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  • Writer's pictureNora Walsh Kerr

The Stories Behind the Lens

Client photo - Christmas, 1957

The holidays are here, along with the pressure from all of our preconceived notions of what this time of year SHOULD look like. Everywhere we look, from social media to advertisements to our own view of the people around us, people seem to be out there living this perfect gingerbread house life. But what's the truth behind those photos? What's really behind the lens?

I've struggled with this insecurity and the holidays can bring out the worst of it. I see a commercial and wonder why I can't get my act together to get matching pajamas for my husband and two kids in time for Christmas--as if the holiday will be a little less special because we're not in matching plaid.

Photo credit: Old Navy

Why do we do this to ourselves? I also have a mild obsession with nostalgia, and looking through old family photos used to leave me feeling a little less than--life just looked so simple, so perfect.

But then I asked questions. Questions that (unknown to me at the time) would set the foundation for this very business. I asked my dad what it was like growing up in that quaint bungalow on the south side of Chicago with four other Walsh boys? Was it as Norman Rockwell as it looked? Not surprisingly, it wasn't, but I didn't know the truth until I asked.

Walsh bungalow on Sangamon Street

A year later, I asked my mom what it was like growing up with three sisters. I never had one. As the stories unfolded, I learned that the Foley girls weren't always as sweet and thoughtful to one another as they were years later to their niece. There were fights over clothes, space, and probably boys. (They didn't fess up to the latter but you know they did.) But underneath it all was love.

Foley family, 1946

My Aunt Norine (the goofball in the middle) said that growing up with three sisters meant the first one out of the house was the best dressed. On this particular day, Norine must've been the first one out, because she got to wear the cashmere sweater that really belonged to the older one, Alice, pouting in the back. The angelic one standing to her right? That's my mom, Mary Ann. She might look sweet, but try sleeping next to her. All covers were fair game and Norine resorted to pinning her pillow to the bed just to keep it to herself. My mom, always so generous in her adult life, was a bed hog? I had no idea until I asked.

Knowing these anecdotes makes looking at these old pictures all the more meaningful. The photos may be black and white but their personalities bring out the unseen color, both the parts that I grew up knowing and the ones I've come to know through storytelling. And the end result is bigger picture than pictures. I've gained an understanding of my parents' lives that has helped me make peace with my own.

This Christmas, remember that life is not picture perfect. It's messy, complicated, winkled, mismatched, and yet, can still be beautiful. You just have to ask the right questions.


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