching your piece.. even one step closer than documenting my mother.. but documenting “self “…. raw .. honest. beautiful…

  • Hi Patricia,

    I think 2, 3 and 10 are beautifully shot and my favorite. great work.

  • Courage. Wisdom. Living.

    I’ve learned a lot today internalizing your exquisite essay. You are simply extraordinary.

  • Thank you Patricia, what a wonderful day to start the day off.
    Excellent essay and so much honesty in the photos.
    Thank you.

  • friend –

    standing humbly corrected

    both powerful images


  • Congratulations Patricia! Lovely work, insightful, without pity (obviously non required here), very personal moments shared. Thank you.

    At first viewing, my favorites are 9, 11, 12 (a subtle photograph, it reminds me of the cover of Joseph Koudelka’s book Gypsies – the old man holding a photograph of himself when young. It’s not the same but it evokes the same emotional response; like Paul Simon’s song Bookends) 14 19 21 23 (life goes on – another Beatles song – love the tat!) 26 28. Hope this helps.

    Mike R.

  • Lovely Patricia,:)))

    I love your essay very much. I always have recognized that Real artist must be honest to himself(herself) and to his work. And I think that All arts comes from our own trauma. Your works are very honest to you. So your works touch me very much. At the first days of year …very amazing and beatiful essay…Thank you so so much…Wish all happiness!


  • oh patricia…

    i watched your essay twice last night – through wet eyes – and awoke this morning thinking about you and your story. what was running around in my brain all night was that it has become too easy to look at photos of hardship such as war and poverty unblinkingly, with a hidden heart – i suppose because they cry out for our attention constantly and they feel so overwhelming that the only thing we can do sometimes is shut down. but the portrayal of the necessary simplicity of your complicated life and the quiet things that you see and have meaning to you, plus your “live out loud” attitude about it all, gave me pause.

    out beyond ideas of art and not art… isn’t photography really about communicating a feeling? the wet eyes many of us shared had nothing to do with pity, but about feeling something. you transcended the lens and instantly connected us to the beauty you see in the seemingly mundane around you. you somehow removed the obstacle of my own mobility to share a perspective on beauty i would have missed. you are brave on the rocks!

  • Patricia..

    what an uplifting few first I felt that knowing you would forever skew my ability to really SEE this work, that I would see ore or less or differently because of familiarity. But this morning I feel like I am seeing this work for the first time, and am so pleased for you. At times I felt like these images could only be captured by someone else looking in from the outside, but coincident with that is the magic that these are moments that only you could show. Not sure how you managed that, except for a combination of egoless-ness and self knowing.. Also a big sigh of congratulations at having this finished or somewhat moves on. Big hug!

  • patricia–

    you are truly Luminous.

    my only critique is that i feel there are too many photos
    that feature your feet/toes. 6 out of 31.
    it just feels a bit repetitive.

    i absolutely adore the one with you and ed at the piano.
    i would love to do a print trade with you on that.
    i want it on my wall to be a constant reminder
    of why i Love Life so much.
    and i have the perfect photo to gift to you in exchange. :)
    let me know..

    looking forward,



  • Happy new beginnings dear Patricia!
    very strong series. my bows to you. I’ve seen many of the pictures before, and have looked at the essay a number of times today. the series is a powerful celebration of ordinary things that most of us take for granted till the moment they disappear no matter how hard we try to grasp to them. i appreciate your celebration of life and loss that comes with it. thank you for sharing your wisdom, pain, and courage and warmth – a wonderful light within you with others.

  • Patricia,

    You have a fantastic eye for composition – you have that “loose” quality that DAH talks about.

    My favorites are the images that are less obvious. I would try and stick in that vein. The ones that work less for me are the obvious stick it on a tripod and get everything lined up straight shots. I like the intimacy that happens when it’s your hand holding the camera, or even when the camera is seemingly just set down on a table or dresser near you. Keep it loose and somewhat mysterious.

    It’s a brave and moving piece (I’ll admit I haven’t watched it with the music yet – really don’t think it would add much anyway). Best of luck with your health and future.


  • Such helpful feedback from everyone. I’m just listening listening listening, doing my best to be open to new ways of seeing. Thank you, thank you to all who have taken the time to look at my essay. And special thanks to those who have shared their responses to it with me, either here or by email. A new year, a new beginning…


  • I just notice that I made mistake with sentence when I wrote you can be a pro photographer and should be you can’t be pro photographer I hope you understood what I mean anyway.
    Even if pro mean earning money I think you just have pro quality.
    but anyway… hats off.

  • Marcin, I understood what you mmeant and greatly appreciate your enccouraging words. Thaank you, my friend.

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