Exhibit showcases beauty of natural hair, finds empowerment through ‘Afro Art’

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Layla, photographed by CreativeSoul Photography / Kahran & Regis Bethencourt.

Kahran and Regis Bethencourt, the people behind CreativeSoul Photography, have been photographing children’s fashion for about nine years, but it wasn’t until 2014 that they noticed a recurring trend in photographing African-American children: They weren’t being encouraged to be themselves.

“We noticed a couple of things,” Kahran Bethencourt says. “There was a huge gap in diversity in a lot of major kids fashion magazines and publications and we saw that parents would send in photos of their kids with natural afro hair, and when they came into the studio, the parents had straightened their hair because that’s what they thought they needed to do to conform and make it in this industry.”

“We thought that was kind of sad,” she says. “We decided to do a personal project where we showcased three young girls with their natural hair.”

The first project included taking three African-American girls to Times Square in New York City and photographing them with natural hair in high-fashion outfits.

“By the time we got back off the plane people were already sharing it and that’s when we started to do more shoots with kids of color and their natural hair,” Kahran says.

The photography couple had humble beginnings.

“Regis went to school for photography, and I decided that I was just going to learn along with him,” Kahran says. “We actually did our first shoot in my mom’s garage here in Greenville.”

Kahran Bethencourt is a native of Greenville, so having the exhibit here is exciting for her.

“This will be our first official exhibit,” she says. “We have done a few in Georgia with local libraries but this is our first official one and we are really excited to be doing it in South Carolina since I’m a Carolina girl. It’s exciting to be coming back.”

After the “AfroArt” series was released, it gained some serious attention. The collection of photographs was featured by Vanity Fair, DailyMail, Glamour, Buzzfeed, BET, CBS, BBC News, and more.

There have also been a fair amount of celebrities who have taken note of the collection. Taraji P. Henson, Alicia Keys, and American rapper Common all praised the work on social media and even ordered calendars of the photos.

Additionally, Patrisse Khan-Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, said, “Kahran and Regis show the stunning natural beauty of black children that traditional media too often ignores. …These are not just photographs, this is artistically, politically, and socially important work.”

Kahran says she knows how important her work is because of the feedback she has continued to receive.

“A lot of people mentioned to us that they wished they had these type of images growing up,” she says. “A lot of African-American kids don’t see their hair as beautiful or themselves as beautiful and so it’s really good to have images like these to show that they are beautiful too.”

The message resonates with her personally as well, she says, because “I think that because they didn’t have these images growing up and a lot of us were pressured to change our hair and our identity to conform to what we thought society expected of us. I think that people really identify with these kids being able to come out and say ‘This is who I am’ and ‘Accept me and love me for who I am’.”

The Bethencourts are a team, and Kahran says they could not have found such success without each other.

“We both shoot and Reg is the magic man behind the scenes,” she explains. “I usually come up with the crazy ideas and he is making it happen behind the scene. It’s a really solid partnership and we really do all of this together.”

As for the future, CreativeSoul Photography is currently putting together a book that will comprise the Bethencourts’ “AfroArt” series and new environmental portraits they have taken while traveling. Through talking to and hearing stories of children all over the world, they are able to further tell the story of these kids.

“The cool thing is that were able to showcase and highlight stories from kids around the world. So far we’ve been to London, Kenya, Ghana, South Africa, were going to Brazil, the U.S. and we are just meeting and sharing some really amazing stories,” Kahran says. “There are so many different kids with different backgrounds and amazing stories. It has been a real pleasure for us to capture them in a unique and different way. I would say it’s still our style of visual storytelling, just a little different.”

The book is slated to be released in fall 2019.

The Greenville exhibit will have an opening reception at which Kahran will showcase her work. While she’s in town, Kahran says, she hopes to take the photos back to her roots.

“We’ve never done “AfroArt” in South Carolina so we’re thinking about planning some “AfroArt” sessions and take it back to where we started in my mom’s garage,” she says. “Obviously the results are gonna be really different but it will be really fun for our clients to have some southern hospitality to go along with the work that were doing all around the world.”


If you go

  • What: CreativeSoul Photography: Empowerment Through the Lens of “AfroArt”
  • Where: Upstate Gallery on Main
  • When: Nov. 8-Dec. 29; opening reception: 5-8 p.m. Nov. 15
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