“If I was trying to photograph the world, Toronto would be the best place,” says Colin Boyd Shafer, 30, to Kevin Newman Live.
He set out thinking this would be a small project. So far Shafer has photographed and interviewed people from 155 different countries with the goal of reaching 190.
Shafer is originally from Kitchener, but lived in Malaysia and the U.K. before moving to Toronto. He became interested in migration when teaching photography to Burmese refugees in Malaysia.
The project is called Cosmopolis Toronto and is funded by crowdsourcing on Indiegogo.
Shafer doesn’t go out and find people. People come to him. Everyone sends in an application outlining how they came to Canada, where they feel at home in Toronto and what objects connect them to their past.
Shafer usually talks to the applicant over the phone and then meets them in the location and spends about an hour shooting and talking. Shafer then writes their story before sending it to a friend and his mom to be edited.
Shafer says he isn’t surprised by the number of people who are interested in being a part of the project, but he is surprised by the stories he is hearing.
Out of the 155 people Shafer and photographed and interviewed so far, his favourite story is of a Canadian. A high school principal contacted Shafer and asked him to include her husband, but he’d have to change the criteria. She said her husband is a fifth generation Canadian born in Cape Breton, but because he’s black – a descended of slaves – people always ask him what part of the Caribbean he is from.
“I think he’s the perfect Canadian to be in this project because he is, within himself, so diverse,” says Shafer. “I learned a lot through his story.”
Shafer also mentions a woman from Iraq who he describes as “stunningly beautiful.”
Hiba revealed to Shafer that she was a refugee in Saudi Arabia during the Iraq war. She chose to be photographed with a picture of herself and her sister.
“It looks like the type of picture you would have seen on CNN of two kids covered in filth in a camp,” Shafer says. Hiba went on to show her frustration with the type of things people complain about in a developed country like the weather. Shafer says Hiba has come a long way to now be proud of her past.
“We can’t generalize people by religion or where they were born,” Shafer says. “People are complicated. You have to get to know them to understand their story…A lot of people I photographed are full of surprises and I think
that’s true for myself.”