Photolucida: Patricia Lay-Dorsey: Tea for Two
Patricia Lay-Dorsey is a force of nature. Over the years when I see her at various portfolio reviews, she is grinning ear to ear, gracefully maneuvering her mobility scooter between tables, and presenting a myriad of projects with a fierce enthusiasm for all things photography. Several years ago, I was drawn to her project Falling into Place, a self-portrait series that reveals life from the viewpoint of someone with a severe disability. The project went on to become a well-celebrated book with articles and exhibitions around the globe.
Recently, she brought several projects to Photolucida; her newest is about a man she has lived with for almost 50 years–her husband, Eddie. Using cell phone capture, Patricia has created a series about love, companionship, and being present in the everyday.
Tea for Two
On January 28, 1966, I had my first date with a man named Eddie. After saying good night and closing my apartment door, I leaned against it and said to myself, “I’m going to marry that man.” Ten months later, I did.
Forty-nine years to the day after that first date, I post a blurry b/w iPhone picture on Instagram with the caption, “I am trying to break my addiction to sharp focus.” Within two months, I have taken and posted on Instagram hundreds of b/w soft-focus iPhone photos of my day-to-day life, especially my life at home with my husband, Eddie.
What starts as an artistic and technical challenge soon becomes a new way of seeing. And the lens I use has nothing to do with aperture or ISO and everything to do with the life energy I see around me. My earlier photos of the “real” world now look stilted and unnatural. Instead, the blurry forms in my new photographs seem to capture the vibrational energy of people, places, and things in ways that sharp focus never did. Recognizing that this series is more about seeing than style, I call it “Looking Into (Not At).”
A few months into what I see as a long-term project, it suddenly occurs to me that this is the way I saw the world as a child. I think of the day I left the eye doctor’s office at age 11 wearing my brand-new glasses. When I saw my first tree, I remember being shocked that you could actually see the leaves. Until that moment I thought trees looked like those pictured in coloring books, big shapes with no details. No wonder I feel so comfortable with this new way of seeing!
Three days after starting this project we enter the third coldest February in Detroit’s history with weeks of temperatures in single digits, not infrequently dropping below 0°F. The snow never lets up nor does it melt; it just keeps piling up higher and higher. As a disabled woman who uses a mobility scooter and wheelchair accessible minivan with a ramp, photo ops outside the house become limited because it is just too hard to get around. So my home and my husband of 48 years become my primary subjects. One night I take pictures out the front window of a mammoth snowstorm and then of its aftermath on our screened porch. I capture Eddie reading in his chair at night, getting ready for bed, shaving and even in the shower. I also take “selfies.” After discovering the CamTimer app, it becomes easier to take iPhone pictures with both of us in the frame. On February 14th, I take a portrait of Eddie and me kissing. It is our 50th Valentine’s Day together.
In April 2015, I bring twenty-two 12”x12” prints from the series to the New York Times Lens portfolio review in NYC and to Photolucida in Portland, Oregon. The edit I show to the portfolio reviewers focuses on my life at home with Eddie. I have since named this edit “Tea For Two” after the song Eddie has played on the piano, and we have sung together almost every day since we married in 1966. Yes, long marriages take commitment and perseverance, but it is creativity, humor and love that give voice to the song.
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