Unit 26, Gély neighborhood, Montpellier, France. July 2015.

I first met Ilona and Maddelena, two sisters aged 12 and 11, as they walked their dogs in their working-class neighborhood. The Gély neighborhood has around 2,100 inhabitants and is not far from the center of Montpellier in the south of France.

I started talking to them and was quickly invited into their daily life. Their family lives in an apartment that is about 80 square meters [around 860 square feet]. Its four rooms house Françoise and Thierry, their two unemployed parents; the sisters; and their uncle Etienne—in addition to five dogs, four cats and a multitude of objects related to both Native American and American culture.

I’ve been photographing the sisters since we first met—mainly in their flat. The space is as small as it is soothing; a shelter against the harsh outside environment.

Through this work, I’d like to talk about adolescence, especially the experience of being a young person from a working-class background in a developed country like France. I am captivated by the fragility and resistance that manifests itself at that age, made especially clear in their social setting.

The first time we met, I understood that I would follow them and no one else: deep in my own past, I can picture myself at the same age, growing up in a similar district.

This work is in progress, as I would like to follow Ilona and Maddelena for several years until they become adults.

—Sandra Mehl

Editors’ Note: This project was recognized by the jury of the LensCulture Emerging Talent Awards 2016—don’t miss the work from all 50 of these outstanding, international talents!

If you liked this article, you may also like these previous features: Luisa Dorr’s Maysa documents a girl from one of the most dangerous slums in São Paulo and her dream to be named Young Miss Brazil. In Mädchenland, the photographer explored a matrilineal society in northeast India. Finally, Delphine Schacher’s Petite Robe de Fete follows young women in modern-day Transylvania.