With camera phones in every pocket, our personal and family moments often end up buried in social media feeds, never viewed beyond the handheld screen.
An extraordinary photograph that tells a story — without hashtags, filters or captions — is something far more rare. And, it’s the life’s work of Ben and Trudie Larrabee of Darien-based Ben Larrabee Photography.
“Instead of someone working on their image — getting the right clothes, posing this way and that — we set them free,” Ben Larrabee said of his clients. “We go on a journey with them and there’s no posturing or posing.”
Ben Larrabee Photography has built a reputation beyond Fairfield County for elevating family and individual portraits to the level of art. Larrabee’s large, signature black and white photos are not portraits in a traditional sense. An image may show a gesture of a hand or foot, the back of a head, or one family member in motion, partially cropped out of the frame.
“When I shoot I keep it fluid and flexible, so people don’t settle in,” Ben said. “Accidents can happen and they are often beautiful surprises.”
Ben, who trained at Rhode Island School of Design and later earned a Master’s degree of fine arts in graphic design at Yale University, has a knack for making clients feel at ease, according to Trudie. Photos are never taken in studio but rather in a client’s home or a vacation destination, such as Nantucket or Maine.
“This is a shared experience with family — a celebration of a moment in time,” Trudie said. “Everyone is together and engaging in a way they may not very often, since we live in such a digital culture.”
Trudie says Ben captures personal stories in a masterful way. She points to a family photograph hanging on the wall of the Larrabee home. It shows a beach on a tropical island; the daughter has her leg in the air, demonstrating a stretch to her brother, who appears uninterested and is walking away. In the background, Trudie is focused on setting up a windsurfing sail as an activity for the family.
“You see the rhythm and the composition and texture,” Trudie said. “It also captures us in that moment and each of our personalities.”
The greatest validation of the product comes from client reaction. A box of tissues is always nearby during a client review, according to the Larrabees.
“One client said to his wife ‘honey, there are four photographs of myself in the world that I really love and three of them are on this table, right here,’” Ben said.
The Larrabees encourage and help clients display the portraits prominently in the home.
“Some interior designer wrote a rule down in the 1950’s that family photographs should be upstairs, in the private spaces,” Ben said, laughing. “We’re trying to change that mentality.”
“There is nothing wrong about celebrating who you are, where you are and the relationships that are closest to you,” she said. “We’ve had a client say ‘not until the photographs were hanging, did we feel this was a home.’”