15 July 2019

The Meaning of Beauty Revealed by Portraying Life with Down Syndrome

15 July 2019 - Written by PhMuseum

In her series What Do You Believe In, Henrike Stahl reflects upon how living with her daughter’s genetic condition has changed both her underlying perception of beauty and her journey through life.

My daughter Rio was born in 2012 with Down Syndrome. I could not take photos for a long time afterwards. I had to re-position myself. In other projects, I photographed her life. But what did it mean for me to have a handicapped child? My perception of beauty, in general, was completely turned upside-down. And where was my new place in it all? How could I make a happy end?

A lot of mothers disqualify their children as their so-called “sun children” to protect them against all the ideas or concepts in which they don't exist. But you are not born with this kind of positive thinking, without having the slightest doubt, unless you lie to yourself. We have gone through many dark, empty or hopeless moments to finally get to where we are today. It took me three years. To understand. And to rediscover a sense of “beauty”.

And suddenly, I understood.

This series is not only about Rio. It is about me, how I felt. I am often asked about it without being asked about her. I can see it in the expression on people's faces. This series is the most honest testimony I can give about my path – after giving birth to my handicapped child.

This is my life journey. The ambiguity of every moment is now part of my life forever. About the little successes in the “drawbacks” – which are truly unbelievable triumphs. It turns stone landscapes for me into meadows full of colour. As if the snow was falling in the middle of the summer. What is full, what is empty? And work, never-ending, and construction. Constructing and relentlessly reconstructing.

I look at people directly today. I don't like retouching anymore. I see the beauty in what is rough, in hard work, in construction. She has sent me once again to the heights of Indonesia's volcanoes, into the dry desert of Chile, into the wide waters of the Ganges and shows me the joie de vivre of Rio de Janeiro every single day. Today, Rio and I dance more than ever before – because only sad people don't dance.

Words and Pictures by .


Henrike Stahl was born in Germany in 1980. She is currently living between Berlin and Paris, she adores fashion and is an autodidact artist who mixes photography, painting and drawing. Among others, she has exhibited at the Rencontres Internationales d'Arles, the Transphotos of Lilles, at the Aw Gallery of Berlin and at the Tinlark Gallery of Los Angeles. Find her on PHmuseum and Instagram.


This feature is part of Story of the Week, a selection of relevant projects from our community handpicked by the PHmuseum curators.

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