Friday, February 28, 2014

Patricia Lay-Dorsey Presentation

by Frank Boles

On February 24, Patricia Lay-Dorsey, author of Falling Into Place: Self Portraits: A Compelling narrative of the photographer’s day-to-day life with a disability, spoke in the Park Library Auditorium. It was indeed a compelling narrative as Ms. Lay-Dorsey described her life as a photographer and as a person diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS).

What was particularly interesting was the discussion with the audience, which largely revolved around Patricia’s professional endeavors rather than her illness. That turn of discussion was important, I believe, because it reinforced something she herself had said during her presentation. In looking at photographs taken of those suffering with MS, the photographer’s tended to frame the person as either heroically overcoming an obstacle or a tragic victim of disease which had ruined their life. Patricia’s self portraits strove to be neither heroic nor tragic, but simply to show her life. She is a photographer, and like all photographers she does her work living with certain personal limitations.

Her presentation, and the questions which followed, reminded me of a conversation I had many years ago with a student who also was diagnosed with MS. She, like Patricia, used a power scooter to move about. One day I asked her what she, and her friends who also used scooters daily, called people who did not need the device. “TABs,” she replied. When I looked a bit blankly at her, she smiled and said, “Temporarily Able Bodied.”

Patricia Lay-Dorsey’s presentation told the story of a published photographer who, like everyone else, works within the physical parameters that meet us when we awaken in the morning. When asked about the subject of her disability, she said something very interesting. People, she noted, are almost invariably kind to her, helping with her occasional need for assistance. Patricia’s heart went out to people with hidden disabilities, psychological diagnoses that have no obvious external signs but which can be equally or even more challenging than physical disabilities. The recognition and help she receives simply is not offered to individuals with hidden disabilities.

It was a thoughtful and enlightening evening, both because of the interesting description of the work of a skilled photographer, and the sharing of some thoughtful insights into the human condition.