Sunday, March 29, 2009

off to NYC

Tomorrow--Monday--my friend Pat and I are off to New York City. Again! My third trip to New York in eight months. Lucky me! The trip is (officially) to attend my dear niece Carolyn's wedding to her beloved Jonathan in New Jersey on Saturday, April 4, but we're extending it to have 4 days and nights in the city first. One of those days David Alan Harvey and I are planning to meet for a final edit of my Falling Into Place self portrait project. And Pat's and my nights are already filled with plans for theater, dance and music. Oh my, I'm getting excited just writing about it!

Although I'll have my laptop along I doubt if there will be any tme for "computing," so this will probably be my final entry for the week. Have a lovely week everyone...

P.S. I took this photo from the ferry last August.

Friday, March 27, 2009

my gallery show opening

What a success! And I'm not talking about my photos; I'm talking about the people. Today was the opening of my "Active Elders" exhibit (go to my website to see a tight edit of the portfolio) and a good time was had by all. At least that's how it seemed to me. Many of the women and men whose portraits were on the walls were there, as well as folks from other chapters of my life like Pointes For Peace, the Raging Grannies, St. Leo's church community (where I haven't been since 1993), a woman who works out at the same gym as I, two women from our neighborhood, and even Maria who had done all the printing and mounting of my photos and her co-worker Clarence who was EVERYWHERE today taking photos! My husband was there even though he rarely ventures beyond the perimeters of our community. Dear Eddie. Nine of us from my chorus--the Gaia Women of the Great Lakes Basin--sang, and everyone joined in as we'd hoped. Mary Alice had made beautiful song sheets and was the perfect song leader for the day. By the way, two of the Gaia women and one husband (pictured here with Mr. Freeman) came across the border from Ontario to be with us.

Oh my, it was like a homecoming...and I didn't have to leave home. Because that's what this gallery feels like to me, home. It's in the same building as the classes where I've taken at least 1000 photos of these amazing elders over the past nine months. And they are now like family to me. How fortunate I am!

You'll be interested to know that after all my worrying about people being upset that their pictures weren't in the exhibit, no one said anything negative at all. Everything was love and joy! Just goes to show what a waste of time it is to worry...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mary views my show

Well, it's up! All forty-two of the large photos and eighty of the small ones are on the walls of the Ellen Kayrod Gallery in Detroit awaiting Friday's opening reception. So the work is ready but am I? This is a strange feeling, to see months of work "in the flesh," no longer just on my laptop. People ask if I'm excited and I have to admit that is not exactly the word I'd use. Relieved. Satisfied. Grateful. Those words more accurately describe what I'm feeling. A bit uneasy too. And my uneasiness was borne out by an encounter I had while the curator and I were hanging the show on Monday.

One of the maintanence workers in the building that houses both the Senior Learning Center where I took the photos and the gallery where my show is hung, came into the gallery to check things out. His first comment was, "I don't see any pictures of me here." Now, this is a fellow I only saw a few times during the nine months I was working on this project. I don't even know his name and I'm sure he doesn't know mine. But he went on, "I helped you out that time. Remember? Why didn't you take a picture of me then?" I tried to explain that I was focusing on the participants in the classes, but he was having none of it. "There's a picture of Larry, my boss." Well, yes, that picture of Larry working the desk in the lobby was the first one I ever took. And Curtis, his co-worker, was also photographed. But only because he often joined the art class to draw and paint. I tell you, this fellow hammered away at me for a full five minutes without let up. Nothing I said satisfied him. So do you see why I'm a bit uneasy about the opening on Friday?

I was so conscious of this problem while choosing which photos to show. I knew some folks were going to feel left out and probably hurt if their picture wasn't included. But I've met at least a hundred individuals over these past nine months, many of whom were not in the few classes I focused on. And of course the photos I showed needed to satisfy my rather rigorous demands for quality. Anyway, I did the best I could to show as many people as possible in my final edit. That was why I included the 4'x6' photo collage with 80 small prints.

OK, so I just need to clear my head, realize not everyone will be happy, and go on from there. I feel good about the show myself and terribly grateful to the wonderful people who let me into their lives. Friday will be fine if I just stay true to myself.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

installing my Active Elders exhibit

On Thursday Mary Herbeck, the curator of the Ellen Kayrod Gallery in Detroit, and I got my photo collage completed and hung. We would have gotten some of the forty-two 12"x18" photos hung too but we ran out of the velcro fittings they required. Mary had thought we could use another substance to hang these photos that are mounted on foamcore, but it turned out they were too heavy. Apparently she was able to hang two walls on Friday and said there was so much traffic coming in and out of the gallery that she finally had to close the doors. After my having been taking photos of these elders for over nine months, there's lots of curiosity about whose portraits made the final cut. Actually it was my anticipation of this heightened interest that inspired me to add the collage of eighty 4"x6" photos to the show. I wanted as many persons as possible to feel included. I was fortunate to find the perfect poem by the great African-American poet Langston Hughes to post beside the collage. It goes:


