If you’re trying to get in touch with Patricia Lay-Dorsey, the first place to check is a protest happening in the city. Look for the white-haired woman whizzing past in a purple scooter with a camera draped around her neck.
The 74-year-old is an accomplished photographer. Her work was featured in Vogue Italia, CBS and The New York Times Lens Blog, but around Detroit, people know her as an activist and “Grandma Techno,” due to her regular attendance at the Movement Festival.
Before becoming a staple in Detroit’s photography scene, Lay-Dorsey was a social worker.
“It is the most amazing background to have,” she said. “If we only knew someone’s story, everything they do or say would make perfect sense. That is the training I got from social work.”
She had a studio in Greektown, an art degree from the College of Creative Studies and was exhibiting and teaching art in Detroit. The start of her love for photography was her daily online journal that she did for six years, never missing a day, she said.
“I’m just obsessed by it, and I don’t know if I’ll go to anything else,” she said. “I’m crazy about it. It’s just natural for me to take pictures wherever I am.”
Her love of photography merged with another of her passions: activism.
“When you try to talk to people about [their] views—about war or racism or Donald Trump or whatever [is] confrontational—I find that if I start talking in a certain way, they pull down their defense right away.”
“We don’t listen to the words that we say to each other. However, art in all media whether it is dance, music, photography or performance art is what gets under people’s skin, before they can even realize what has happened.”
“That is why I believe it is the most effective way to get your point that make people open up to you and what you say,” she said. “Even if they turn away, they see it and it plants a seed.”
One protest that has left a deep impact on her is the Occupy Detroit movement in 2011, the local branch of the national movement Occupy Wall Street.
“What I saw, in my view,” she said, “was totally historic.”
Many kids from the suburbs, with no experience in activism [were coming out.] The diversity in that group in terms of age, economic social backgrounds [and] race worked it out so well. I was determined to document.”
She planned to photograph the movement for another series, but after spending eight hours with the protestors she was hooked and stayed for an additional six weeks.
One of her most lauded pieces of work is the 2013 book of self-portraits titled “Falling into Place,” which offers a highly intimate view into her life. She writes on her website that the book was meant to confront her own shame on aging and living with a disability.
Lay-Dorsey is an accomplished photographer and activist, and to the younger generation, she has a message: “You are not our future. Too many older peoples say ‘You are our future.’ You are our present. So claim that and take responsibility for it and use everything you have for the benefit of the world.”