This series is part of the Radical Beauty Project, an international photography project that aims to give people with Down syndrome their rightful place in the visual arts. The young women I worked with shared a strong will to succeed and to prove themselves. It is beyond frustrating to be underestimated all the time. With Chosen [Not] To Be, I reflect on their reality—the barriers they face, society’s refusal to see their capabilities, the invisibility of their true selves—and translate their experiences into something visual.

Chosen [Not] To Be © Marinka Masséus

In the Netherlands, people with Down syndrome have collected their experiences in a book titled “Zwartboek” (Blackbook). They have offered this book to the government as a catalyst for change. Reading the collection of stories in this book broke my heart. There is so much misinformation. This misinformation leads to misconceptions and widely-held preconceived notions, which profoundly impact the lives of people with Down’s.

In this moment in time, many marginalized groups are getting more vocal, gaining confidence and claiming their rightful place in society. Whether it is the LGBT+ community, people of color, women resisting the objectification of the female body via #metoo and #timesup, or the community of people with Down syndrome, this movement is long overdue. This is especially in case with Down syndrome, because the pace of technological developments concerning prenatal screening dictate that we need to have this discussion about inclusion sooner rather than later.

—Marinka Masséus

Editor’s Note: This project was selected as the 1st Place Series Winner for this year’s LensCulture Portrait Awards. Be sure to check out the other winners, jurors’ picks and finalists here.