Behind the lens: Larrabee celebrates 20 years in Darien
As an artist who captures the spirit and energy of families in their homes for the past 20 years, Ben has created portraiture as art that shows spontaneity and a reflection of the love he sees.
For the past 20 years, Ben has not only used his gift of showing the love in families, he has also used his talents to give back to the Darien community.
Ben has inspired many as a teacher, working in the Darien school system with both students and teachers, in addition to teaching photography courses through the Darien Community Association, Darien Continuing Education, Middlesex Middle School, the YWCA and his home studio.
“I love teaching”, says Ben. Inspired by his teacher and mentor Harry Callahan, Ben’s intention is to pass along what he learned to others. “I want to help my students develop their personal way of seeing the world through photography.”
Ben was invited to work with 15 art educators in the community, leading a Professional Development Day for K-12 Darien school art teachers. The day was spent photographing horses at a farm in Easton with Ben sharing his insights, tips and inspirations for the teachers to use with their students.
Ben’s ongoing commitment to giving back to kids and adults in the community extends to his photography practice, where he has employed students from Darien High School as interns to help out with image archiving and studio work. Though when they first started the program students came over after school to prepare contact prints for client reviews when he was still working with film.
The Darien Library selected Ben to be it’s first artist-in-residence. This new program, a partnership with The Museum of Modern Art, was designed to make modern art more accessible to the community through exposure to a working artist. Ben gave a series of talks and work sessions in the ArtistSpace on the second level of the library.
“Ben Larrabee’s artistic talent is self-evident, and widely known in the community. More than that, he has an eye for perfection, and does not willingly compromise his values,” said Alan Kirk Gray, Darien Library director.
“When the time came to select our first artist in residence, he was a natural choice. His work on display adds much to the large space in which it can be viewed, and he has led some well-received programs for patrons to give them each a sense of what approaches they could take to understand what steps to take to bring their photography to a higher level, or simply to appreciate what goes into the making of great photography,” Gray said.
As the son of a Quaker minister and a mother who was a social worker, Ben grew up with an awareness of helping others.
Ben also photographed breast cancer survivors from Darien and Greenwich for a photography exhibition called "Faces of Light: Stories from Breast Cancer Survivors." This community based campaign to raise awareness that early detection saves lives made a huge impact within the community and beyond.
One of the organizers, Pam Zangrillo recalls, "I remember the creative energy as Ben and Trudi collaborated with Sharon Kratochvil and I, and Faces of Light ~ Stories From Breast Cancer Survivors was born. We were all moved by the personal stories of the lessons each survivor shared, Ben's photos capturing these beautiful survivors, and we knew we were a part of something that would impact many lives."
Another way Ben gives back to the community is through supporting many charities in Darien and the surrounding towns. Each year he donates his session fee and print to over 40 silent and live auctions locally as well as nationally.
“Ben Larrabee’s generous contribution over the years of his talent, to support Person-to-Person’s fundraising events, has helped P2P raise the funds necessary to provide local families a pathway to stability,” said Ceci Maher, executive director of Darien’s Person-to-Person.
Ben has built a reputation as an artist for his striking black and white portraits of families, many of which grace some of the finest homes from Santa Barbara to Chicago to New York. The couple spends a few weeks every summer photographing families on Nantucket. His photographs are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the High Museum in Atlanta and the George Eastman House in Rochester. He is a frequent award winner in art shows.
While meeting with Ben in his studio/home in Darien, his images flash behind him on four wall-mounted 30-inch Mac flat screen monitors. They tell as much of the story as he does.
“Ben has photographed our family many times in the past 14 years.” said Eileen Thomas, of New Canaan.
“The photos hang in a literal gallery on the second floor of our home and each time we walk down the hallway we relive the moments of joy and grace Ben has captured from various moments of our family’s history,” she said.
“I have to be honest…having Ben photograph our family was on my bucket list for years! I didn’t want posed, formal photos; I wanted the ones that truly captured our personalities,” said Bettina Reynertson of Darien.
“I wanted Ben. He and Trudie have a way with people that engages and disarms them, resulting in honest and real family “moments,” she said.