A fairytale lion. A futuristic princess. A Black Barbie. A successful video gamer. These are some of the dreams Atlanta photographers, Regis and Kahran Bethencourt, hear from their little African-American clients. And they are not afraid to turn themselves into “dream makers” and make these dreams a reality, no matter how wild or crazy they may seem.
The results are conceptual, highly stylized photos of children dressed as visions plucked straight from their imaginations, which the Bethencourts hope transcend the typical images of beauty.
Jhene Santana Brown, 15, a client from Providence, R.I., wanted to become a fairytale lion. “I just loved lions and my favourite movie is Narnia,” Brown said. “So I wanted it to be fierce but also soft and kind.”
Twelve-year-old Whitcliff McKnight, a client from Smyrna, Ga., had a session that involved three distinct costumes. The inspiration: renaissance man. That’s what his mom calls him. “The first [portrait] comes from my love of travel and foreign languages and the arts,” McKnight said. “The athlete theme comes from the sports I play, including soccer and basketball. And the futuristic type of theme comes from my love of video games.”
The shoots are affirming, says Dr. Terica Barton of Tampa, Fla, whose 8-year-old daughter, Alaya, transformed into an underwater mermaid for her portrait. “I think it’s absolutely important for little African American children and children of all races just because it shows them and highlights their beauty, it highlights their difference,” Barton said. “And sometimes it’s difficult in this country raising children that aren’t the majority and instilling in them the beauty of their uniqueness and making them celebrate their differences and their culture.”
That beauty is encapsulated in Glory: Magical Visions of Black Beauty, which features more than 100 photographs. “We really wanted to shatter the conventional standards of beauty for Black kids. We highlighted a variety of kids across the African diaspora,” Kahran said. “We bring to life past, present and future visions of Black culture.”
Each child in the book has their own unique backstory: an 8-year-old who is already a neuroscience expert, a 10-year-old DJ and a little girl who learned to read at the age of 1.
“We were noticing all these kids that we were running across on a daily basis who just didn’t have the platform,” Kahran said. “And so we definitely want to be able to use our platform to highlight them, their excellence and everything that they’re doing so that the world can see this kind of Black excellence on display.”
And that is, simply put, Regis says, “being yourself unapologetically.”