Family History in Photographs: Opening a Box of Memories

Near Marble Arch. [April 1949]. Used with permission of John Callaway.

In a new series, John Callaway explores his family history after discovering boxes of old photographs and documents which belonged to his parents. ‘They represent a view to a bygone age,’ said John, ‘and although neither of my parents are alive to add to the story, I think that the photographs posted here are worthy of a larger audience.’ This week, John finds a photo of his parents before he was born.

One day, quite some time ago I happened on a photograph of Napoleon’s youngest brother Jerome, taken in 1852.

And I realised then, with an amazement I have not been able to lessen since:

‘I am looking at eyes that looked at the Emperor’…

[Extract from Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes.]

The photograph below is of my parents. Written on the back is ‘taken near Marble Arch Tube Station, April 17th, 1949’. I know nothing more about this photograph beyond the fact that it was taken a good ten years before I was born.

My parents may not have looked at the Emperor, but they have their own stories from which I am separated by history…

Near Marble Arch. [April 1949]. Used with permission of John Callaway.

The archaeologist’s spade
delves into dwellings
vacancied long ago,

unearthing evidence
of life-ways no one
would dream of leading now,

concerning which he has not much
to say that he can prove:
the lucky man!

[From Archaeology by WH Auden.]


This article was originally published on John Callaway’s website, Ideas & images from Portsmouth and beyond. You can read more of John’s writing on his website and also see his live music photography.

Images used with permission of John Callaway.

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