British photographer turns his lens on Canada at 150

British photographer Rip Hopkins is discovering what it means to be Canadian — one picture at a time.

Discovering Canada at 150, one picture at a time

British photographer Rip Hopkins, centre, takes part in Parliament Hill yoga as part of his Canada Canada series. The project aims to photograph Canadians across the spectrum of Canadian identity. (Rip Hopkins)

British photographer Rip Hopkins says the goal of his latest project, Canada Canada​, is to enrich the discussion about the Canadian identity as the country prepares to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation.

"I am taking photographs of Canadians across the whole spectrum of Canadian society," he said. "I'm going to see Muslims in their mosques, Syrian refugees, Justin Trudeau, the police, the fire brigade."

Commissioned by the French Embassy and the British High Commission, Hopkins is creating a special exhibit for Ottawa 2017 — a series of 150 photographs of Canadians, all taken in Ottawa and Gatineau.

Hopkins, second from left, poses with members of the Ottawa Police Service as part of his Canada Canada series. (Rip Hopkins)

'Anyone can be Canadian'

Hopkins meticulously places the subjects of his photographs exactly where he wants them. Then — like a real life game of 'Where's Waldo' — he joins them, sometimes hidden in the picture, sometimes front and centre.

You can always re-invent yourself when you come here. You can have a new life.- Rip Hopkins

But Hopkins said the photos aren't about him.

"I do that just to show that anyone can be Canadian," he said. "Assimilation into Canadian society is so easy if you compare it to Europe."

Hopkins, left, poses with Indigenous people at Victoria Island in Ottawa as part of his Canada Canada series. (Rip Hopkins)

Hopkins, who lives in Belgium, says he was struck by just how much Canadians of all heritages live and interact together.

"When people arrive here in Canada, they're not a minority, because they become Canadians and they all sort of mix together," he said. "Canadian identity is just a mixture, so I can be anyone I want to basically in Canada."

"You can always re-invent yourself when you come here," he said. "You can have a new life."

150 portraits of Canadian identity

Hopkins will have re-invented himself 150 times once his project is finished. And it all begins with a rather unconventional introduction.

"I often take my clothes off, so I strip down to my underwear," he said, adding that it serves a purpose in his photography.

"In stripping down to my underwear, I'm also in a situation where I'm exposed, where I'm fragile.".

Hopkins said the people he's photographing then dress him with their own clothes.

"They kind of adopt you," he said. "It's a very quick way of entering into some form of intimacy within the group of people that I'm photographing."

Hopkins, left, poses with Msgr Daniel Berniquez at Ottawa's Notre-Dame Cathedral as part of his Canada Canada series. Hopkins has visited mosques, synagogues and churches as part of his project. (Rip Hopkins)

Still learning what it means to be Canadian

All told, Hopkins said he will have taken close to a million pictures for this project, but only 150 will make into the final project.

"Every picture is an experience I had with the people I took," he said. "They're all in one way [my] favourite."

On his third and final trip to Canada, Hopkins said he's still learning what it means to be Canadian.

"I don't know Canada and Canadian mentality," he said. "I've only just experienced it through all the people I've met."

Hopkins's photographs will be on display at the Ottawa Art Gallery Annex at Ottawa City Hall between April 28 and June 11.

The exhibition's opening reception will take place on Thursday, April 27 at 7 p.m.