Sem Langendijk discusses the human impacts of gentrification and displacement

It was therefore at a very young age that Sem had an insight into the meaning and importance of “place” as an architectural idea, but also intangible and personal. Initially, he thought he might want to become an architect, interacting directly with the mechanisms and meanings of the built environment. But ten years later, he finds himself studying photography at art school instead. However, it was only in the last years of his studies that he returned and reconnected with the story of his displacement. “I realized time and time again that I had lost the environment I was used to, leaving me displaced, uprooted,” says Sem. “It saddened and angered me, and I felt that maybe I could, through photography, communicate something about it.”

This event, or perhaps more loosely its wider implications of gentrification and displacement, provided the springboard for the Haven project. Combining images of people with images of cityscapes, of different cities in different eras, the collection of images aims to invoke his personal perceptions of place and its resonance. Using both portraits and landscape compositions was therefore an important approach for the photographer, as he explains: “I wanted to show the presence of people, the community and a connection to a place.

Sem really reinforced the human element of the project by “getting closer” to the people he was working with. Such a connection then resulted in one of the images that affects Sem the most. Tommy, the young boy pictured outside wearing mismatched socks with no shoes and looking calmly at the camera, was growing up in conditions that echoed Sem’s own childhood, an abandoned shipyard community. When the photograph was taken in 2020, the community – which has been around for almost 20 years – was soon to be demolished. “Looking at Tommy, I suddenly realized that I was looking back 20 years to myself. This child, who only knows this environment as his world, his reality and his home, would soon experience what it would be like to have that taken away from him. “Sem says. “I start with this image, so the perspective from which we start is that of a child, innocent in the dynamics of displacement.

Overall, Sem hopes the book will raise questions about “city ownership,” leaving plenty of room for its viewers to come up with their own interpretations and conclusions. Far from being a rallying cry, the book is more of a gentle nudge – albeit an extremely powerful nudge – to reflection, prompting its audience to think about how things can be done differently. As Sem puts it: “As the regeneration of these environments continues, it is necessary to ask ourselves what kind of cities we want to create for the future, and how we want to live in them.”

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