Patricia Lay-Dorsey

Falling Into Place
Location: Detroit, Michigan, USA
Nationality: United States
Biography: BIOGRAPHY Born in Washington, DC in 1942, Patricia Lay-Dorsey brings her training as a social worker (MSW, Smith College School for Social Work, 1966), studies in fine arts at Detroit’s Center for Creative Studies (1976-79) and over three... MORE
Public Story
Falling Into Place
Copyright Patricia Lay-Dorsey 2023
Updated Jul 2011
Topics social documentary, self portraits, disability

I lived with multiple sclerosis for 20 years before taking the self-portraits that appear in the series, Falling Into Place. During those years I moved from walking unaided to walking with a cane, from a cane to a walker, and in 2000 from a walker to a 3-wheeled motorized scooter.

 As an artist-turned-photographer, whenever I would see photo essays or articles featuring persons with disabilities, I would assess the work both photographically and personally. The photographs might be superb, but all too often nondisabled photographers would fall into the trap of presenting their subjects as brave, pitiable or some mix of the two. As a woman living with a disability I knew I was neither brave nor pitiable; I was simply doing my best to live a full life with the hand I’d been dealt. One morning in June 2008 I decided it was time to show exactly how that looked to me.

 I took the first self-portrait of this series while sitting on the toilet with sunlight puddled in my lap. I decided to take my camera into the shower. I propped it on the bed as I dressed. I sat in the stair lift and focused on my scooter waiting in the hall below. I took photographs as I worked out at the gym and as I sang with my husband at the piano. I even managed to capture a few falls.

 I spent the next 15 months documenting the most ordinary moments of my life. I wanted to make good photographs but more importantly I wanted the truth. No glorified images of a courageous woman overcoming adversity; simply a view from the inside of what it’s like to live with a disability. As time went on I found myself trying to express more about how I felt than how I looked. Occasionally my two roles, photographer and subject, fought for control. The photographer in me insisted on opening closed doors, shining her light on intimate details that the subject might have preferred to keep hidden, details that had previously been cause for shame.

 Before beginning this project I had not realized how ashamed I was of being seen as disabled. My falls, my claw-like hands, my struggles to get in and out of bed, my inability to cut my food by myself, all the times I drop things on the floor were now made public. As the project progressed, I became more comfortable with my unique way of being in the world. By looking at my disability through the lens of a camera, it became interesting not shameful.

 My intention is to give viewers a truthful look into my life. For the non-disabled viewer this series lets them place themselves within a body that operates differently from their own, while helping them see our common humanity. To the disabled viewer I say, celebrate your life just as it is. Your differences make you who you are.

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