Constance: One Road to Take: The Life and Photography of Constance Stuart Larrabee (1914–2000)
Peter Elliott, author
The Book: Constance Stuart Larrabee (1914–2000) was a leading female photographer, fêted in both South Africa and the United States of America yet little-known outside of these countries. She was intrepid as a war correspondent and as a solo woman photographer in South Africa and would go anywhere to capture the photographs she wanted to take. Constance: One Road to Take is the first comprehensive book on Constance Stuart Larrabee’s life and work, covering her work in South Africa during the period 1936–1949, in war-torn France and Italy in 1944–1945, and in the USA after she settled on the shores of Chesapeake Bay in late 1949. The book provides insights into the social and political backdrop against which she made her photographs in Southern Africa, draws on her unique war journal and depicts the beauty and tranquillity of the Eastern Shore of Maryland. About Constance Stuart Larrabee: Her early career was spent in a South Africa that was divided into camps, white and black, Afrikaans- and English-speaking. Full-blown apartheid had not yet been introduced but South African society was marked by regimented townships, influx control, and segregated living areas. Despite her background, she managed to penetrate into the rural reserves and the townships. Her early photographs provide a unique lens into the lives of women and children living on the land while their husbands worked deep underground or in the factories that spilled out onto the ridges of the Witwatersrand. Constance studied art both in England and Germany, and subsequently started a studio in Pretoria. Although the studio was successful, her prime interest lay in chronicling the lives of black people living in the countryside, and later in the city and mines. She covered the Allied advance in France and Italy towards the end of the war. In the late 1940s she married and settled in the USA, where she continued her photography. The book includes 92 photographs, all but four of which are by Constance Stuart Larrabee, drawn from the several collections in the USA that now hold her works. 67 of the images are illustrated full page in the book and show Constance’s astonishing clarity and vision.
Elliott, a lawyer and independent historian, reconstructs the life and artistic achievements of South African photographer Constance Stuart Larrabee in this finely detailed biography. Larrabee, whose grandfather was also a well-known photographer, got her first Kodak Brownie camera at age 10, studied camera technique at a London art school in the early 1930s, and in 1935 continued her studies in Munich. Armed with a twin-lens Rolleiflex—ideal for documentary photography—Larrabee captured images of swastika flags and Nazi propaganda posters. Upon her return to South Africa in 1936, she took photos in the Ndelbele settlements, worked with the poor of townships near Johannesburg, and shot images of the royal family in Basutoland. Elliott includes several photos highlighting Larrabee’s most important projects, such as workers in the diamond and gold mines in Kimberley, as well as her time as a war correspondent in Italy and France during WWII (several photos capture the euphoria of French citizens and soldiers after D-Day). This fascinating account of an overlooked photographer will delight both historians and photography enthusiasts. (BookLife)