Patricia Lay-Dorsey: Self-Portrait with MS
What do you do when you “get tired of the way nondisabled photographers portray the disabled as either heroic, pathetic or some mix of the two? If you are a photographer who happens to be disabled yourself, you pick up your camera and start taking pictures.” That’s what Patricia Lay-Dorsey, 68, of Detroit, did for 15 months in 2008 and ‘09.
Her photos turned out to be such a honest—and beautiful—look at MS, as well as aging, that well-regarded photographer David Alan Harvey featured her work on his Web site for emerging photographers and mentored her as she put together a book of self-portraits, Falling into Place. A selection of her photos was seen in 2009 in a New York Times feature.
She uses a variety of techniques to create her unusually intimate and unflinching images, including a self-timer. Of one photo, at right, taken after she had had a fall, she wrote, “Yes, my ribs are sore and I have scrapes on my knee, elbow and big toe, but dammit I got the shot. It is the best fall of my life.”
Patricia was diagnosed with primary progressive MS in September 1988. She was using a cane within a few years, then a walker and by 2000, a scooter. “My whole thing is to do whatever I need to do, to live my life how I want to live it. I’ll use any aid I need.”
A former marathon runner, for the first 12 years she had MS, she didn’t exercise. “I thought I couldn’t anymore,” she says. When she finally made it back to the swimming pool, Patricia was shocked to find she couldn’t swim a stroke. Inactivity had gone MS one better. “I took water aerobics, and by the end of the first summer I could swim two lengths. Now, on a good day, I can do 72—a mile. I feel very healthy even though I can’t walk worth a darn.” She also has developed her biceps in twice-weekly workouts with a trainer at the gym. She shows them off with the armband tattoo of a globe with green vines that she got on her birthday four years ago.
“It happens that I live with a disability, so that’s part of what’s in my self-portraits,” Patricia concludes. “It may be a little different from most people’s lives, but it’s still just life. And a full life at that.”