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Darien photographer takes on artist-in-residence role

Updated 6:04 pm, Thursday, March 13, 2014
  • Trudie and Ben Larrabee embrace in their Darien home. The front room of their home serves as their studio space. Photo: Megan Spicer / Darien News

    Trudie and Ben Larrabee embrace in their Darien home. The front room of their home serves as their studio space.

    Photo: Megan Spicer

 

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Public libraries nationwide often look at the Darien Library as a trailblazer.

It's a progressive library that Chul Kim, associate publisher of the Museum of Modern Art, said other libraries look to for what's next in the world of public libraries.

And now added to its collection is Ben Larrabee, a Darien photographer and the first artist-in-residence at the library, through a collaboration with the Museum of Modern Art.

"We wanted to give people an example of a real-life artist instead of art that you learn about in a book," said Stephanie Anderson, the head of readers' advisory at the library.

There's no real structure to what the residency entails, though.

"We're inventing as we go along," Larrabee said.

On the second floor of the library is a display of Larrabee's massive black-and-white photographs.

Larrabee, who has photos on display at MoMA, dove into photography 17 years ago while taking a required course at the Rhode Island School of Design. He initially planned to study graphic design.

"When I saw the print come out of the developer, it was like magic," Larrabee said. "I just fell in love with it."

Larrabee's study of fine art has aided him in his photography, said Trudie, his wife of 24 years and business partner for the last 10, allowing him to know what makes a good image, whether it be texture, composition, rhythm or light. Trudie assists during the photography sessions, maintains the operations side of the business, and is often the subject of his photographs.

Larrabee studied under Harry Callahan, who founded the photography department at the RISD in 1961.

"He was very inspiring," Larrabee said. "He encouraged me to trust my own instincts and my own vision."

Through black-and-white images, Larrabee captures what he and Trudie call "moments of grace," moments that people often take for granted, he said.

"Your day is filled with special moments," Larrabee said. "You just need to take time to notice or have the intention to notice."

Through these moments, he captures split-seconds in time, such as a mother's glance at her child in her arms, a girl hugging her dog, or two boys engaged in a tickle battle with smiles broadly stretched across their faces.

Over the course of an afternoon, the Larrabees spend time with their subjects -- whether they be families, friends or animals -- and capture thousands of pictures through the shutter of a Canon digital SLR camera. From there, Larrabee sits in front of his four 30-inch mounted Apple monitors and combs through the images, deciding which ones are good enough to make it to the next round of cuts. Hours will go by before Larrabee has whittled away all the images his client won't see.

What makes or breaks a photo may not be recognizable to the untrained eye, but some of Larrabee's decisions can be based on whether or not the subject is looking at the camera, how their head is tilted in the frame, and a variety of other tiny nuances.

Sitting in the studio in the front room of their Darien home, Larrabee points to his images hanging on the walls above the couch.

"If you look at this little guy," he said pointing to a picture of a boy resting his head against his father's waist and staring deep into Larrabee's camera lens, "it's a moment."

"Or this guy," Larrabee said again, gesturing to a portrait of a man and woman, both with wide smiles on their faces. "It's a moment."

Even animals can convey moments of grace, Larrabee said. Above the fireplace on the far wall is a photo of a horse trotting, printed on rice paper and crumpled to provide even greater texture to the image.

"If I took that exposure a second before or after, it would be totally different," Larrabee said.

In the fall, the Museum of Modern Art teamed with the Darien Library in a one-of-a-kind collaboration. A broad variety of program offerings are now available through the library, including lectures from museum educators and curators, as well as museum passes that can be checked out through the library.

The library staff took the collaboration one step further and established an artist-in-residence program so that library patrons would have the opportunity to not only learn about modern art but could also see how it comes to life.

Through the residency, the Larrabees have scheduled lectures, though they are more conversational and informal than a standard lecture. Between 20 and 30 people have attended each of the lectures where they were given the opportunity to speak with the Larrabees.

Former Darien resident and library employee Patricia McCormick suggested that the library get together with the Larrabees.

"I figured since he already has pictures at MoMA, it was a perfect fit," McCormick said.

mspicer@bcnnew.com; 203-330-6583; @Meg_DarienNews