Toronto artist maps diversity, one portrait at a time
Katherine DeClerq, Special to CTVNews.ca
Published Wednesday, May 7, 2014 1:13PM EDT
Living in what is considered one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world, a Toronto photographer is taking it upon himself to map his city’s diversity using the faces and stories of the people who live there.
Colin Boyd Shafer, a 30-year-old photographer and teacher, is attempting to take pictures of at least one person from every country in the world who now call Toronto home.
“I thought it would be cool to try and capture this very sweeping term ‘diversity,’” he told CTV News. “I don’t think there has ever been something done like this where diversity is individualized and a face is created around that.”
The crowd-funded project, aptly dubbed “Cosmopolis Toronto,” began in October 2013. To date, Shafer has captured nearly 180 portraits and only has 13 countries left to represent.
He asks his subjects to take him to a place where they are most comfortable or that has special significance to them. “It could be where they got engaged, (or) their favourite restaurant. Some of these portraits have been quite meaningful.”
He then takes a second photo with the subject holding an object that reminds them of where they are originally from.
Erik Purtillo, a political refugee from Guatemala, stands near customs at Pearson International Airport in his photo, which he described to Shafer as a “passage to freedom and gateway to safety.” A Canadian flag hangs in the background.
“It has a very special meaning to me because it was the first place that I arrived to in Toronto,” he said. “The first time I actually felt safe after my personal experience.”
In his second portrait he holds a woven bag he purchased on his first trip back to Guatemala after 25 years.
For Peter Lester, a world-traveller originally from Zambia, a project like this represents what it means to be Canadian -- and a Torontonian.
“One of the things I love about Toronto, and about this project in itself, is the fact that I get to travel the world just by walking the streets of Toronto,” said Lester.
His first portrait was taken inside First Canadian Place, the building where he works as a commercial banker for the Bank of Montreal. In the second, he holds a painting of his mother.
For now, Shafer has put all of these stories online at CosmopolisToronto.com. By clicking on any of the maple leaf icons scattered across a world map, guests can see a photograph of a Torontonian from that part of the globe.
But the project is about more than just image. Shafer also collects stories from every person he photographs and includes them on his website.
Beside the picture is a link to a more in-depth interview containing unique stories and anecdotes about life in Canada’s largest city.
Shafer came up with the idea for Cosmopolis Toronto after spending a few years travelling the world and teaching in Malaysia, where he founded the TEDx-featured ‘Everyone Has Hope Project’ that teaches photography to refugees from Myanmar.
“Being fortunate enough to travel extensively, I’ve photographed many interesting faces from East Timor to Bolivia,” he explains in a Youtube video outlining his Cosmopolis project. “While living and travelling abroad, I’ve been told that I look Canadian. This seemed strange to me because the Canada I’ve grown up in doesn’t have just one look.”
Shafer’s work will be showcased at the Toronto’s Moniker Gallery in June. He also plans on publishing a book of his photographs -- a kind of “human atlas.”
He hopes it can act as an educational tool for social science classes in the city.