Dreamt Memories from Africa.
Photographs by William Ropp.
editions GALERIE VEVAIS, 2008. 76 pp., 34 tritone plus a decorative color (mixed from silver and gold) illustrations, 6¾x8½".
i went to mali … sailed down the nigeria river from macina to mopti … following the steps of my ancestor louis jaccoliot, my great-great-great grand-father, who in 1879 reached the mythic city of timbuktu …, William Ropp
... One sees little innocence in Ropp’s vision of the child; the experience is already there
and in place. In fact, some of Ropp’s children, at least to my eye, even seem to have
the memory of the Holocaust about them – somehow in their dress and in their faces.
But possibly I am only seeing one of my own ob-sessions reflected in Ropp’s mirror.
His new work – his children of Mali, his African dream – might seem to present a
social message, be a document of life in the third world, or present a vision as chilling
as the fantasized terrors of Arbus, Tress, or Lux, but even his dream of Africa is
a part of his larger collective dream of the child. Ropp told me that Mali was “hell”,
and I am quite certain these children lack all the material luxuries of the West. But
look at them. They are swimming, playing, fishing, doing all those things children
do. Samuel Johnson in his novel Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia has the philosopher
Imlac explain to Rasselas that “The Europeans … are less unhappy than we, but they
are not happy. Human life is every where a state in which much is to be endured, and
little to be enjoyed.” } 9 Does the fact that their eyes glow so fiercely mean anything
other than that they are inquisitive and as interested as any other child might be
in this French photographer who had traveled so far to photograph them? Ropp’s
vision is that of the eternal child wherever he or she might be. In the shaping of that
vision and in the crafting of his art, he did something that had not been done before—he
captured the collective portrait of us all when we were young.
John Wood in the foreword