Canvey Island flood anniversary: Interview with photographer Jack Delmonte

Photographer Jack Delmonte

A free exhibition and film screening, ‘Below the Wrack Line’, will open on Saturday 28th January at Canvey Island’s War Memorial Hall from 18.30pm to 20.30pm to mark the 70th anniversary of the 1953 Canvey Island flood. Photographer Jack Delmonte conducted participatory photography workshops, guiding local residents in their production of over 360 images, twenty of which are being displayed at the exhibition. Here, Thames21 Canvey Island Officer Lucy Jackson caught up with Jack Delmonte to interview him and explore the people and ideas around the ‘Below the Wrack Line’ exhibition.

 What is your relationship to Canvey Island?

My relationship with Canvey Island started aged eight with summer holidays in the family chalet, a ramshackle construction with no uniform type or shape of the material in its frame. For example, a complete front door was inserted halfway up a sidewall, salvaged from the 1953 floods.  For a child, the most exciting part of the Chalet was the entrance. You had to cross a creek over a drawbridge to reach the covered porch. You could pull up the bridge to avoid it being swept away when flooding occurred.

I spent most days fishing for eels in the muddy creeks. My catch would be stored in the water tank and then jellied on the stove. We munched them smothered with vinegar and white pepper, with lumps of white bread, washed down with sweet tea.  Through neglect, the Chalet collapsed in the late-1960s, and the plot of land was sold, ending my childhood relationship with the Island. I moved to the area fifty years later, reigniting my relationship with Canvey through friendships, family, sailing, and photography.

What made you decide to pursue a career in photography?

On leaving education at age fifteen, the school’s careers advisor suggested either a job working on the production line at the Ford’s plant in Dagenham or a British Gas Fitter apprenticeship. Neither appealed to me, so he asked me what my interests were. As I had recently been put in charge taking our holiday snaps on the family Kodak Brownie camera, I said I liked taking pictures. Two weeks later, I was a trainee darkroom technician at a large fashion photography studio in Soho, London. 

Why do you think that participatory photography workshops are an important engagement technique?

Because they provide a creative space where community members can represent themselves and tell their own stories through photography. This drives community engagement, action and awareness as a bottom-up process in contrast to, for example, a more prescriptive policy-driven top-down initiative.

What interests you about the BRIC project?

The BRIC project focuses on raising awareness about flooding and creating flood resilience. This isn’t easy in a predominantly working-class environment such as Canvey Island, where just surviving occupies most residents’ lives.  So, having watched the recent BRIC seminar, it is fascinating to see how each BRIC initiative across sites both in the UK and France is addressing this engagement opportunity. 

Why do you think that flood resilience in communities is important?

Because more and more communities in low-lying areas will suffer the consequences of flooding, including Canvey. Canvey is an area where people I know can’t afford home insurance, escape is limited to a few roads off the Island which 40,000 people rely on, and flood memory of previous disasters is dwindling due to demographics and time.  We must raise community awareness leading to the formation of resilience networks. These resilience networks can put pressure on the organisations and political bodies that are responsible for addressing the environmental and economic issues of flooding.

What excites you about the exhibition and film screening?

I am excited for the people of Canvey to see the results of our photography workshops and for the 70th anniversary of the 1953 flood commemorative films to provoke a lively debate on the issues and subjects raised. I am sure that we will also have some fun!

Please contact Thames21 Canvey Island Officer Lucy Jackson if you want to attend the exhibition at  or phone 07908410844