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”

  • Patricia,
    You’ve inspired me as a photographer but it’s more than that you’ve kindled my spirit..
    Congratulations I love this series..
    x Roe

  • Mrs. Dorsey, I am “wet behind my eyes” with the beauty, the honesty and the bravery of your photo story. You have always inspired me, I’ve always been grateful for your impact on my life and this essay continues that inspiration and gratitude.

    Love Colleen

  • Grannie Patricia, I was fascinated by you years ago when we first met on the shores of Lake Michigan
    at a UDOM retreat, and am still amazed by your inate artistic talent and many abilities. You do inspire
    others to continue the good fights for social justice in many ways. And so would I like (occasionally)
    to do some of the things I used to do and no longer can.That is part of growing,along with replacing
    those old habits, hobbies, with continually new adventures—–that’s staying young!

  • Beautiful…..just beautiful.

    Thank you for creating such moving photography….


  • hey grandmas techno..

    excellent.. very good.. and loving some of the newer photos which i must have missed while you edited..

    particlar favs for me remain the dead bird.. the book on your chair with the family picnic background.. your self portrait.. great.

    brave woman you are and great to read so many comments.. next stop – publishers, or another few months shooting?

  • Patricia, when I saw you soar through Grandmother’s Hills, and sing your heart out all day and night, then go swimming in the coooold lake, I said ,”MMMM what a woman!” Mary (ANE)

  • To my photographer and non-photographer friends, old and new…

    The making of this essay has forced me to look at hard truths about my unique way of being in the world, realities I’ve often preferred to ignore. As those of you who know me in real life realize, I don’t like to show that being disabled cramps my style. But sometimes it does. And a few of these photos show those moments all too graphically.

    For instance, the photo of me on the floor was taken when I’d actually taken a fall. Happily, I could reach my camera in my scooter’s basket and take advantage of the moment. But it still took me 45 minutes to get up again. That was the only time I’ve ever felt a fall was worth it!

    So now it’s all “out there” for the world to see. The responses I’ve received have shown me that this is important work I’m doing. And it’s not about the quality of the photos either–although I hope they don’t detract–but rather about the quality of life I’m trying to maintain.

    As I continue this project, I can promise you one thing: to tell my story as truthfully as I can. That, to me, is the essential core of this work. Truth.

    Thank you for your encouragement, suggestions and support. It means more than I can say.


  • Patricia, It was so nice to see the photos. I know you have been shooting for a long time and I have very much enjoyed your photo documentation of so many amazing events, but this work is deeper and more beautiful than any I have seen so far. The use of light and shadow, the depth of field, and use of closeup are just wonderful.

    Thank you so much.

    I hope I will see you on Feb 7 at the Gaia gathering.


  • These are really lovely and poignant, Patricia. I especially like the photos of you and Ed. Congratulations.

  • so nice again to “blaetter” (turn the pages) of the burn magazine. I feel just a bit annoyed that I don’t need to pay anything for the service/experience/enjoyment. Not that I’m used to pay for photography especially on internet, even books I only “blaetter(ed)” in the bookstores, but here on internet not even advertisements! Thanks for the wonderful feelings that shine through your pictures Patricia! Like an excellent photographer would have managed to get into your life and show some of it, getting so close to you. Here is Burn “unique” (nothing comparable) as far as I know! felt like … well … dunno, that’s why pictures are different from words. so much to impressions to share in this world, so much to show

  • Patricia, I’ve just seen the new opening photograph of your essay and I just have to write to say what a great portrait! I’m most impressed – very stong, multiple layers, great colour. Congratulations.

    Best wishes,


  • Thanks so much, Mike, for first finding this new cover photo and then taking the time to comment on it. I was pleased when DAH opened the door to my adding new photos to my essay by saying it could “evolve” as BURN evolves. I have a good number of photos that I’ve taken since my essay was posted on January 1: two of them were added yesterday. And the work continues…


  • Patricia, are they 28 & 29? I love the essay and it is growing in strength. I’ll keep looking for updates.

    Good light!


  • Yes, Mike, the added photos are indeed #28 & #29. You are amazing to recognize that! Thanks again for your support & encouragement.


  • Thanks for these pictures. I love getting a glimps at how other people live.

  • Wow Patricia!! I just wanted to say your new opening mirror image is FIERCE! This picture hits me in the gut – it’s so strong! Keep shooting girl, a great essay just keeps getting better!

  • Patricia,

    I agree with Kerry. Killer first new shot. I love it. One of my favourites!


  • patricia:

    Magnificent new cover image…and i love how it ties in with the nude plaster cast in the background…maybe my favorite photograph from the series :))))…a brilliant opening….now, that i see people are updating, i have to keep tabs on y’all!!


  • Oh, I love your new begining photo very much.
    You’re really falling into yourself…not narcism..exactly face yourself.
    Great! congratulations!

  • you…
    dear Patricia…
    are an inspiration..
    keep shooting…
    keep editing…
    love the torso, in the background…
    the light…..
    are you familiar with VSA in DC?

  • Wow! You folks are so kind with your comments. This photo has special meaning to me because the mirror I’m holding is my paternal grandmother’s silver hand mirror with her initials–LLLL–engraved on the back. And the clay sculpture in the background is one I made when I was in art college in the late 1970s. Feels like I’m coming home…


  • Wendy, I’d never heard of VSA ( but have just checked it out. I see they have a call for exhibition proposals for the 2009-10 season and the deadline is February 20. Thanks to you, I’m going to apply!


