For the past year, I have spent a significant amount of time photographing the people of Jaywick, Essex. My interest was piqued by the seemingly endless poverty porn portrayals of Jaywick, charicatures of smashed windows, chalet homes and people on benefits. I did not necessarily want to attempt a visual counter-narrative, but to spend time there with an open mind and an open eye.
Stemming from my personal project, I made a short documentary film about one club in Jaywick – the Jaywick Sands Happy Club – which, I’m amazed to say, has been shortlisted for a Royal Television Society (East) award in the best short film category.
Phase one led to an assemblage of portraits. Some taken inside, some outside. My initial intention was to focus on the people, their expressions and their relationship with me, the strange chap who keeps turning up with a camera.
But as I got to meet these people repeatedly, one thing became abundantly clear. Jaywick, the place, is different. It sits at the far east of England on the coast. It remains at high risk of flooding and attempts are made to evacuate the village every few years when a tidal surge hits – in 1953, the North Sea floods killed 35 people here. Many of the homes here were intended as temporary holiday homes for Ford workers. Built in the 1930s, and envisaged to last about 20 years, many homes in Jaywick should not by rights still be standing. But they are, and many owners take great pride in their homes. I’ve spoken to too many people who described not how they moved to Jaywick but how they “ended up” here, how it is a literal and metaphorical ‘end of the road’. But, they’ll add, a pretty good one.
Nobody I’ve met denies there are pockets of extreme poverty in the village. Nobody here has a lot of money. But more than anything else, I’ve been struck by people’s willingness to help their neighbours out when and where they can.
So, phase two, how to tell some of that visually?