Isabelle Pateer – Unsettled

Unsettled is a long-term, ongoing project questioning the notion of ‘progress’ that is often imposed on local urban and industrial development plans by the global economic and political forces.

Photographs and text by Isabelle Pateer

Over the last 30 years, the expansion of the port of Antwerp, Europe’s second biggest seaport, has threatened and demolished several Belgian villages near the Scheldt river’s mouth at the North Sea. One of such affected places is a village called Doel. Due to a planned construction of a new container dock, the village’s residential areas and polder grounds have been qualified for complete levelling. Because of the situation, many inhabitants saw themselves forced to leave and consequently sold their houses to the corporation responsible for the port’s development. But when the economic crisis hit in 2008, some of these construction works were put on hold and the remaining residents were left confronted with an uncertain future. The village kept existing but as a rather desolate and neglected place. Now, the plans are being discussed and the port’s expansion is about to kick off again. To add to the irony of the situation, the EU law requires that industrial expansion should be recompensed with construction of nature reserves, what means that even more houses are being sacrificed for the port’s enlargement.

I was born at the Dutch side of the border with Belgium, just a few miles from the area, so I was naturally interested in what is going on in my neighborhood. The political and economic factors that fed the big changes, and which make the story relevant as an example of the current global tendencies, motivated me to start a photographic project in 2007. Although the situation in Doel gained a lot of media interest, I didn’t like the flood of sensational imagery that was published in a lot of press.

Instead of aggressive images containing a lot of dramatic information, I decided to search for more indirect, more ‘silent’ pictures that breathe and allow you to wonder and think about the situation in a much wider sense, beyond the ‘news of the day’.

In Unsettled you’ll find local landscape images combined with portraits of young inhabitants of the area. By contrasting them, I want to refer to the global political and economic forces that lead to social and environmental imbalance and sometimes hard devastation that happen globally. Or at least, I’d like to put question marks on the ‘progress’ character of these changes.


Isabelle Pateer (b.1980, in the Netherlands) graduated as a master in fine arts in 2003 from the Higher Institute of Visal Arts St Lucas in Brussels, Belgium. Since the she has been working as a freelance photographer balancing between personal projects and assigned series. Her work has been exhibited at the photo festivals and galleries in Copenhagen, Tbilisi, Cologne, Dublin, London, Daegu, Lodz and also in Krasnodar, where Isabelle won the first prize of the festival competition. She also has been published in The New York Times Magazine, Inge Morath Magazine, Rearview Mirror, The Irish Times, One World Magazine, La Libre Belgique and many more. The Unsettled project has been awarded, published and exhibited worldwide since 2008 and received a project grant from the Dutch ‘Anna Cornelis foundation’ for documentary photography. A book publication of the Unsettled project is being planned.

Next    Previous    Call for Stories

Patreon button - become a patron

Learn more about our goals and support us via Patreon.