  • Oops…just read the VSA submission guidelines & that presents a bit of a problem. The proposed exhibition must include at least five artists, the majority of whom are artists with disabilities. Anyody know any other photographers who address disability issues and/or are disabled themselves?


  • Patricia..
    I might be able to give you some contacts.. We are showing an artist in April, Shay Bredimus, young new talent in LA.. In addition to him, we are hosting the GreenLight exhibit..
    I just met Shay, and he would be one brilliant match for you, and a contact for others… He uses tattoo ink on sheets of a type of film- don’t remember the type of ‘film’…. mmm..
    If not 2009, maybe something to focus on for 2010!! **

  • Hi Patricia,

    I love 28!! it is my favorite image too!!

    Best, audrey

  • Thanks for sharing not just your excellent work, Patricia, you are brilliant as a human being and artist.
    A big and sincere hug from your friend

  • Patricia,
    Your photo essay is exquisite. You paint with your camera and you write beautifully. Thank you for letting me into your inner space. You are wonderful to share your gifted eye with the world.
    How did you get that blue jay to stay long enough to match your sandal? You’re quick.
    More to talk about. Please keep shooting.
    Thank you,

  • Hi Patricia,

    I’m an acquaintance from MichFest, and wanted to let you know I really liked your body of work here. My favorite images were the one of you and Eddie reading together, the one of you looking out the window, and the opening self-portrait.

    As far as a critiques, just a mild one — I wasn’t sure why you included the photo at the coffee shop with the open book.

    Hope to see you back at Fest one of these days, and hope the Michigan cold isn’t getting you too down!


  • What a spectacular intimate and emotional display. I loved the one you took of Eddie outside on the ramp, the one of you two singing, and while at Einstein’s. I can sense great emotion within the photo of you reaching for the bicycle.

  • Patricia, I too have MS (diagnosed 18 years go) and get around on a scooter. My boss is a photographer and forwarded me this link, which I would otherwise have missed. Your photographs say a lot more than words ever could to people LIKE us, people who just LOOK at us, and people who KNOW us and share our lives. I have found the blog I began this Fall (Quigley’s Cabinet) to be the perfect outlet for my own creativity with a minimum of frustration, so that my posts do not vent about my condition, but weave it into my interests – just as it is woven into my life. I link to your essay in the Health Diary I keep in the right-hand column (scroll down). I have attracted a loyal following and have been in touch with many people I would never have met and who now provide invaluable support – of my writing and of my struggles with MS. It’s so nice to be seen as a writer with MS rather than someone with MS who writes, and I imagine you feel the same about your photography. Very moving. I’d love to hear from you.

  • Beautiful photographs. Thanks for sharing your story-very brave!

  • Patricia. The opening shot. Is it new? Just simply stunning. Everything is there in the frame. Very very honest and deeply moving.

  • Patty,
    Dear Friend, what a beautiful inspiring series of photographs you have here. Your honesty is amazing and I am now willing to face our 50th. class reunion, fat as I am, tats that I have, and all. Since we last met at our 20th. reunion I have been wondering how you were doing and I see that perky little Patsy that I knew is still there with a smile on her face and love in her heart.

  • Oh my gawd, Burn even brings old high school classmates together! What I remember about you, dear Thom, was your coming thousands of miles by motorcycle to our 20th reunion. What a guy!!! See you next year at our 50th…


  • And John, sorry, I’d missed your kind comment and question. This cover photo was added about a month after my essay first appeared on Burn. And I actually have Kyunghee Lee to thank for inspiring me to look at my world in new ways. It was the day after looking at her “Clouds’ essay here on Burn that I uncharacteristically awoke before dawn with this idea for a shot. By the way, I’m looking in my paternal grandmother’s silver handmirror that is engraved with her initials, LLLL.


  • you are such a star patricia..
    i´m so sorry we´ll not meet next month.. rocking the bells at detroit EM festival would have been priceless.. but it will happen sometime this year i hope.. for now summer beckons in other places.

    how about visa? you likely to visit the old country for that one?

    the front photo has double meaning for me.. you look somehow sorrowful and resigned.. yet the playful plats in your hair betray a younger heart, creatively weaving something tangible from the passing days.

    amazing you have an old school chum lending you opinion.. knowing you i´ll wager there are stories to be told :ø)

  • Hey, David B, I am SO disappointed that we won’t be dancin’ the night away at the Detroit Electronic music Festival this May! I guess I should have realized when you wrote about your summer rental but I didn’t put two & two together. Ah well, another time. Regarding Visa, I’m afraid Look3 & the much-awaited workshop with DAH and Jim Nachtwey will make extended travels unlikely for me in 2009. But I know we’ll meet someday…


  • yes – the only way i could have made it would have been to punt at getting them to pay my expenses in echange for good press, however i am so out of the loop on teh music mags right now that it would be unlikely..
    and time is really not on my side right now.

    yeps.. one day..
    look3 would have been great – just no chance for me this year either..
    had a good chat with anton and still feel thing pull between expense to go and shoot somewhere and expense to visit photo festivals.. and shooting is still winning right now :ø)

    beate is setting up a torcapa blog.. will mail you the url once she starts posting..

  • YES!!! I have yet to see your little boy. Please keep me in the loop for Beate’s torcapa blog. Can’t wait to see all 3 of you pictured there…

    love from Motown

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