These Portraits Celebrate the History of Black Hair Styles

Regis and Kahran Bethencourt of Creative Soul Photography filmed a series celebrating the history of black hairstyles in the late 19and century to the present day… and even predict the future.

This project was born out of a collaboration between the Madam Walker Legacy Center in Indianapolis, Indiana, and the Bethencourt studio. Mrs. CJ Walker was born in 1867 on a plantation in the Delta, Louisiana, intended for slaves. She transformed from a farm worker and laundress to America’s first self-made female millionaire, as indicated in the Guinness Book of World Records. Her wealth was generated by developing and marketing a line of cosmetics and hair care products for black women.

Madam CJ Walker, the first self-made American female millionaire of any race.

The hair legacy of the first black woman millionaire

“We thought about [Walker’s] legacy and impact on black hair care around the world,” said Kahran Bethencourt PetaPixel. “She built an international beauty business that had 25,000 active sales agents by 1919.

“We decided to take a dark hair journey through Madame CJ Walker’s eyes. We can’t help but think that if she were still alive today, she would be so proud of how she spearheaded an era where black women become empowered and believe they can. aspire to wealth and economic prosperity.

The Bethencourts, a husband/wife team from Atlanta, GA, are well known for creating African American Princesses Series, Afro Art Series and World Tour.

1890s
1950s

The Atlanta couple reflected on the legacy of black hair care products that Madame Walker developed and decided to do a historical examination of black hair through the past, from post-slavery to modern times and even beyond.

1960s

World famous children’s photographers have worked with the model Kendall Xenia Lowe and hairdresser and make-up artist Keondra Renee to create portraits of black hair trends.

1970s

“This shoot was actually a response to a casting contest for the Madam CJ Walker Legacy Center,” the Bethencourts say. “We asked children to submit videos about what Madame CJ Walker’s legacy meant to them. We loved Kendall’s video and selected it for filming. The contest was limited to children in Indianapolis, Indiana [where @walkertheatre is located].”

Shoot the series in a single day

The complete series was filmed in August 2021 in Indianapolis at the Center in a single day.

“The entire session lasted around 6-7 hours with breaks in between,” explains the talented photographer. “Each hairstyle took about 30-40 minutes to create.

1980s

“I was more excited about this project because of my journey with natural hair over the years,” Kahran says. “This shoot reminded me of all the styles I’ve had over the years and my relationship with my own natural hair.”

1990s

They came up with ideas for each hairstyle based on researching different styles over the decades. Many come from his “own memories” and others from looking at images from each decade.

2000s

The Bethencourt duo is Canon Light Explorers and shot the series on the Canon R5, Canon 28-70 f/2L with Picture B10 strobes.

As artists, we are constantly reacting to the world around us. We don’t just want to challenge traditional beauty standards, we want to break them. — Regis and Kahran Bethencourt

“The great thing about this project is that most of the work was done behind closed doors, so very little post-processing was required,” the Bethencourts explain. “We obviously cleaned up the hairstyles to make sure everything looked smooth, but for the most part our post-processing was minimal.”

The future

Creative Soul Photography started in 2009 when Régis Bethencourt decided to go to photography school. Kahran “learned with him” and they started their business while he was still in school.

You can see more of the Bethencourts’ work on their website and Instagram.


About the Author: Phil Mistry is a photographer and teacher based in Atlanta, GA. He started one of the first digital camera courses in New York at The International Center of Photography in the 1990s. He was the director and teacher of Sony/Popular Photography magazine’s Digital Days workshops. You can reach him here.


Picture credits: All the photographs of Regis and Kahran Bethencourt at Creative Soul Photography

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