Iris BookCafé and Gallery
William Ropp: Ethiopiques
Known as the “Shadow Sculptor” in Europe for his black-and-white nudes and portraits taken during the 1990s, William Ropp used long exposures made in darkness where he “painted” the figure with a hand-held light. In the mid-2000s, Ropp began making a number of trips photographing Africans, Gypsies, Mexicans, and Russians. In 2010, he began working in color. After visits to Mali and Senegal, he turned to Ethiopia: “I now know just what I’m looking for.” A friend who knew the country well brought him to the Omo Valley near the Sudanese border and a village with little foreign contact. The photographs are carefully staged, posed, and lit—the portraits often made in a studio, with sets Ropp built—then digitally reworked, shifting or draining the color, sometimes stitching multiple exposures. The end result is an altered reality rooted in the actual. In this way, they conform to the thematic concept of the Undocument, but also resonate with filmmaker John Grierson’s original conception of “documentary expression” as a new art form, the “creative treatment of actuality.”
Ropp lives in Nancy, France, a Sister City to Cincinnati, and his exhibition is part of an initial exchange of photographers between the two (Cincinnatian Michael Wilson will have an exhibition in Nancy). He is the author of several books of photographs, including Ethiopiques published in 2015. His work is widely exhibited and published and included in many institutional and private collections, including the Musée de la Photographie (Charleroi, Belgium), the Musée de l’Élysée (Laussane, Switzerland), the Maison Européene de la Photographie (Paris), the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, and the New York Public Library.