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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.
illustrated essay on Ropp
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