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{behind the scenes} the photos on my walls | Washington DC documentary family photographer

the cobblers children

never have shoes” – it’s an old saying that I love, because it’s so apt in my life, or rather, it was. I am reformed.

If you know the saying, you know it means that it’s really hard to provide for your own family the things you provide through your vocation to others. Another way you could say it: “The photographer’s children never have photos.”

That was me, for about 3  years after my son was born. To be fair, I had a phone (or two) full of great snapshots – and they are still there, pre-iCloud, stuck on old phones. Later I guess Apple figured out we’re leaving our most priceless memories hidden in our phones and they could probably charge us a little for the space and security. So… a lot of the most amazing pictures of my son’s first 20-odd months of life are digital and I might get around to retrieving and printing them eventually.

A screen shot of the photos hiding on my phone!

A screen shot of the photos hiding on my phone!

Why wasn’t I shooting real pictures?! Well, life was busy. I don’t know! The bigger question is: why wasn’t I printing them – why were my walls the walls of a childless couple: all vacation photos and artsy  black & white Monuments? Where was my family?

My heart changed toward my walls when we finally moved into our first House (capital H because it was a real house, not an apartment, not a rental. Ours.) As the paint colors went in, and the place became more and more our Home, the lack of family photos on the wall started to bug me. By this time too, I was sending beautiful framed prints off to the homes of happy clients, and texting back big smiley faces when they sent me pictures of how and where they’d hung their photography – a home telling back the story of the family it sheltered.

The cobbler’s children never have shoes.

I had to do something about this. I booked a family photo session.

A swap actually, with my close photographer friend. Together, we saw to it that our collective “cobblers’ children” got some shoes. (To be fair, Julie was already WAY better than me at printing family photos but she needed some with herself IN them, not taking them.)

I went through all the baffling prep – picking outfits, getting a date with my make up artist, dressing the family and getting to the location on time with everyone mostly happy. And it was painless – actually, it was fun. And a few weeks later, I was opening packages of really fabulous prints.

It’s no small task to print and frame and hang family photos. But I leveraged my professional expertise – I treated myself like a client for a little bit and ordered frames. At first it felt a little indulgent, a little vain, to fill the hallway wall with photos of me, of us. I selected a few of the family session images Julie took for us, and mixed in a some of my favorite pictures I took of Del one afternoon after he woke up from a nap all pink-cheeked and cheerful. In reality, it probably only took a quarter of an hour to get them hung – once I’d rounded up a hammer and nails from the basement. Fifteen minutes and my hallway was… well, transformed.

And I have to tell you: I was flat out beaming. There across the walls between our bedrooms was the story of a family. A step deeper into what it is to live in a home. A confirmation that we belong together.

What happened next was completely unexpected.

That night I gave Del his bath, dried him off, his Daddy brushed his teeth, and I carried him, still wrapped in a towel, down the hall to his bedroom.

“Stop!” he said.

“Look,” he pointed to the pictures. I stopped, and, one photograph at a time, he proudly told me, “That’s me! That’s me, too! There’s Daddy! There’s Mommy holding me. There’s Mommy and Daddy together.”

He was mesmerized.

And in that moment, I remembered with compete clarity the family photos hanging in my parents’ house down the hallway between bedroom doors, and the sea of family photos lining the staircase of my grandmother’s ancient Victorian house, and the bulletin board of photographs that hung in my aunt’s old bedroom in my other grandmother’s midwest farmhouse.

Cavemen drew their stories on the walls of their dwelling places.

I grew up surrounded by photos that set me in a context of belonging. And my 3 year old son had just had his first glimpse of that picture-sea of belonging.

Framed photos in the hallway, where we see them every day.

Framed photos in the hallway, where we see them every day.

Two canvases that hang in our entry way. I love them.

Excuse my messy house! Here are two canvases that hang in our entry way. I love them.












Now I know to keep my good camera handy, to capture more of our real life in pictures, and I print the good ones from my iPhone every few weeks, and I plan annual family photos with another photographer each year, so that I’m also in the pictures. And most importantly: I print them, frame them and hang them on the walls in our home, where they whisper back our story to us every day.

xo, Katie



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