Lockdown laundry portraits by Documentary Photography graduate win £15,000 portrait award

Documentary Photography graduate Clémentine Schneidermann has won the £15,000 Taylor Wessing photographic portrait prize – the most prestigious award of its kind in the UK.

Her series of portraits, entitled Laundry Day, document the mundane, daily chores of life in lockdown and were chosen for the annual prize, awarded by the National Portrait Gallery.

Living and working between Paris and South Wales, Clémentine graduated with a practice-based PhD from USW in 2021. Her photographs depict her neighbours hanging laundry in the garden of their home in South Wales. The socially distanced portraits were taken during times of quarantine, self-isolation and national lockdowns during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Clémentine said: “These images are a response to a quiet time when approaching strangers was very challenging. They speak about the duality between stagnation and passage of time. My neighbour’s garden became a tiny imaginary stage where from my window I documented small moments of her life.”

Clémentine was inspired by domestic spaces and chores which are often overlooked and the ability of photography to create a ‘poetical narrative’ from these small moments.

“Photographers such as Stephen Gill, Paul Cabuts and Nigel Shafran have been an inspiration in how they beautifully photographed the mundanity of our current landscapes as well as non-places surrounding us,” she said.

“In a time where selfies and faces are everywhere around us, by hiding a face, I show the hidden rather than the visible; older people are also often invisible in our society so I am happy that these images are getting some attention.”

The judges praised the simplicity of Clémentine’s project and said the images evoked a strong sense of stillness and quiet, as well as loneliness and isolation – despite the proximity of the photographer. They commended the unusual perspective of the portraits, which are close but not close enough to see the sitter’s face – which they felt ‘was an intriguing play with the conventions of traditional portraiture’.

Professor Mark Durden, Director of the European Centre for Documentary Research at USW, said: “Throughout her studies at postgraduate and doctoral level, Clémentine has had a unique and exciting approach to the portrait photographic tradition. I am really delighted she should win such a major prize. She continues the longstanding international excellence of photography at USW.”