William Ropp ‘Tafari: He who Inspires Awe’ at Throckmorton Fine Art

William Ropp

Ropp is a French photographer nicknamed “the shadow sculptor” for his unusual portrait technique.

The Shadow Sculptor

Spencer Throckmorton describes how Ropp would, “shine a bright beam of light from a 50-year old Czech flashlight to illuminate his subjects, who are placed in total darkness and asked to stare directly into the camera lens in a pose of their own choosing. Ropp relies on an extended exposure time, as long as ten minutes, to capture the dark scene which makes the image a little blurry, but sharply defines the subject’s eyes. It’s truly a unique photographic technique that makes Ropp’s work seem somewhat otherworldly, like something created by a painter.”

Ropp spent his early career in theater and photographing figures in distorting mirrors. He never directs his subjects, preferring to capture their own inner feelings and emotions.

Here’s Looking at you Kid

One constant in Ropp’s work is his subject’s penetrating gaze. They are usually looking right at you with a stare that almost leaps out of the picture plane. When they are not looking at you, there is usually a very singular line of attention between the subject and something in or just outside the picture frame.

William is a very charming man, very French, but an international as well. He loves people and speaks good English. We asked Ropp how he so regularly captures his subject’s bare soul. It’s a challenge because often they don’t even speak the same language .

Ropp said with a laugh that he has many ways to open people up. One he shared with us is he asks his subject to close their eyes and think of their happiest dream. Then he tells them to open their eyes and takes the picture at that moment while they are still in the dream. It is really uncanny how William breaks through the mask and captures the person inside.

Ropp is best known for his portraits of children. He has published several photography books. His work is in important collections at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, The Spencer Collection at the New York Public Library, Museet for Fotokunst Odense in Denmark, and others.

The artist currently lives and works in France.

William Ropp ‘Tafari: He who Inspires Awe’

William Ropp Tafari: He who Inspires Awe is at Throckmorton Fine Art in Midtown East, Manhattan, Monday – Saturday from May 3 – June 23, 2018.


Tafari means “he who inspires awe” in Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia. It was the name of Tafari Makonnen (1892 – 1975) who is better known to westerners as Haile Selassie, the last emperor of Ethiopia. Rastafarians (Ras Tafari or King Tafari) revere Haile Selassie as an incarnation of God.

A Family of Inspiration

The inspiration for this series came from Ropp’s maternal great-grandfather, Louis Jacolliot (1837 – 1890). Jacolliot was a world traveler who wrote over 50 books about his journeys to Tahiti, India, Australia and Africa. As a boy Ropp would read his grandfather’s stories. In his 40s, he felt the irrepressible desire to return to Africa.

This exhibition mostly focuses on the people of Ethiopia. Working in color, Ropp contrasts their penetrating gazes with the natural beauty of the land around them.

It is easy to connect with Ropp’s images because he works inside the collective unconscious that we share with all humanity.

Visiting Throckmorton Fine Art

145 East 57th Street, New York, NY 10022
3rd Floor
(between Lexington & Third Ave)
Midtown East, Manhattan

(212) 223-1059

Tuesday – Saturday: 11 am – 5 pm


  • (4) (5) (6) to Lexington Ave
  • (N) (R) (W) to Lexington Ave – 59th St
  • (E) to Lexington Ave – 53rd St
  • (M) to Lexington Ave – 53rd St

For more information, visit www.throckmorton-nyc.com

If you are interested in any of these artists, please contact art consultant Ximena Ojeda


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