Sem Langendijk deals with the human repercussions of gentrification and displacement


Hence, from an early age, Sem gained insight into the meaning and importance of “place” both as an architectural idea and as an intangible, personal idea. Initially he thought he might want to become an architect and deal directly with the mechanics and meaning of the built environment. But ten years later he was studying photography at art school instead. But it was only in the final years of his studies that he returned and continued the story of his expulsion. “I kept realizing that I was losing the environment I was used to and leaving myself displaced and uprooted,” Sem says could mediate about it.”

That event, or perhaps more loosely its wider implications for gentrification and displacement, provided the springboard for the oasis Project. By combining images of people with images of urban landscapes from different cities at different times, the image collection aims to evoke the personal perception of the place and its resonance in the viewer. The use of portraits and landscape compositions was therefore an important approach for the photographer, as he explains: “I wanted to show the presence of people, community and connection to a place.”

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Sem really enhanced the human element of the project by getting closer to the people he was working with. Such a connection later led to one of the images that most influenced Sem. Tommy the little boy photographed outside wearing mismatched socks with no shoes staring calmly into the lens, growing up in conditions reminiscent of Sem’s own childhood, an abandoned shipyard community. When the photo was taken in 2020, the community, which had existed for almost 20 years, was about to be demolished. “As I looked at Tommy, I suddenly realized I was looking at myself 20 years back in time. This kid, who only knows that environment as his world, his reality, and his home, would soon experience what it would be like if that were taken away from him,” says Sem. “I start with this image, so the perspective is from which we assume that of a child, innocent of the dynamics of repression.”

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Overall, Sem hopes the book will raise questions about “owning the city” and give viewers plenty of room to offer their own interpretations and conclusions. Far from a rallying cry, the book is more of a gentle – albeit extremely powerful – thought-provoking nudge that encourages its audience to think about how things can be done differently. As Sem puts it, “As the renewal of these environments continues, we must 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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