Photographer Jack Smethers documents the community resisting Tottenham’s gentrification
After a happy childhood growing up in Tottenham, the Brighton-based photographer was intent on proving just how detrimental gentrification can be.
- Olivia Hingley
- 11 April 2023
The physical and social landscape of UK’s cities are changing at an ever accelerating pace. Staggering rent prices, the continued building of unaffordable apartments, and cuts to council funding resulting in spaces like youth clubs being shut down are all putting long-standing communities at risk of extinction. It was these signifiers of gentrification occurring in his hometown of Tottenham that compelled the photographer Jack Smethers to begin documenting its activists, inhabitants and everyday spaces. The resulting series White Hart Lane is a considered, heartfelt and pertinent visual exploration of a community fighting against the upheaval of their home.
“Tottenham has always been dear to me,” the photographer begins. “In the same house my mum was raised in, she would raise both me, my sister and look after grandparents in their final years.” On this same street, Jack recalls how kids would go from house to house, playing outside for hours; his mum also worked for the Labour MP for Tottenham Bernie Grant – a politician loved by the local community. “Doors weren’t locked and it really felt like a community where everyone looked out for each other,” Jack reflects. “I was surrounded by some wonderful people growing up in Tottenham.”
Later, Jack moved to Brighton for university, where he first started studying for music before dropping out and enrolling on a photography course at a local college. Initially, Jack began his creative journey photographing musicians at live shows and festivals. But it was the work of photographer John Myers that pushed Jack to look more at his own experiences. “He would photograph his hometown with a focus on what many would consider mundane and boring, using similar equipment and approach that Ansel Adams would to photograph the epic Yosemite landscape, but focusing on the Midlands.”
Following this, Jack began conducting research, upon which he uncovered the transformation the city was going through. Such change was mainly being driven by the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium, which has funnelled masses of money to the area. But, Jack quickly realised this financial gain wasn’t exactly being consciously utilised. “New high-rise flats were constantly being built down the road but I started to wonder who could afford them,” Jack says. “To me, the stadium resembled a UFO that had landed on the high street. I started to use it as a metaphor for gentrification and the worry people have of being priced out of the area.” Residents of Tottenham weren’t taking such changes lightly, however, and Jack encountered numbers groups and individuals fighting such inequitable gentrification.
It was important for Jack to avoid a “candid street photography approach”; instead, he wanted to get to know and collaborate with the people he photographed. “I was very aware that though I had grown up in the area, I was now coming at the project from an outsider’s perspective,” Jack identifies. The photographer leads our attention to a photograph of Ken, the estate in the background blurred, the image puts Ken centre stage, as he gazes into the lens of the camera. A prominent activist, Jack explains that Ken has dedicated his life “to fighting police injustice and racial profiling” and is chair of Haringey’s Independent Stock and Search Monitoring Group. After taking his photograph Jack spent the day with Ken at the local police station going through records of previous stop and searches in Haringey, “looking for irregularities in how the police are conducting themselves”. This is perhaps what makes the series so powerful; it evokes a the feeling that behind every portrait and every landscape image lies a complex story.
While White Hart Lane deals with difficult and disheartening issues, Jack really hopes that the series is one that overall exudes a sense of hope. “In times of uncertainty and social unrest, it can be easy to feel helpless,” he says. “However, this project has only shown me the good in people and the feeling that we are so much stronger when surrounded by others.” Ideally, after viewing his series, Jack hopes people will come away with a new appreciation for the communities that surround them. “The only way we can hold on to a place’s identity is to first acknowledge and celebrate it,” he ends.
GalleryJack Smethers: White Hart Lane (Copyright © Jack Smethers, 2023)
Jack Smethers: White Hart Lane (Copyright © Jack Smethers, 2023)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.