Although born in England in 1914, Constance Stuart Larrabee spent her childhood in South Africa. At the age of eighteen, she sought to refine her skills as a photographer at the Regent Street Polytechnic School of Photography in London. This education provided her with conventional training, and through further study as an apprentice to Madame Yevonde in London, she became highly skilled in camera and printing techniques. Larrabee believed that photography was undoubtedly an art form and desired further training. She continued her studies at the Bavarian State Institute for Photography in Munich, Germany where she was deeply influenced by the modernist aesthetic of the Bauhaus. The bold contours and dramatic silhouettes found in her later images reflect the impact of her study in Munich.
In 1936, upon returning to South Africa at the age of twenty-one, Larrabee opened her own photography studio in Pretoria. Renowned for her portraiture, she also became well-known for her field photography. Working amidst the turbulent social and political climate of the deeply segregated Union of South Africa in the 1930s and 1940s, Larrabee captured poignant moments in the daily lives of those around her. Photographing African men, women, and children segregated in city townships, Larrabee illustrated the plight of these individuals with a compelling sense of understanding. Her images of rural African villages notably avoid an ethnographic approach but rather capture every day activities with compassion for the people, land, and art of photography.
During World War II, Larrabee, working as a photojournalist, became the first South African woman war correspondent. She was appointed to cover the events of the war in Libertas
magazine, and through her images of soldiers and war-torn cities, she documented the devastation of the war. In 1946, Larrabee published Jeep Trek
, a diary of images complimented by her personal account of the war in Spotlight
magazine. She continued to photograph in South Africa and in 1948 collaborated with Alan Paton, author of Cry, the Beloved Country
, a novel that raised awareness to the discrimination and exploitation of Africans in South Africa. Larrabee produced a portfolio of photographs specific to Paton’s novel and displayed them at the National Museum of African Art in the 1985 exhibition Go Well, My Child
After marrying Sterling Loop Larrabee in 1949, the artist moved to Chestertown, Maryland where her work began to focus on the quiet coastal regions of New England. In 1982, she was awarded a solo exhibition of these photographs, Celebration on the Chesapeake
at Washington College in Chestertown. Although these images maintain her characteristic artistic presence through extreme close-ups and dramatic angles, Larrabee remains more widely known for her socially conscious images from South Africa and World War II.
Bavarian State Institute for Photography, Munich, Germany (1935-1936)
Regent Street Polytechnic School of Photography, London, England (1933-1935)
student of Madame Yevonde
student of Yvonne
collaborated with Alan Paton