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cos·mop·o·lis (käzˈmäpələs) noun : A city inhabited by people from many different countries

With more than half its three million inhabitants born outside of Canada, it is clear that Toronto is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. While statistics help to quantify Toronto’s diversity, rarely are real stories about individuals part of the discussion.

For Cosmopolis Toronto, I set out on a yearlong journey (June 2013 – June 2014) to photograph someone born in every single country of the world who now calls Toronto home.

For each person participating in the project, a portrait was taken of them in a place where they feel  ‘at home’. A second photograph features them holding an item that connects them to their birthplace.  These two photographs are paired with a short story and mapped here on the website.

Finding participants was a challenge. Luckily, with the help of social media and friendly Torontonians, the response was excellent. I also had a group of experienced and passionate volunteers dedicated to meeting the project’s objectives.  Cosmopolis Toronto is now an excellent educational resource, has been exhibited widely and even became a book.

If you would like to bring this project to your city or have me come speak about it, do not hesitate to reach out.

I would love for you to follow Cosmopolis Toronto on Facebook Twitter, and Instagram. Also, check out the video introduction and media coverage of the project.

Thank you!

- Colin Boyd Shafer

About Cosmopolis Toronto

Cosmopolis Toronto is a documentary photography project that aims to:

  1. Create an accurate picture of diversity through the unique individuals that make up Toronto today;
  2. Share compelling personal stories; and
  3. Create engaging and positive opportunities for dialogue among people from various cultural and social backgrounds.

The project is set in Toronto (including the Greater Toronto Area) but speaks to themes of resilience, migration and community-building that are understood and felt by countless individuals on a provincial, national and international level.

About the Artist

Colin Boyd Shafer (b. 1983) is a Canadian documentary photographer and high school social sciences teacher born in Kitchener, Ontario. He is specifically interested in migration, diversity and belonging.

Shafer’s recent portrait projects include INTERLOVE which tells interfaith love stories in Ontario, and Cosmopolis Toronto, a project that features someone from every country of the world who now calls Toronto home.

Shafer’s work has been featured widely in the media, including National Geographic, The Wall Street Journal, The Globe and Mail, The New Internationalist, Salon, BBC News, 6Mois, Foto8, F-Stop Magazine as well as CTV, CBC and Global National News channels. Shafer also presented on his project Cosmopolis Toronto at TEDxToronto 2014 and to the United Nations Alliance of Civilization’s Global Forum.

In 2014 Shafer won first place at the Toronto Urban Photography Festival and the 2013 Human Rights Watch Film Festival’s Photography Competition in London, UK. Most recently, Shafer was chosen by the Governor General of Canada to photograph inspiring Order of Canada recipients. These photographs will be featured in an upcoming book by Figure1 Publishing that commemorates Canada’s 150th anniversary and the 50th anniversary of the Order of Canada.

Shafer holds an MSc in the Political Economy of Violence Conflict and Development from the School of Oriental and African Studies. While teaching at Taylor’s College in Malaysia from 2008 to 2012, Shafer founded the TEDxMMU – featured Everyone has Hope Project wherein Malaysian college students teach photography to Burmese refugee youth.

Shafer is currently teaching Social Sciences in Bulgaria at the American College of Sofia, working on a number of photography projects and is open to new assignments.

About the Project Team

Cosmopolis Toronto is an independent initiative that relied on the efforts of individuals to see it through. The project team was composed of passionate volunteers who generously offered their skills, time and efforts to the realization of the project’s goals.

Vanessa Tamburro, Project Manager and Curator

Vanessa brings a great deal of enthusiasm, dedication and experience to her work in the education and culture sectors. She is a key player in supporting the project team and facilitating deeply moving and creative opportunities, which bring individuals and the arts together in Cosmopolis Toronto. Vanessa holds a Master of Museum Studies from the University of Toronto and a Bachelor of Education from McGill University, with a major in History and minor in Ethics and Religious Cultures. Vanessa currently works at the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

Keely Bland, Curatorial Assistant

Keely is a prairie girl from Saskatoon who now calls Toronto home. She earned a BA Honours in Classical Medieval and Renaissance Studies from the University of Saskatchewan. It was through her travels that her love of art, history and museums was solidified and she made her way to the University of Toronto to study Museum Studies. The best part of her Toronto adventure has been the city itself, which she loves for the arts and culture, its neighbourhoods, the food and mild winters. Keely currently works at HBC Heritage Services and hopes to continue to be involved in education, public programming and community engagement in the culture and heritage fields.

Lisa Takkinen, Outreach Coordinator

Lisa is a photographer whose work focuses on documentary and street photography. Her passion is to bring others a fresh and unique perspective to this multifaceted world. She loves travelling, and jumps at any chance to explore others’ stories and cultures; connecting with people through the gift of photography has become her niche. Lisa is an adventurous, small-town girl from the West, but has adopted Toronto as home as she attends Sheridan College, where she will receive her Bachelor’s in Photography in 2015.

Jennifer Rodrigues, Sponsorship Coordinator

Jennifer’s passion for culture and community relations began while earning her BA in Anthropology at the University of Waterloo and continues to grow in scope through her studies at the University of Toronto in the Master of Museum Studies program. When she isn’t glued to a computer screen, she spends most of her time exploring Toronto’s diverse communities. Whether it’s by foot or bike, by experimenting with her taste buds at unique restaurants, or through museum volunteering, Jennifer is always in search of new cultural experiences.

Sabrina Sopian, Artistic Consultant

Sabrina is former graduate of Taylor’s College in Malaysia and mentee of Colin Boyd Shafer. She is currently studying Tourism Management at the University of Guelph and loves Canada so much that she regards it as ‘home’. Sabrina is an aspiring visual artist and is thrilled by the artistic opportunities available in Canada. She recently won second place at Art Battle Hamilton. In the future, Sabrina hopes to advocate the importance of art in schools as well as to learn more languages and immerse herself in different cultures.

All photos property of Colin Boyd Shafer.

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