I been scared and battered.
My hopes the wind done scattered.
Snow has friz me,
Sun has baked me,

Looks like between 'em they done
Tried to make me

Stop laughin', stop lovin', stop livin'--
But I don't care!
I'm still here!

by Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

On Monday I'll be going back to the gallery to continue helping Mary hang the show. There was a bit of a problem with three photos that needed to be replaced due to some minor imperfections, but Maria, the printer who has been doing all my work, made a gigantic effort and managed to accomplish the task this afternoon. Today I also completed my Photographer's Statement that will be mounted on the wall of the gallery, so I am finally finished with my responsibilities. YIPPEE!!! The exhibit opens with a reception at which my women's singing group will perform--I'll be singing with them too--on Friday from 12:30-2:30 pm, so we're in good shape.

This is my Photographer's Statement:

Photographs are NOT the experience itself; they are mere glimpses into a moment that passes as soon as you’ve “captured” it with your camera.

What you see on the walls of this gallery are glimpses collected over the months I’ve been privileged to share with these amazing women and men who carry the history of our country’s best and worse times within the cells of their being.

How grateful I am for their openness, teachings, kindness and contagious love of life. Photos are nice but personal experience is everything.

Patricia Lay-Dorsey
Detroit, Michigan

March 27, 2009

Saturday, March 14, 2009

me, me, me...

"but i agree about the future test in showing something that's not all about me, me, me."

The above is a quote from one of the posters on Burn Magazine. He wasn't referring to my essay but he might have been. Yes, nine months of pointing the camera at oneself can easily deteriorate into navel-gazing. I was just lucky that I started my "Active Elders" photo project at the Hannan Center for Senior Learning just two days after my self portrait series. They've been running concurrently and I think that has saved me from getting too focused on "me, me, me." Sometimes, though, I've felt like a juggler trying to keep one too many balls in the air.

Right now both projects are coming to a climax of sorts. The exhibition of "Active Elders"--of which you can see a tight edit on my website--is opening on March 27. The gallery curator and I start hanging the show next Thursday, March 19. On Monday I'll be picking up the last six mounted prints at the camera store. The show includes 41 prints--12"x18"--mounted on foamcore. There will also be a wall of 85-90 small 4"x6" prints.

My challenge has been to choose photos that show as many of the participants in the Hannan House classes as possible, while keeping a close eye on quality. It has not been easy. But that's why I'm adding the small prints--just so everyone will be seen. And I also wanted to keep my print prices low enough so that folks could afford to buy them. That's where the foamcore came in. It really looks quite good, though, so the artist in me is satisfied.

The photo-taking phase of my self portraits essay--"Falling Into Place"--is also in its final month. By now it's not easy to come up with new ideas but I'm doing my best. This morning I made yet another attempt at photographing myself getting out of bed. I've been working at this since my very first day of shooting and was not yet satisfied. This one might work, though. I like the lighting. It kind of makes the whole thing look a bit mysterious, which to me is a plus. I'm trying to avoid overly-obvious shots, but it doesn't always work out that way.

Gosh, long-term projects are a challenge. Trying to stay edgy can be almost impossible. For me anyway. I often find myself sliding into a narrative, storytelling mode that borders on the obvious, and that's not what I want. I want visual poetry. Easier said than done.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

nine monhs later

This is the very first photo I took for my self portraits project, the one that I now call Falling Into Place. Yesterday, March 11, marked the nine month anniversary of the start of that project. A full term pregnancy. Time for the birth of something new.

I've never worked on a photograph project for this long. Back when I was a visual artist I remember staying with one project--Phantasy Rooms--for over a year, but my photo essays have generally been completed within 2-3 months. The strange thing is that I've been working on not one but TWO photo essays for the past nine months. The other is what I call "Active Elders." It is composed of photos I've taken of mostly African-American elders who take classes at the Hannan Center for Senor Learning in downtown Detroit. You can see a tight edit of this essay on my website.

Both projects are coming into their fullness. Forty of the the Active Elders photos will be shown in a solo exhibition at the Ellen Kayrod Gallery in Detroit, March 27-May 8. There is an opening reception from 12:30-2:30 p.m. on Friday, March 27. My women's chorus--the Gaia Women of the Great Lakes Basin--will be singing and there will be a free buffet lunch served. Join us if you can!

Falling Into Place is in its final months of shooting. By June I plan to have a self-published Blurb photobook ready to show art book publishers at LOOK3: the Festival of the Photograph in Charlottesville, Virginia, June 11-13.

