Constance Stuart Larrabee (1914 – 2000)
Born in Cornwall, Constance Stuart Larrabee moved to South Africa as a baby. By 19 she was studying photography in London and later in Munich, influenced by the New Realist style. Returning to South Africa in 1936, she established a portrait studio in Pretoria. Between 1936 and 1949, when she left for the US, she also documented the indigenous peoples of Southern Africa.
She was remarkable on many levels. Working in fiercely conservative South Africa at the time, few female photographers ran their own studios, worked in photojournalism or ventured into rural areas, mines or townships. Fewer still went into war zones, showed a social conscience or exhibited widely.
In 1944 she was appointed South Africa’s first female war correspondent, travelling with the American 7th Army in France during the Allied invasion and hunkering down in the snow and mud with the South African 6th Armoured Division in the Italian Apennines. She was also the official photographer of the British Royal Tour of Southern Africa in 1947.
She photographed her subjects off-guard, in close-up or from unusual angles, using a Rolleiflex. Her powerful portraiture often documented the migrant and rural poor, echoing Dorothea Lange’s Depression photographs, but she also captures a joyful quality in her graphically cropped photos of Ndebele women and San children.
Her work is published in several books, including ‘Bantu Prophets in South Africa’ on African churches, ‘Tribal Photographs’ and in ‘Go Well, My Child’, a portfolio for the book ‘Cry the Beloved Country’ by Alan Paton.
By Paula Vellet