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ChildrenReview - Children
by William Ropp
Kehrer Verlag, 2004
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Jun 5th 2005 (Volume 9, Issue 22)

Children is a collection of monochrome photographs by William Ropp of young children, most probably still no older than ten years old.  Judging from his web site the style of these pictures is consistent with his other work; he portrays people in distinctive ways, bringing out eerie, sensuous and disturbing aspects of their appearances.  That is easy to do when lighting people from odd angles, taking extreme close-ups, or catching them with unusual facial expressions.  Nearly all the images are dark or have white faces framed by dark.  What's more, many of them look slightly distorted or out-of-focus. 

Superficially, these pictures are reminiscent of horror movies featuring possessed children, since the subjects look unhappy, alienated, distant, preoccupied, or just plain possessed.  One image has a little girl peeking out from behind a dark door, her face lit brightly, and a rather blank or possibly scared expression on her face.  On the facing page, a child, probably a girl, stands against a wall in front of a door; the whole picture is rather blurred, except for a circle of clarity on the face, in what seems like a rather crude distortion effect created in the darkroom or using software.  Other pictures feel hard to focus on, although it isn't clear whether this is because of an unusual play of light and shadow or else due to more direct manipulation of the image after the photograph was taken.  Often the children are lit from above, make the forehead and nose shine, and making area below the eyebrows and the mouth very dark.  Some of the images have children in corners of rooms, one sitting down clutching her knees, another with a grimace on her face, one right hand raised in an odd posture.  These bring to mind images of patients from mental hospitals.  Some of the children look sullen and in a couple of pictures, it looks like a girl's eyes are full of tears. 

These pictures are unusual for their spooky depiction of children, but if spookiness were their only notable feature, they would be of little artistic interest.  It is the less obvious pictures that have more complexity and depth.  They show children exhibiting suspicion, sadness, reflection, introspection, hostility, or curiosity.  In some, the subjects look closed off, as if they are holding back some feelings.  Their innocence is mixed with their own psychic lives, as they show signs of their own private individuality.  These give the collection its emotional power and depth, and raise it above the horror genre.  The children's vulnerability and beauty is emphasized by their skin in many images where they do not wear shirts.  Yet they are remarkable for not being pretty pictures and they don't accentuate traditional aspects of beauty.  This aesthetic is echoed in the presentation of the pictures, with the top edges of many carrying imperfections, presumably from the production process. 

Ropp's collection is very distinctive, being different from other portrayals of children.  Some of the images are on the clichéd side, looking like stills from a horror B-movie about demon possession, or worse, even playing on our prejudices about disturbed or abnormal children.  However, the best pictures are strong and accomplished, and suggest that Ropp's future work could be even better. 

 

© 2005 Christian Perring. All rights reserved. 

 

Links:

·        Ropp's website

·        An illustrated essay on Ropp

 

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Review.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.


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