For those who remember Constance Stuart Larrabee, particularly those living on the Mid-Shore, it will always be gratifying to know that at the very end of her life Constance knew there was a high degree of attention paid to her photography.
While the native South African had been living on the Mid-Shore for more than forty years, she was intentionally reserved on talking about her work as a documentary photographer in the years before marrying a former military attache, Colonel Sterling Loop Larrabee, in 1949. If locals knew anything about Larrabee, it was for her reputation as a successful breeder of Norwich Terriers, not as South Africa’s first female World War Two correspondent. She clearly preferred it that way for reasons still not entirely known.
It was only when she was seventy that a close friend, Ed Maxcy, convinced her to share her portfolio of images from her visits to rural South African villages, the war, the streets of Johannesburg and, later, Tangier Island on the Chesapeake Bay. She began working with such distinguished institutions such as the Corcoran Gallery, Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, Yale’s Center for British Art, Washington’s National Museum of Women in the Arts, as well as our own Washington College and Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, through much of the eighties and early nineties on several well received exhibitions. All of which gave Larrabee the certain knowledge that her lifetime contribution to photography had been well-noted before she died in 2000.
But for those who have never heard her name, or seen her stunning images, there is good news to be had. Almost twenty years after her passing, fellow South African and author Peter Elliott has just completed a new biography of Larrabee after two years of extensive research.
Elliott, retiring to the South of France after a distinguished career as a London-based corporate attorney, began his new vocation as a writer on history and art, and had stumbled on Larrabee’s war photography while researching South Africa’s role in World War II.
Awed by their composition and warmth, Peter has meticulously tracked down every one of Constance’s documentary projects as well as applied a critical appraisal of her work, including a few myths she created along the way on her technique, in the newly released Constances: One Road to Take: The Life and Photography of Constance Stuart Larrabee published by Cantaloup Press.
Through the wonders of technology, the Spy interviewed Peter via Skype from his home in Languedoc, France to talk about Constance, her photography, and the lasting legacy of her work.
This video is approximately twenty-eight minutes in length. Constance: One Road to Take: The Life and Photography of Constance Stuart Larrabee can be purchased at the Book Plate in Chestertown or on Amazon here.