Toronto’s known for being a diverse city. Everyone says so, the world says so, we say so. But so far the proof has been lacking. Thanks to photographer Colin Boyd Shafer, however, that’s all about to change.
For the past nine months, Shafer has been working on Cosmopolis Toronto. And unlike David Cronenberg’s attempt, this is definitely something worth seeing. After living abroad for years and witnessing other countries continually promoting their own diversity (we’re looking at you, Malaysia), Shafer returned to Canada to take care of his grandmother. His interest in migration conflict and the subsequent ramifications immigration places on future generations (Shafer’s grandmother, for example, is from England) spurred him into viewing Toronto in a different light – one that is currently capturing the breadth and depth of diversity this city has to offer.
Depending on the resource you’re consulting, the number of countries in the world is usually somewhere around 190. (Right now the U.N. has 193 members). Shafer’s goal is, and has been, to find a person from every single one of those countries who currently calls Toronto home, learn their story, and photograph them. And he’s already at 180.
Cosmopolis isn’t as simple as just snapping a few shots, however. The application process is a deeply interesting one because it’s what makes people reflect on both their past and their present. Through this, Shafer has managed to find a variety of Toronto citizens who represent the reality of what it means to live in a city with millions of people comprised of hundreds of separate cultures. We’re all living here for a reason and that reason matters. Which is why Shafer asks to photograph his subjects at a location that’s important to them, one that they feel connects them to Toronto. Not only that, but for the second photograph he takes, Shafer always asks them to bring an object along with them that they feel links them to their past.
So last month we went on a shoot with Shafer to see how it all went down. We met Nino (from Georgia) at her requested location, the Alexandra Gates. It’s a place she once stumbled on accidentally but quickly fell in love with. And years later she still finds time to wander here amidst the beauty of urbanity.
The object Nino brings that connects her to the past is a vintage ring she found with her mother more than a decade ago at the Tbilisi Jewelry Flea Market in Georgia. While it serves as a constant reminder of her mother, the ring is also made from an essential part of a headpiece (Tchikhtikopi) Georgian women of noble descent wore years ago. Thus, by putting it on, Nino is quite literally wearing a piece of her heritage around with her.
Not only is Cosmopolis Toronto one of the most interesting projects happening in the city right now, it’s also one of the most beautiful. Not simply because Shafer is a skilled photographer, but because of the stories that come with every image. Here you’ll find the history and future of Toronto all at once.
Shafer’s portraits are not for sale but he’s having an exhibition at Moniker Gallery (452 Richmond St. W) from June 12 – 26. We suggest you get out and witness everything – and everybody – that makes Toronto such a beacon of multiculturalism throughout the world.
#LYNL | (Live Your Notable Life)