The images from the series “Heads of the Valleys” are a compilation of landscapes and portraits of children taken during a residency program in Blaenau Gwent in the heart of the Welsh valleys, between October 2015 and June 2016. With both a magical spirit and visual complexity, Schneidermann explores a new means by which to represent and challenge perceptions of communities in South Wales. Through artistic and fashion collaborations, and in partnership with the stylist and creative director Charlotte James, Schneidermann works with children from Coed Cae and Merthyr Tydfil to reimagine visual representations of place, social mobility and economic decline.
“The weather might be cold and the environment harsh and bleak, but not those pictured. Clémentine Schneidermann’s photographs are both lyrical and affirmative, playing against and unravelling the strictures of the documentary tradition.
Styling and dressing up her young subjects allows a point of connection with these children and the creation of small moments of carnival to be set against the undisguised social reality of deprivation and economic neglect — the barriers these people face and will continue to face. The colourful embellishment in the pictures might only be skin deep, mere surface decoration and offer only momentary comfort and release. But it also allows for these young people to play against and resist the stability of type and of being fixed within categories.”
Professor of Photography,
Director of European Centre for Photography,
University of South Wales
“I move to Abertillery in the South Welsh valleys after undertaking a three months residency in Blaenau Gwent with Arts + Minds. Part of my mission is to engage with communities – in particular the local young people – and reflect on a new visual representation of this former mining region. I am introduced to a youth club run by an incredible volunteer called Michelle who becomes a key contributor.
The last days of summer are over, and as I start photographing, autumn arrives. It is incredibly dark and wet, and approaching strangers on the street has never been so difficult. As I continue my weekly visits to the youth club, I receive an email from a fashion magazine interested in commissioning a story. I happily accept, with the idea I can involve the local children. Through the magazine I meet the stylist Charlotte James, who is also from the Valleys, and we embark on a long-term collaboration.
In late November Autumn was as the peak of its bleakness. Charlotte arrives at the local community centre with suitcases full of clothes. I photograph the children in their estate called Coed Cae, whilst their parents prepare food and hot drinks. A few months later, we work with a different youth club in a different estate called Swffryd. We continue to work with the children, and will be exhibiting the work for the first time at the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol in March 2019.”