Observing the daily routines of her elderly neighbour, Schneidermann’s images raise important questions surrounding the conventions of traditional portraiture
In the summer of 2020, like everyone else living in the UK, Clémentine Schneidermann was spending a lot of time at home. In between periods of quarantine, the photographer was writing her PhD thesis, and found herself distracted. The window from her home office in South Wales looked directly onto her 77-year-old neighbour Pauline’s back garden. Schneidermann began to find comfort in observing her daily routines. “I started taking pictures without really telling her,” Schneidermann admits. “I liked the idea that she was unaware, because I never thought that the image was going to go anywhere.”
Schneidermann continued to photograph Pauline – eventually with her consent – hanging her washing, or enjoying sunny days in her garden. This evening, Schneidermann has been announced as the winner of the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2022. Haneem Christian has been awarded second place, and Alexander Komenda third place. Schneidermann’s portraits of Pauline will go on show at Cromwell Place, South Kensington, as part of an exhibition of 51 portraits from 36 artists that were selected for this year’s award.
“It was a big surprise,” says Schneidermann, speaking before the announcement about her nomination for the prize. The photographer thought her images of Pauline, which belong to a wider series titled Laundry Days, would make for an interesting submission, particularly because they don’t show her face. Traditionally, portraiture centres around the face as a focal point. The recognition of Schneidermann’s images hint that definitions needn’t be so rigid, and raise important questions about what constitutes a portrait. Indeed, according to The Thames & Hudson Dictionary of Photography, portrait photography is defined as “the use of photography to record and communicate a sitter’s appearance and personality”.
Schneidermann’s portraits of Pauline are striking in their simplicity. They reflect on a time of isolation and loneliness, and assert how a person’s character needn’t be represented by an image of beauty, pride, or joy, but equally by the smaller moments that make up our everyday existence.
The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2022 exhibition will take place from 27 October until 18 December 2022 at Cromwell Place in South Kensington, London.