By Kelly Baughman
Beth Childs, like her photos, are more than meets the eye. A former bar owner, music buff, and unknowing comedian with a sense of humor that will keep you rolling for hours, she would never tell you about the talented artist and photographer that lurks in the shadows underneath it all. Kind, unpretentious, and undeniably gifted behind the lens, Childs’ photos have been hailed as moving, emotional, pieces that are as powerful as she is humble.
A native of Bay Minette, Childs spent much of her time growing up on the shores of Orange Beach and Perdido Key. Having spent most of her life as a wife and mother, Childs found herself at a crossroads, longing for a new lease on life and a new way to express herself.
When life gave her lemons, Childs traded them in for a camera and the sugary white sand of Perdido Key permanently. “I was in a really low place. I had just moved here and didn’t really know anyone. I had always loved photography and music, so I decided to start taking pictures at the Flora-Bama. Before I knew it, I had made friends and found my calling,” she said.
Childs’ natural talent behind the lens allowed her to pick up the tricks of the trade and develop her own personal style that became incredibly sought after. She began working for several media outlets like Jams Plus Media and worked for venues like the Soul Kitchen and the Saenger Theater in Mobile. Her festival work has become well known and has been featured numerous times all over the country.
Having worked with artists like Merle Haggard, Billy Joe Shaver, Jason Isbell, Riley Green, Alison Krauss, Chris Stapleton, and more, Childs has cut her teeth photographing the best in the business. But her big break came when she began working with Mary Sarah, ‘The Voice’ alum and Flora-Bama regular, and achieved her bucket list item of photographing her, and many others, on stage at the Grand Old Opry in the world famous Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.
Another of Childs bucket list items was checked off when she traveled to Cuba to work on an info-mercial before the embargo was lifted. “I was chosen to work with this film crew, and we had to jump through a lot of hoops to get to Cuba because at the time, Americans were still not allowed to travel there,” Childs said. The work on the info-mercial lasted three days, and once her work was done, Childs said that’s where her real “work” began.
“It was such a process to get to Cuba, so I knew I wasn’t going back after three days. I wanted to experience everything this amazing country and culture had to offer,” she said. Childs had no hotel plans or returning flight plans, and says she “flew by the seat of her pants” for the next three weeks in the forbidden land of Havana.
For Childs it was the experience of a lifetime. “The people, the music, the food, the architecture….it is all so magical. These people and their culture are so vibrant despite deplorable conditions and poverty. The things we take for granted every day, these people can only dream of. Yet, they are so resilient,” she recalled.
Childs said that while in Cuba the reality of sadness and despair the people suffered growing up under Castro’s Communist rule set in when a four year old child approached her with a gun. “It wasn’t in a malicious way. It was just shocking that a child of that age was exposed to guns and people thought nothing of it,” Childs said. She took advantage of the sobering moment, photographing the child in the real and raw form that stood before her. To this day, Childs said it is one of her favorite examples of her work.
Always a fan of Ernest Hemmingway, Childs’ adventurous spirit struck again when she snuck her way into the hotel room where the beloved author wrote ‘The Old Man and the Sea’. “I wasn’t supposed to be in there because they were doing renovations, but I wanted to see what he saw out of those windows. I wasn’t leaving there until I did,” she said.
Needless to say, Childs got her way and some amazing photographs with Hemmingway’s bird’s eye view to boot.
Childs said her experience in Cuba helped her evolve into a better artist by giving her an understanding into a world she knew existed, but could never fathom until seeing it first-hand. “My eye as an artist is always drawn to the downtrodden. And while these people were so poor, their joy for life came through in that series of photos. To this day, those are the photos I’m most proud of,” Childs said.
When it comes to her photography, Childs says she’s floored at the opportunities she’s had and the growth it has produced, not just in her art, but in her as a person. “You can’t hear a photo. You have to capture the moment that makes people feel something. Makes them feel like they are right there with you. I can take a picture of a guy holding a guitar or a kid holding a gun all day, but finding a way to freeze that emotion in a single shot is something very powerful and rewarding.”