A portrait of Canada and Canadians
For a European like me in Canada for the first time, everything looks like a film set or as if it has just stepped out of a scenario. Crossing the road, you half expect a car chase or someone with an incredible story to fall into your arms. Canada Canada is heavily inspired by scenes and imagery typical of the Coen brothers or David Cronenberg. Every photograph has its own story, where everyone plays their own role in their own reality. Real people doing real things in real places. Nothing contrived.
I wanted to get as close as possible to people’s everyday lives, rather like the portraits by Walker Evans (Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, 1941) or Robert Frank (The Americans, 1958). To truly convey reality, you need to spend a lot of time with the people you photograph. You need time to establish trust, but it was lacking for this series and I’m impatient. To build rapport faster than usual, I camouflaged myself like a chameleon in the style, gestures and expressions of those I met. Stripping down to my underwear, I was dressed by my models with their own clothes or second-hand garments found in a downtown Ottawa laundromat. I was exposed, vulnerable and cold during this process. My models helped and protected me, accepting and briefly adopting me with their own belongings. This relationship of trust was reinforced when they showed me how I should look, stand and behave.
When in front of the camera rather than behind it, I’m on the same level as the people in the photograph: I lose control of the image. We all forget about the camera and concentrate on ourselves and our behaviour. It’s a way of capturing the subject within a frame without influencing it with an out-of-field presence. I choose the moment with a remote trigger, often taking many photographs for each scenario in the hope that at least one image will be good. The whole thing is a bit like a game. It’s fun.
You can be whoever you want in Canada. In fact you can totally reinvent yourself. By immersing myself in other people’s realities, I take on the lives I could potentially have there, as if I were the person embodied in each photograph. Sometimes my real life on the other side of the world catches up with me. On one occasion my partner saw me on Facebook, fondly holding hands with a beautiful woman in a VW Campervan. She definitely wasn’t happy and called right away to let me know exactly how she felt.
Pépita Car from the French Embassy in Canada has driven this project with her contagious enthusiasm and overwhelming energy. Without hesitation, Pépita knocked on strangers’ doors to ask them to get involved in the project, to give an hour or two of their precious time out in the freezing cold, to lend me the clothes off their backs and the shoes off their feet. To my astonishment, the Canadians, generous and patient, always replied, "Sure! Why not?"
I would like sincerely to thank all the 378 individuals and organisations who made this adventure possible: All those who gave us their time and energy, along with their gardens, homes, offices, cars, canoes or forests. The KissKissBankers who collectively produced this book with a click of a mouse. The producers, designers, directors, printers, editors and trailblazers who toiled behind the scenes to create this book. Special thanks are due to the team at the French Embassy in Canada who had the idea for this project and stuck to their guns through thick and thin to carry it through to the end.
This series of 150 photographs represents the participation and contribution of both France and the United Kingdom to Ottawa 2017, Canada's 150th anniversary.
© Rip Hopkins 2017