Fine Art Photography Daily

Marydorsey Wanless: The States Project: Kansas


©Marydorsey Wanless

Marydorsey Wanless is a revered artist and teacher.  I have the good fortune of saying that she is my mentor and friend. Marydorsey teaches the craft and technical aspects of photographic practice, but also stresses the importance of “letting go” of the camera. You see her pedagogical approach reflected in her work: she practices what she preaches. Marydorsey embraces serendipity—deliberately exploiting the artifacts of the antiquated processes she employs—never losing sight of the gravity of the ideas present in her photographs. Wanless courageously, unflinchingly, stares mortality in the face. Her work is a culmination of her unique vision, the inspiration she has gained from her mentors, and the reciprocal relationships she has forged with pupils inside and outside of the academic institution. I hope you enjoy her work as much as I do.

Marydorsey Wanless is a fine art photographer and educator living in Topeka, Kansas. She is an Associate Professor Emerita of Photography in the Art Department at Washburn University in Topeka, where she has taught black/white darkroom, digital, and alternative process photography for sixteen years.

Marydorsey is a photo-based visual artist working with historical photographic alternative processes. Her work incorporates personal experiences combined with the photographic processes. She has exhibited regionally, nationally, and internationally; she has received many awards, including the grand prize in the SoHo Gallery’s alternative photography show, The Krappy Kamera Exhibit 2009. 

Marydorsey’s work has been published in SilverShotz, Art Buzz, Plates to Pixels Magazine, Visual Overture Magazine, Lightleaks, Shots, and Feminist Media Studies. Her images are included in many textbooks including the Third Edition of Christopher James’s Book of Alternative Photographic Processes,  Christina Anderson’s Gum Printing and Other Amazing Contact Printing Processes, Jill Enfield’s Guide to Alternative Photographic Processes, and Plastic Cameras: Toying with Creativity by Michelle Bates.

Marydorsey received a Bachelors of Science in Art Education with teaching certification in 1971, a Masters of Arts in Interior Design in 1972, both from University of Missouri at Columbia, and a Masters of Fine Arts in Photography from Kansas State University in 2009.


Breaking 60

Photography has always been a method to collect evidence. This seems an appropriate medium for collecting evidence and documenting my aging process.

I am very concerned with my aging body and my health. As a woman ages, there are many choices to be made and many issues to dealt with. These have been brought to the forefront with an accident this summer that left me in a wheel chair for a week. I was unable to propel my body on crutches because I wasn’t strong enough. I was totally dependent upon a loving caregiver, but felt totally out of control, dependent, and vulnerable. Mild depression ensued as I contemplated that taste of aging and dependency. 

Research shows that aging is a very personal and individualized process. There are many factors: gender, culture, weather, education, socioeconomic levels, genetics, disease, accidents, different rates of aging, biological and physical components. Now I’m told I have “osteopino” or a slight depletion of calcium in my bones: bone density scans, more exercise, calcium, stronger medication?  I am stiff when I awake in the morning: Advil, stronger medication, yoga? I have passed through a rough menopause; what about hormone therapy, heart attacks, breast cancer?  I can’t see without glasses and I have a cataract; laser surgery, lens replacement?

When we are younger, we are always building, gathering, collecting: relationships, families, possessions, skills, money, dreams, and regrets. Growing older means letting go, losing, surrendering. Growing older is an acceptance of things we can’t change.

I am contemplating losses such as: independence, physical abilities, physical power, mental facilities, memory, emotional health, relationships, friends, family, parents, health, eye sight, sexuality, decaying body, dreams, hopes, disappointments. There is already a reduced importance of my body. It is no longer useful for reproduction, strength, or power; it doesn’t work properly; it will be cut up, dissected, diseased.  It will only be useful to house my spirit and soul.

As I pass the point where I have more years behind me than in front of me, I wonder what legacy I will leave to my children, my grandchildren, and the world. I need time to rethink the lessons acquired throughout my life. I feel the need to categorize.  It is time to build personal altars: what is to be kept, treasured, protected, preserved? 


©Marydorsey Wanless


Epiphany: an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking; an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure;  a revealing scene or moment. All of us move through emotionally-charged times in our lives, and in the turmoil, unnoticed threads disentangle, allowing us to reexamine the complexity and intricacy of our situations. We are able to come to new understandings about ourselves, about our positions in life, and about our relationships with others.


©Marydorsey Wanless


©Marydorsey Wanless


©Marydorsey Wanless


©Marydorsey Wanless



Tintype images of hands on an aching back, “lumbago,” my personal journey into the aging process. Images form a narrative without beginning or end, without starts or stops, emphasizing constant aches and pains. Variety of color, contrast, brightness, shape provide visual rhythm throughout the multiples of black aluminum. I use photography to collect evidence, and tintypes to reference the deterioration of the body and the timelessness of growing older.


©Marydorsey Wanless


©Marydorsey Wanless


©Marydorsey Wanless


©Marydorsey Wanless



Photography has always been a method to collect evidence. This seems an appropriate medium for documenting my aging process. I am contemplating losses such as independence, physical abilities, physical power, mental facilities, memory, emotional health, relationships, friends, family, parents, health, eye sight, sexuality, decaying body, dreams, hopes, disappointments. 

Yet, as I say goodbye, I also say hello to a new life, and to a renewal of spirit and soul. As I age, I find it easier to look on the positive side. I feel liberated. Life is less complicated, and I am embracing the aging process. It is a time to rethink the lessons of life, but not to waste time worrying about what might have been or what comes next.


©Marydorsey Wanless


©Marydorsey Wanless


©Marydorsey Wanless

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