The photographers behind the famous Afro Art series visited Harris Academy East Dulwich to judge a writing competition on their images.
Kahran and Regis Bethencourt, of CreativeSoul photography, created their Afro Art Portrait Series to celebrate the beauty of dark hair and encourage children to kiss their curls and have received international recognition.
When Harris Academy teacher Sarah Thompson saw their work last year, she decided to show the images to her A-Level photography class, to start a discussion about cultural identity, hair and skin. .
Ms Thompson, who is Métis, recalls students being bullied because of their hair and skin when she was a student.
She said, “So many black and mixed race girls use strong chemicals to straighten their hair from a young age.
“I wanted girls to see that they have a choice and that their own natural appearance is beautiful.”
Ms Thompson wrote to Afro Art photographers Kahran and Regis asking if she could print their photos and display them at school, and they responded that they would send special prints free of charge.
In addition to showing the images to her class, Ms. Thompson held an “identity” themed contest, encouraging students to write about how the images in Afro Art made them feel.
Kahran and Regis were so impressed that they decided to pay a visit to judge the school’s competition while on a trip to the UK.
They chose thirteenth-year student Ria Addison Gayle as the winner, and in recognition of her success, Ria was later invited to join the photographers in a recent photoshoot in London.
Ria had written that she used to straighten her hair to avoid comments like “why is your hair like this?” and change its texture.
In her winning entry, she said, “On media platforms and the film industry, there is limited representation of the black community celebrating their natural beauty, and there is also limited representation of dark-skinned models and actors. industry and to attend the [Afro Art] series of images is something very rare and striking.
“And on a personal level these images had a very powerful effect on my perception of beauty and if I had seen more images like this [when I was younger]it would certainly have had a positive effect on my self-esteem.
Discussing how the Afro Art series had inspired her, Ria said, “The first thing that caught my eye was the simplicity and regal beauty of the images. It was refreshing to see models kissing their natural hair.
Afro Art photographer Kahran said, “We were amazed and inspired by the overwhelming response to our photos by students at Harris Girls’ Academy.
“It is one of our greatest accomplishments to know that our work has had a positive impact on so many young girls in the UK and around the world. “
Teacher Ms Thompson said, “Identity and representation is something that is important to all of us and so we always want to give our daughters role models that they can look up to and learn from.
“Afro Art, and our discussions with Kahran and Regis, have been an incredibly powerful and positive way to explore what identity means to our students and we are so grateful that they were able to visit our academy.”