Chris Markiewicz's Blog
Every Monday – thoughts, observations and ideas that hold up a mirror to who & how we are


About 15 years ago, a man called Jean Marc was cycling near his home in Brixton, South London.  As he passed by a skip at the side of the road, he caught sight of a large cardboard box sticking out of the top. Something prompted him to stop and look in the box.  What he found astonished and intrigued him.

It was packed full of old black and white photographs and glass photographic plates  –  there turned out to be over 2000 in total.

The pictures were almost all of people – whether portraits, family group shots, weddings, social events and formal occasions. They seemed to date from around the 50’s.

Each photo bore a stamp on the reverse:

J.S. Markiewicz, 67 Gayville Road, London SW11

 My late father, Jan Markiewicz.

When he came to England as a refugee after the war, my dad went to photographic college in Guildford and then set up as a freelance photographer. He soon became well known and acknowledged as the foremost society photographer within the substantial post war exiled Polish community in London. If you have friends with Polish parents or grandparents from that era, chances are his stamp would be on the back of their wedding pics.

A few years after his find, Jean Marc became friends with a girl named Nicole who happened to be half Polish. He decided to show her the photo collection. Looking through them left her immensely excited and keen to track down this mysterious “J.S. Markiewicz” and find out more about the background to these pictures. A small ad was promptly put in the London Polish paper asking for any clues to who he was and if he was still alive. The ad was subsequently spotted by my elderly aunt.

So, we found out about these photos, but uncovered a mystery that is unsolved to this day. How did they end up in the skip? Who put them there? Where had they come from? My father was no longer with us, so we couldn’t call upon him to provide the answers. Our former home in Clapham had been cleared and sold some years before the skip find. The box of photos had definitely not come from there.

Jean Marc and Nicole decided to organize a number of exhibitions of my late father’s work. And, in 2008, three shows were staged – two in London and one in St Albans. It was a huge thrill for me, and my two sisters, to see our father’s work publicly displayed. It was wonderful to observe people from the Polish community going around the exhibition. Many recognizing themselves as young adults or children, or spotting their parents and other loved ones in photos they may never have seen. A very long standing friend of mine was bowled over to catch sight, for the very first time, of a shot of herself and her sister at her first Holy Communion.

I can’t pretend that I had a close or perfect relationship with my father. However, to see his work so displayed and admired, had me swelling with pride. He had created an extraordinary and unique legacy, a testament to his skill, hard work and professionalism.

And, of course I can’t help wondering about my own legacy. It certainly won’t involve photography – I inherited a number of my dad’s traits (charm, stunning good looks, dapper dress sense, humour…..), but a talent for snapping was definitely not one of them. Clara, my daughter on the other hand seems to have taken on his eye for a good shot. Perhaps my legacy will involve some of the 20,000+ people who have “passed through my hands” (and others yet to) on training courses and facilitations. Alternatively, in decades to come someone may be cycling – metaphorically speaking – around cyberspace and will chance upon a virtual skip with a large box full of blog articles poking out of the top!

I have to say, that notion does put a big smile on my face……and while the smile’s there Chris,  watch the birdie and say Cheeeese!       


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6 Responses to “J.S.Markiewicz”

  1. Lovely story Chris. It’s tales like this that help the world go round – metaphorically, of course.
    I believe in your ‘legacy’. I think everything and everyone we touch bears some of our mark; a tell-tale fingerprint of some sort. Having worked with you and known you for these past years, I certainly know that I am covered with your prints and am smiling about it too.

  2. Great story Chris, old photographs involving people are priceless, as is his legacy. As you know, we have similar backgrounds with my father being Yougoslav and coming to England with nothing in 19449. Let me explain my father’s legacy, if you had met him, you may find this quite amusing.

    My father speaks very good English but ever since being a child I have mimic’d his eastern european slant. At family gathereings, we won’t go 10 mins without my lapsing into mimic land, His grandchildren love it and over the years I have found myself coaching them, after all what happens when I have gone, these skills must be passed on ! – dad takes it all in great spirit, as I say, its his legacy. A few examples :-

    “Alan, if I told you vonc I told you seventy-nine tousand times, you are de idiot of de idiots”, or “vere did i put de ting”, or “a vell”.

    Now my best friend Clive has over the years been part of such family gatherings and he works as Manufacturing Director for a global electronics company that makes complex connectors & things in the aviation & defence markets. It all started in the local unit in Mansfield where Clive would say “a vell” if something went wrong. This quickly spread across the unit where “a vell” was common parlence for the workforce and management alike. But it has gone viral and is now part of the culture in the USA and South East Asia. So if you ever come across someone who works for Glenair, they may just relate to “a vell”. They probably won’t know where it came from which makes it even more intruiging.

    I was telling my parents about the worldwide spread of “a vell” a few months ago and they were amused, my dad pretending to take offence as usual. I am very proud of my Dad, he is a giver rather than a taker in life and deserves his legacy, strange though it might be. So, there’s two Eastern European immigrants with great legacies, I am sure there are many more. I could talk about the positive impact that this group had in the mining industry, but for another time.


    • What a great story. You rightly should be proud. I went to a Catholic school in west London in the late 50’s and early 60’s. I was too lazy to get up on a Sunday for early mass so I used to go to the Polish mass at 12:30. Didn’t understand a word, but used to go back to the Polish club for drinks and bread, saussage, polish traditional dishes etc….. I had no right to be there at all but they made me so welcome, it became a sort of ritual. I met my first girlfriend there, Janina, I still wonder…………..

  3. Hello Chris, I am a 15 year old student currently on a work experience placement at Trestle Arts Base, where some of your father’s pictures were exhibited in the autumn of 2008. When clearing out the backstage area I came across a few frames filled with black and white photographs which I believe to have been taken by your father, Jan Markiewicz, along with some letters and other documents. There was also a piece of writing explaining a bit about the exhibition. After reading this I became curious and did a bit more research on the internet and as a result found this blog. We would love to return the pictures to you if you wish, as we feel they are an amazing piece of history and that you would appreciate them in memory of your late father. If you are interested please get in touch with me and I will pass your details on to Trestle. Thank you very much, Lydia Grinsted.

    • Hi Lydia – that’s wonderful! I have sent you an email with a view to arranging collection some t
      ime. Thank you so much! Chris

  4. Hello from Canada. My boyfriend was given a box of old motorcycle magazines and inside was an envelope with black and white photos of policemen on their bikes etc and stamped on the back on some of them is ‘j.s. markiewicz commercial photographer 24 sudbrooke road, London . they all look to be about the 1950 to 1960s.They also have stamped on the back British Communications corporatation limited. So that is how I happened upon you !

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