In Pictures: The Magic of Welsh Prom

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Ffasiwn Magazine Spring Summer 2024 Clémentine Schneidermann
Ffasiwn Magazine Spring Summer 2024© Clémentine Schneidermann and Charlotte James

In a continuation of their ongoing youth project in the South Wales Valleys, Clémentine Schneidermann and Charlotte James’s latest photo series captures Welsh teens at a fictional prom

“I never had a prom,” says photographer Clémentine Schneidermann, lamenting the tradition’s failure to cross over to her native France. “I would have loved to have one. Indeed, in the UK, where Schneidermann has lived and worked on and off for more than a decade, exposure to film and TV from the US has shaped a similar practice of elaborate end-of-term events, signalling prom as the pinnacle of American pop culture’s infiltration of British secondary schools. “It’s serious in Wales now,” suggests the creative director and filmmaker Charlotte James, Schneidermann’s long-term collaborator. “They get their make-up done professionally, the works.” For the latest iteration of their ongoing youth project, shooting with teens in the South Wales Valleys, the pair have manufactured their own take on prom, with a new magazine, Ffasiwn Magazine Spring Summer 2024.

After meeting in 2015 when Schneidermann was living in Abertillery as part of an artist residency, the duo quickly established a creative rhythm, initially collaborating on a shoot with young people from a community centre. “The pictures were amazing, and that’s how we realised we could work on something quite long-term together,” she says. “It was one of the most exciting things I was doing – new and fresh, experimental.” Constructing a shared practice that foregrounds these youth groups wearing distinctive, colourful clothing under the umbrella moniker It’s Called Ffasiwn, the pair’s subsequent projects have been acquired by Museum Wales and exhibited at the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol. In 2021, they also published a book with Alexander McQueen.

“We’ve kept working with the same kids over the years,” continues Schneidermann. Collaborating with two Welsh youth groups in particular, in Merthyr and Blaenau Gwent, the group, mainly made up of girls, were just eight and nine when the project began. James, who grew up in Merthyr Tydfil, was interested in creatively engaging with her hometown, while Schneidermann saw the project as a part of her wider studies on documenting children. With the group now entering their late teens, the project’s longevity is a point of real joy for the duo. “They’re moving in different directions. School’s finished, and we really wanted to show this passage of time through the work,” says Schneidermann. “It was about them coming of age, a celebration of all these years,” James adds.

Furthermore, working with the prom model allowed them to expand Ffasiwn Stiwdio, the workshop series that has become an integral component of the overall project, first launched in 2016. “It’s nice to take pictures, but it’s important that we also teach something,” says Schneidermann. “We’ve learned so much about teaching and setting up workshops [over the years] – when we started we didn’t know anything. After doing it for so long, we understand what young people will engage with and how to make it exciting. So it was obvious for us to do prom because everything is costume-based. We thought the kids would enjoy it because  the outfit for prom is so important for them.”

While the sartorial elements of the shoots have evolved (in their initial meetings, James arrived with fabric and graduate collections, and with McQueen, the girls were collaborating directly with then-creative director Sarah Burton), this time, supported by Wellbeing Merthyr Tydfil’s Shared Prosperity funded project ‘Creu Cyffro’, Ashley Family Foundation and Georgetown Youth Club Merthyr CBC Youth Service at the Youth Club delivered from Georgetown Boys and Girls, the pair invited costume designer Thomas-Huw Hopkins and set designer Lowri Heckler. “The kids were able to design their dream outfits, it was wonderful,” offers Schneidermann. Additionally, setting up portraits in the toilets of a nearby social club introduced an element of the chaotic energy that often precedes prom buzz, says James. “Clémentine was backed up into a cubicle, it was the most unglamorous setting for a prom portrait,” she recalls, “but we always try to find that juxtaposition, of mundane and glamour.”

Packaged in school kid scribbles reminiscent of a leavers shirt – handwritten by the group themselves, designed by Oliver Gabe – Schneidermann and James chose to mirror the nearby residential environment in the images, embracing a strictly grey policy for the outfits and the accompanying decorations (each of the pair’s previous shoots have similarly been conceived in a single colour scheme). “We took inspiration from grey estates, the all-grey interiors that people love here, and the Welsh weather, because the sun hardly gets out from the clouds,” explains James. “It was probably the last colour we hadn’t explored, and there was something very interesting about it; it’s very unglamorous,” says Schneidermann. “Photographically, prom has been well documented – it’s just visually so interesting – and we wanted to do a surreal prom. So a grey prom felt right.”

Ffasiwn Magazine Spring Summer 2024 by Clémentine Schneidermann and Charlotte James is self-published, and is out now.