By Donnell Suggs
The artists have yet to see their art on display. The husband and wife duo behind Creative Soul Photography, an Atlanta-based photography studio, haven’t been on the Disney Wish yet. The latest edition to the global entertainment company’s cruise ship fleet has been at sea a number of times since fall 2022 and the art in question, three portraits of Black children dressed as Disney princes and princesses, has been seen by thousands of people. Except Regis and Kahran Bethencourt, the couple behind Creative Soul Photography. They have been too busy creating powerful images of Black children as everything from classic Disney characters to kings and queens with crowns of natural hair to worry about taking to the high seas.
“We are honored to know so many people have a positive reaction to seeing our photos on the ship,” said Regis, who added that the pair have been in talks with Disney about taking a tour of the ship. “We are super excited about it.”
“It is really resonating with people on the ships,” Kahran said.
The connection between Creative Soul Photography and the Walt Disney Company dates back to a few years ago. Representatives from Disney reached out about working with Regis and Kahran in 2021. The result was the Disney Princesses/Creative Soul Dolls collection that would ultimately become a line of dolls that are currently available via both the Creative Soul Photography and Disney websites. The collection includes melanated renditions of Snow White, Rapunzel and Cinderella and Princess Tiana from The Princess and the Frog, of course.
The ability to handle the creative portion of the collaboration was attractive to Creative Soul Photography’s founders. “[They] allowed us to do what we do for the shoots,” Kahran said.
And what they did with just three photos was send images of young Black princes and princesses everywhere that massive cruise ships sailed. And thus around the world through the images embedded in the minds of the thousand of people that get to see Creative Soul Photography creations.
Combating negative stereotypes
It’s no coincidence that Regis and Kahran’s photographs are receiving positive feedback, after all that was the plan all along amidst Regis, 44. “We truly believe that this world needs to see the true beauty, joy and diversity that exists within our Black youth.”
“It’s important for us because we often see so many negative stereotypes of Black youth in the media and we really use our photography and our platform as a way to combat those negative stereotypes,” Kahran, 42, said. “These are the stories I feel are not being told, so we use our photography to showcase them.”
Storytelling through their own lens
Not long after the pair of graphic artists met, the art of photography was one of the binding principles in their relationship and later their marriage. “It feels amazing to be doing this as a husband and wife team,” said Kahran about working together. “It’s really good to know we get to share this moment together as a couple.”
“It doesn’t feel like work at all with my best friend, it feels like a long date,” joked Regis.
The couple met in 2004 and began dating long-distance before settling in Atlanta in 2006. Regis took up photography in school and by proxy Kahran began learning as well. Partners in business for the past 14 years and married for the last 12 years, the ability to tell Black stories was the mutual attraction to what can oftentimes be a hectic and super-competitive photography business for both of them.
“When we first started out we just wanted to tell stories through our own lens. We knew we had a love of photographing people and wanted to showcase that in our own unique way,” Regis said.
The messages the pair receive from people that want to book photo shoots for their own children or complimenting some of their work -either in the books, like Glory or The Me I Chose To Be or the Heirs: Generation Next calendar project- they see in books stores like Black-owned bookstores like Brave and Kind Bookshop in Decatur let Kahran and Regis know they are on the right track.
The couple knew they had a love for photographing kids and saw a need for more natural looks for Black kids that were often told to not look so natural on photoshoots. Creative Soul Photography became the place where models and customers alike could come to be seen as they were meant to be seen.
“A lot of the kids that had natural afro hair would come in to get their headshots and their parents would have their hair straightened because they believed that’s what they had to be accepted into this industry,” remembered Kahran. “We really just started showcasing kids looking fashionable with their natural hair.
In 2017 Creative Soul Photography’s Afro Arts series launched and went viral. The couple went to different cities and shot photos of natural hair of kids under different themes. The images went viral and till this day plays an important part in the couple’s style going forward. “It started really focussing on hair and has morphed into something bigger,” Kahran said. “We are still showcasing the Afro Arts series in our photos and in our style.”
New projects on the horizon
Creative Soul Photography has some new projects in the works. Kahran and Regis, both admitted Hip-Hop fans, will debut a project on the 50th anniversary of the art form this month. Black children will be dressed and styled in the images of Hip-Hop royalty such as Salt-N-Pepa, Missy Elliott and Run DMC to name a few.
“We really had fun with it,” said Kahran as she remembered having to explain to the young models who the people were portraying were and how some of the old school dances went. “We are really bridging the past with the present, while paying homage to the greats.”
The Crowned series will also be back June 13 and is available for pre-order. The book that highlights the beauty of Blackness while wrapped in reimagining fairy tales. The first chapter in the series is their take on existing fairy tales like Cinderella and Snow White, the second chapter is on African Folklore stories and the third chapter will be on new fairy tales of their own.
Now, about those cruise plans.