Ah yes, the birth is imminent...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

last week winter; this week spring

March is doing its level best to keep us guessing. In the past four days we received enough rain that, had it been snow, it would have accumulated over 15 inches/38 cm. But lucky us, the temps stayed above freezing. However folks who live in low-lying areas close to rivers and creeks were not so lucky. There has been flooding all over the state (Michigan). Today the rains have been replaced by sun and wind...and lots of puddles!

Monday, March 9, 2009

my new website is up!

I've lost count of how many websites and blogs I've had over the years, but my brand new one--Patricia Lay-Dorsey, photography--feels like the most significant yet. Of course I always say that, being one who is prone to hyperbole. But it really feels like the start of a new level of commitment to my work, work that I adore.

Actually I have my life as a blogger to thank for introducing me to digital cameras.

It was December 2000 and I had been keeping a daily blog for ten months. Someone-I don't remember who--said I should add photos to my daily ramblings, so I bought a Hewlett Packard point-and-shoot digital camera and that was the start. I soon moved up to a Fuji FinePix with a powerful zoom. It served me well until July 2006. That was when I decided to get serious about my photography. On July 4th, a couple of professional photographers I encountered at one of Detroit's many street festivals, advised me to buy the Canon Rebel XT. The next day I did and I've been hooked ever since.

As a single-minded passionate person who throws herself full force into every moment of life, it was no surprise that photography soon became an obsession. When I started I didn't know an f stop from an aperture but that soon changed. In October 2006 I took a "Fundamentals of Photography" course at a local community college and that--plus shooting every day--gave me what I needed to use my camera on settings other than Automatic. The following spring I took a series of classes called "Photoshop for Photographers" at the art college where I'd studied painting, life drawing and sculpture back in the 1970s...and I was off and running!

Oh yes, four months after buying my Canon Rebel I joined, an international photo sharing website. The photographers I met there inspired, supported, educated and expanded my vision of what photography was and how I could express my own unique way of seeing and being in the world. I am especially indebted to Phil Douglis who mentored me for months in the principles and nuances of what he calls "expressive photography." Phil's online cyberbook, Expressive Travel Photography: communicating with pictures, is an excellent resource for all levels of photographers.

In April 2008 I made a life-changing connection and that was with the Brooklyn-based Magnum photographer David Alan Harvey. At that time David was scheduled to offer a six-day workshop called "The Photographic Essay" to be held as part of LOOK 3: the Festival of the Photograph in Charlottesville, Virgina in June. I signed up for his workshop and, in doing so, learned about his interactive blog called "Road Trips." I quickly became a regular poster there. But, as it happened, my plans to attend David's workshop had to be scrapped. My dear Ed's back sent him to the hospital in May and then onto a months-long journey of pain and limited physical abilities. I needed to stay home with him. But that didn't keep me from pursuing my photography and, in fact, it allowed time for a brand new series to emerge, one that used self portraits to show my world view as a woman with a disability. When David saw the first twelve photos posted online he declared it to be a book-in-the making and offered to mentor me. We've been working together ever since.

On the first day of 2009, David Alan Harvey published a tight edit of my "Falling Into Place" self portrait essay on his brand new online magazine called BURN. I continue to take photos for this project and plan to do so through the spring. In early April David and I will meet in NYC and do a final edit for the self-published Blurb book I'll be creating to show to publishers.

By the way, this will not be the first time David and I have met in person. In late July he and his assistant, Mike Courvoisier, went hours out of their way to drive to our home outside Detroit. At that time, DAH did the first tight edit of my work. He also took a portrait of Ed and me for his "off on a family drive" photo project. Then in October 2008 my friend Pat Kolon and I drove to Brooklyn to attend a Slideshow/Fiesta that marked the end of one of David's week-long workshops in his loft. I was also able to sit in on the final day of that workshop.

One last note about persons who have been significant in my photographic life. In August 2008 I took a weekend workshop at the Center of Photography in Woodstock, NY with the world-respected social documentary photographer Mary Ellen Mark. The first day was devoted to a portfolio review. When I laid out ten large prints from my "Falling Into Place" self portrait project, Mary Ellen just smiled and said softly to herself, "These are excellent, really excellent." Mary Ellen and I spent over an hour together the next day talking and walking around the Ulster, NY County Fair where we'd gone for a photo shoot. That was when I took the photo posted above. It's probably the first time most folks have ever seen MEM with her hair unbraided! Mary Ellen has continued to support me by email, and for that I am deeply grateful.

Whew! I didn't know I was going to go all these places when I started this entry, but, hey, that's what being a blogger is all about! So now I'm going to stop this historical essay and get back to work on preparing for the gallery exhibit of my "Active Elders" photo essay that's opening in less than two weeks. I shall return...