Photo: My studio on the outskirts of Markham, is where I work as a multidisciplinary artist. Here in my element, I am free to explore my creativity.' – Nava, born in Israel (Photo: Colin Boyd Shafer)
While living overseas, Colin Boyd Shafer was told again and again that he "looked Canadian." This notion of a single Canadian ‘look’ was at odds with his experience growing up amid Toronto’s diversity. He decided to find and photograph someone from every country in the world who now calls Toronto home. He called the project Cosmopolis Toronto, and on Tuesday he launches a book that catalogues the first year.
How did you find the people?
It is important to note that many people helped in the process. Social media has been key. Many people don't realize you can type in the Facebook search bar, "born in Tonga, living in Toronto" and find people that way. Also I tried searching for people by using hashtags on Twitter for the various countries.
Luckily the media took an interest in what I was doing, and after every radio, print or TV appearance I would receive more applications. My team and I also made a final attempt at finding people by creating posters with the missing countries on them and standing in Dundas Square.
What were the hardest countries to locate a representative for?
I should point out that I am still missing people from a few places. Comoros, East Timor, Monaco, Solomon Islands, San Marino, Kiribati, Nauru, Micronesia, Marshall Islands and Vanuatu. If anyone from these places is out there and living in the Greater Toronto Area... call me!
I did manage to find many people from countries that most people have never met someone from.
I was so happy when Elisaia from Tuvalu applied. It has a population of less than 10,000 people and I really didn't expect to find someone from there.
Also I managed to find Gebhard from Liechtenstein. A gentleman saw me on Canada AM where I mentioned I was still missing a participant from Liechtenstein. He was out later that day and spotted a man he remembered talking to once and shouted from across the park, "Aren't you from Liechtenstein? Someone is looking for you!” That evening he phoned me with Gebhard's number.
What did you learn through the course of this project?
I think this project proved to me that anyone who has moved from one place to another has a story to tell. It is so important that we take the time to listen.
I think this project is also a reminder that our country was built on migration, and all of us have a connection to migration - whether it was recent or in the distant past. We can't forget that, and that includes myself (the book is dedicated to my late Grandfather and my Grandmother Eileen who happens to be my participant born in the UK)
What's next for you?
I am currently working on another portrait project that deals with diversity. This is a project on the love stories of interfaith couples in Ontario called INTERLOVE and it is wrapping up at the end of the summer. I have already photographed over fifty couples that are up at interloveproject.com and I plan on turning it into my next book.