When the photographer Snezhana von Buedingen first visited Sofie’s family at their farm in east Germany, she stayed for three days. She spent her waking hours shadowing Sofie, taking her time to soak in the details of her everyday life. With time, the pair forged a powerful bond; Meeting Sofie is the photographer’s ongoing ode to her friend and muse–a young woman who happens to have down syndrome.
Sofie comes from a family of famous antique dealers, and their residence has served as a magical setting for von Buedingen. “Their whole house is decorated in a very unique and tasteful way,” the artist says. “Every piece of furniture or picture on the wall has a history to tell.” Sofie herself spends her time with friends and her boyfriend, and she helps out at home; she likes painting and music, and she just turned twenty years old. Von Buedingen says, “Like almost every young woman, she dreams of a great romantic love.”
The farm where Sofie grew up has a long and storied past, but von Buedingen’s work is as much about her future as it is about her childhood. Currently, Sofie stands on the precipice of change. She plans to intern in Berlin soon, and, despite the many enchanting hours they shared in the yard, von Buedingen’s most powerful memory of their time together actually took place in the big city. As they sat in a cafe awaiting lunch, a man, who was experiencing homelessness, approached their table. Sofie asked him how he was, and he admitted that no one had ever asked about his life. “I feel that Sofie’s question was worth more to him than the money he had asked for,” the photographer tells me.
“Sofie, like many people with DS, finds it difficult to speak,” von Buedingen says. “I wish she could express in words all that she feels and thinks. I have a feeling that, in society, there is a slightly guarded attitude towards people with DS.” In introducing the world to Sofie, she hopes to foster a sense of connection and recognition. “I wanted to show that she has the same feelings, the same longing for love and security, as every one of us,” she adds. As for Sofie, the collaboration has been a joyful process. When she received the first print, a portrait of herself and her mother, Sofie said simply, “This is a dream.” The photographer admits, “I hope we remain friends forever, and I will continue to take photos of her as long as I can.”
All images © Snezhana von Buedingen