Snezhana von Büdingen: “Meeting Sofie”

Finalist 2019: Snezhana von Büdingen

Sofie is 19 years old. She paints, smokes and has Down syndrome. Snezhana von Büdingen accompanied her for over a year, travelling to her home on a big farm, amid dogs, chickens and horses, and living with her and her family. This visit has resulted in a touching series – with images caught between distant reverie and intimate proximity.

“In the summer of 2017, I was working on my ‘Mother’ project in my photo studio in Cologne, portraying mothers with children who have Down syndrome. Many mothers, including Barbara, Sofie’s mother, got in touch with me because they wanted to take part in the project. Because of the great distance, Barbara and Sofie were unable to come to Cologne; but I was heartily invited to visit them, which I did in October, 2017. After spending a few days with Sofie, it became clear to me that I wanted to tell this wonderful person’s story. We liked each other immediately. Sofie was not at all shy of the camera; otherwise it would have been impossible to photograph her over a whole year.”

“When taking photographs, I try to speak about a person’s being.”

“Every person, with or without Down syndrome, has her or his own unique individuality. In my feelings, I connect people with Down syndrome to a state of freedom: a kind of freedom from social constraints. This gives rise to a particular type of honesty that these people express, and which exerts a powerful draw on me. They have a somewhat different perception of the world, which is something I find fascinating. Even so, like each one of us, they long for love and a feeling of security. This is what I’ve learned from these encounters.

When taking photographs, I try to speak about a person’s being – even tell my protagonist’s full life story – because I’m deeply touched by people and their fates. I am fascinated by them. This kind of proximity, however, is a kind of intrusion into a person’s intimate sphere. It is not evident that people will open up in front of a photographer’s camera. I am endlessly grateful for the openness of all those people I am able to photograph.”

Snezhana von Büdingen

Born in Perm, Russia, in 1983, the photographer studied Communications Management in Osnabrück, Germany. Inspired by her international background, her emphasis is on documentary and portrait photography. Von Büdingen graduated from the Cologne Photo Academy in 2016. She lives in Cologne.

Portrait: © Klaus Dyba