Urban design magazine


Getting offbeat with Rip Hopkins

Portrait of Rip Hopkins
Portrait © Rip Hopkins

A refreshing and non-conforming encounter.

The ever experimental photographer Rip Hopkins is always where you least expect. He isn’t afraid of tension, on the contrary, he actively looks for it. Where? In the chaotic cities he explores as a photojournalist for VU’, in tumultuous metropolis across the world and through the mise-en-scene of men and women who are out of step with their role or context. Rip Hopkins discussed the objects and people that have had an important impact on him with the Urban Design Observatory.

Good morning Rip Hopkins, you studied at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure for industrial creation in Paris. To what extent has your background as a designer influenced your photography?

During my studies, I learnt to consider objects in terms of a very specific use and to improve their dysfunctions. This requires you to constantly question objects and their context.

With photography I do the same thing. I select questions that interest me and develop an approach based on the materials, target audience and sponsor (if there is one) in order to meet their requirements, whilst retaining a degree of creative freedom.

Image of Rip Hopkins' Iron and Concrete Age project

An Iron and Concrete Age © Rip Hopkins

You often stage art, design or everyday objects in very quirky and original ways. Where does this approach to photography come from?  

In fact, my preferred objects are people, through portraits or mise-en-scene that place them in context with their environment. I rarely photograph objects on their own, I prefer to relate them to people.

I also enjoy decontextualising people from their environment. I often take objects out of their context by disrupting their uses or the setting in which they are usually seen in order to view them differently.

You seem to be particularly interested by the objects designed for our cities? What is your approach to photographing street furniture?

Image from Rip Hopkins' Outlaws project

Outlaws © Rip Hopkins

I find these objects interesting when they are connected to their environment. Street furniture is designed for users who haven’t chosen them. Rather, they have been selected by the local authorities. I photographed Marc Aurel’s street furniture because it was fun to do and because Marc has a very sensitive and user-orientated approach.

You are English and European, but you’ve travelled a lot to countries like Ouzbekistan, Romania and Liberia. As a photographer, how interesting do you find cities? Do European cities interest you, and if so, why?

I find cities fascinating because of the mix of people they contain. They are full of energy, encounters, cultures and tensions as well. Developing countries remain very mono-cultural. European cities are more dynamic. In Brussels, London and Paris people from all over the world pass by your window. I couldn’t live in a city that isn’t a metropolis. It’s a question open-mindedness and offering different possibilities.

Image from Rip Hopkins' After Paradise Project

After Paradise © Rip Hopkins

Do you think cities are becoming more uniform?

Certain parts of cities are becoming more uniform, particularly those inhabited by the middle classes where there are numerous shopping centres. The middle classes aspire to social ascension and devote themselves to consumerism, especially on the outskirts of cities. The working classes don’t have the spending power to access these shops. The upper classes have the means to use small high quality specialist shops. I think the landscape of different city areas depends heavily on the income of the inhabitants.

Image of Rip Hopkins' Cooking Alchemists Project

Cooking Alchemists © Rip Hopkins

In conclusion, how would you describe your evolution as a photographer in terms of mise-en-scene and your relationship with objects? What direction are you heading in at the moment?

I’m not passionate about objects because I don’t give them much importance. I often buy second-hand. For the last year I’ve been working on a car-sharing application. Instead of trying to own objects, I like the idea of sharing personal objects for financial motivations. At the moment, I’m busy working on this whilst continuing with my photography in parallel.

Image of Rip Hopkins' Cooking Alchemists Project

Cooking Alchemists © Rip Hopkins