Photographer Julie Willson knows firsthand the beauty in those with Down syndrome. Her sister Dina had the disorder, and she considers her life to have been "greatly blessed by growing up" alongside Dina.
"Dina was the best thing that could have ever happened to our family," Willson told us. "She taught us what true unconditional love is and how to go through life without worries. She would light up any room that she walked into, and people were always drawn to her sweet yet stubborn personality."
Sadly, Dina passed away four years ago from heart failure at the age of 35. Doctors didn't believe that she would live past the age of 7. Despite more than doubling her life expectancy, the loss was intense for Willson, who decided to channel her grief into a truly breathtaking photo series of children just like Dina.
"Nothing brings me more joy than being around those who have it. Everything about them makes me smile."
"I wanted to be able to turn my photographs into art that would capture the true beauty of those with Down syndrome," she said. "Nothing brings me more joy than being around those who have it. Everything about them makes me smile."
It wasn't until after the whimsical photo shoot — filled with tepees and bow ties and frilly dresses — that she learned a staggering statistic: "I was told by one of the mothers that the abortion rate of those who find out their child may have Down syndrome is at 92 percent."
At that moment, the original purpose of her photo series changed. Before, it was simply to showcase the beauty of those with Down syndrome, but she now hopes to help lower that number.
"I want to change minds," she told us. "I want people to see these children and know that if they are having a baby who has been diagnosed with Down syndrome, although it may be scary, they will be blessed beyond words. . . . If you are that person who is going through the emotional roller coaster of just finding out, please know that you are about to encounter a love that surpasses all of your expectations."