Constance Stuart-Larrabee, Ndebele Woman Laughing, undated_ISANG Collection

- Constance Stuart Larrabee was born in Cornwall and came to South Africa with her parents. She spent the majority of her childhood in Pretoria. After studying photography in London and Munich, she returned to South Africa where she became a renowned portraitist, photographing many of the leading statesmen and thinkers of the time. Between 1937-49 Stuart developed her lifelong interest in recording and exhibiting the vanishing ethnic cultures of South Africa. She became South Africa’s first female war correspondent, serving in Egypt, Italy, France and England. 
What Larrabee called her "native life studies" are by far her most popular work. They are also the photos that most engaged her energy, talent, and passion. While many factors drew Larrabee to the subjects that she photographed, the most important were aesthetic. She admired the beauty of African women as well as their artistic skills, especially of the Ndebele. 
Larrabee’s photographic approach presents the viewer with a paradox: on one hand bordering on an anthropological desire to view Africans as living within timeless and unchanging tribal cultures, on the other her photographs appear first and foremost as portraits of individual people. She is often described as developing a rapport with most of her subjects, as is evident in this portrait of a married woman shyly laughing behind her hand. The image is tightly cropped, focussing the viewer closely on the woman’s face and the Ndebele wall painting framing her. Although the low angle from which Larrabee is shooting suggests respect for her subject, the choice of title does not. When considered in a current context, this is illustrative of what some critics would consider a violent ethnographic approach to portraying the subject as a ‘tribal type’ instead of as an individual.