Snezhana von Buedingen is amongst the winners in this year's Portrait of Humanity contest for her beautiful series, Meeting Sofie, featuring an 18-year-old girl with Down's syndrome whom she met in 2017.
Snezhana's body of work is one of three to be recognised in the annual competition, alongside 30 winning images, which tell a breadth of uplifting stories from around the globe. The work offers a welcome message of hope, courage, reflection and resilience in what has been an unprecedented year of struggle.
"Sofie comes from a family of famous antique dealers and grew up in the magical atmosphere of this farm. Every piece of furniture or picture on the wall has a history to tell," says Snezhana. "Sofie has a strong bond with her mother, Barbara. Barbara was 40 when Sofie was born at home. It was only a few days later during a routine doctor's appointment that she found out Sofie had Down's syndrome, and would also require an operation on her heart.
"Barbara recounted her story of that day, sitting opposite the doctor as he explained: 'your child has Down's syndrome, but reflect on the fact that it is the same child you've lovingly held in your arms these first days. Nothing has changed, it's still this amazing child'."
Sofie is now 20 and is still very close to her mother. "I've been visiting Sofie and her family for over three years. I had a chance to experience their everyday lives; sharing the highs and lows of her first steps into love," continues Snezhana. "At that time Sofie was in that awkward yet beautiful and thrilling age of transition from a girl to a woman, when every feeling is extremely intense, and love seems to be the main purpose of life. Sofie continues to live on the farm estate with her parents, her brother and the countless animals."
Alain Schroeder has also been recognised in the 2020 competition for his dramatic black and white series, Grandma Divers, which focuses on the renowned Haenyeo who free-dive off Jeju island in South Korea.
"Wearing thin rubber suits and old fashioned goggles, this ageing group of women are celebrated as a national treasure and inscribed on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage," says Alain, "but the tradition is slowly fading as fewer women choose this extremely hazardous profession.
"Today, the majority of Haenyeo are over the age of 50, and many are well over 70. In a society obsessed with education, the future of this physically arduous activity would appear bleak, and yet… Efforts by the government and local communities to preserve and promote this ecological and sustainable lifestyle have brought renewed interest from young people disillusioned with urban life and eager to return to their roots. It is perhaps a renaissance."
Jim Naughten, meanwhile, is another winner for his series, Hereros, which focuses on an African tribe wearing clothing that reveals "a moment frozen in time," according to the British artist, "when two distinct cultures met at the turn of the last century; The Herero people and The German colonisers. The Europeans' Victorian-era dresses were quickly adopted and then modified to become the distinct outfits we see today.
"During the brutal war that followed (in which 80% of the Herero were killed), German uniforms were taken from dead soldiers to 'absorb' their spirit. The custom of wearing makeshift German military uniforms continues to this day, although now the Herero military marches to honour their fallen ancestors. The costumes of both men and women have become powerful cultural symbols of defiance and survival. There is no mistaking a Herero tribes person."
Other winners announced in this year's Portrait of Humanity include those behind 30 single images including Whitney Hayes' portrait of Jayde; Eric Demers shot of Greta Thunberg during her visit to Canada; Jeremy Snell's portrait from his series, Boys of Volta, Ghana; and Marie Hald's image of Marte, a Norwegian fat activist.
The winning work will be exhibited as part of the Portrait of Humanity 2020 Global Tour, opening at Capa Center, Budapest, on 4 September before moving to Indian Photo Festival, Hyderabad, on 12 November. You can see the full list of winners at portraitofhumanity.co.
If you fancy your chances for next year's Portrait of Humanity, then it's now open for entry. Photographers of any level, from anywhere, can submit their work to remind us "what makes us human in times of struggle: hope, courage, resilience, solidarity; finding beauty in the mundane, forging connection in times of separation, fighting to fix cracks in our systems".