Following Cornelius

16 – 31 July 2017


I come from Canvey Island, a small island in the Thames Estuary, 40km east of London. Despite the complex web of dykes and drains built to secure the land by the Dutch engineer Cornelius Vermuyden, in 1621, the land sinks slowly into the mud. Growing up, his name was memoralised everywhere – in my school’s name, in the street names, in shop names – he was the island’s hero.

I was curious to see where Cornelius went after leaving Canvey – so I followed his route from Canvey Island, 100 miles north to the Fens in East Anglia. The Fens, reclaimed from the sea, are still dry as well, thanks to Cornelius Vermuyden. Under every foot of land there are tunnels, drains, pumps, reservoirs, channels, sluices, gulley’s, cuts and embankments that pump, move and drain water continuously to ensure this land remains dry. 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the tides, farm run-off, water usage, rainfall and ground water are monitored, rationed and controlled to keep everything in balance.

Despite now being almost three metres below sea level, the battle goes on to keep this land dry. Whilst it looks on the surface to be an agriculturally rich, rural, natural landscape – it’s the most intensely managed land in the country.



Mitch Karunaratne is attracted to places that hold stories in the land, where the land shapes and helps give us a sense of identity and belonging. She received a MA in Photography from University of Brighton in 2012. She has exhibited widely both in the UK and abroad, most recently in Norway and Italy. She is a founding member of the MAP6 collective – travelling and creating collaborative projects with the group.




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