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Cosmopolis Toronto: Photographer reflects city's diversity in portraits

Nadia, originally from Bangladesh, poses for a photo on the subway in Toronto on Nov. 9, 2013. COSMOPOLIS TORONTO/Colin Boyd Shafer

Colin Boyd Shafer wants to photograph Toronto.

Not its glistening waterfront, its often-captured skyline or the iconic CN Tower.

But its people — with roots that stretch back near and far — who have set down in Toronto the Good.

The brainchild of Shafer, Cosmopolis Toronto, wants to show the diversity of Toronto, one photograph at a time — some 200, to be exact.

“Cosmopolis” means a city with residents from different countries, said the 30-year-old teacher and photographer.

“I would argue that the best representation of a cosmopolitan city is Toronto.”

The Kitchener native is snapping portraits of Toronto residents — two or three each day — in a place in the city near and dear to them and with an object with ties to their homeland.

The crowdfunded project will be on display at the Toronto Centre for the Arts Jan. 15 to Feb. 22, 2014. Shafer also plans to publish the portraits in a book.

“I thought this would be a really cool way for individual stories to come out in more of a true way than just blanket ideas like multiculturalism or diversity.”

“The hope is to try and find someone born in every single country of the world.”

His passion for photography built while teaching in Malaysia for several years.

After completing a master’s degree at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London earlier this year, Shafer returned to Canada with the idea.

“I have an interest in migration, an interest in portrait photography and then add all of that with the fact that I have a grandma I haven’t spent much time with living in Toronto.”

But more so, Shafer wants to demonstrate a diverse Toronto through its people.

“Quite often, people will say, ‘you look Canadian.’”

“I would say, ‘that’s kind of funny because people that I grew up with and people that I know — it’s a real wide variety of looks.’”

“That whole idea of someone can ‘look Canadian’ doesn’t make sense to me.”

He hopes Cosmopolis will allow people to “understand exactly what Toronto is like, in regards to this diversity,” by sharing raw stories.

“In no way is this project supposed to show that Toronto is perfect. It’s supposed to allow for some reflection.”

Dozens of portraits dot an interactive map on Cosmopolis’ website, including that of 32-year-old Tjidzani Shambare, born in the southern African nation of Zimbabwe.

“I chose to participate because I am proud of where I am from and where I have been, but I am also proud of where I am now,” she said.

She wanted Shafer to photograph her at a midtown parkette bench where she and her then-boyfriend sat to chat and decided they would tie the knot.

Shafer also shot her hands gripping a totem walking stick, gifted by her uncle when she arrived in Toronto.

“It is a beautiful piece of art and an ode to our history.”

Shambare, a real estate agent, arrived in Toronto in 2008 after leaving Zimbabwe on exchange to Switzerland.

“[I] just fell in love with the idea of experiencing different cultures so I kept moving.”

“It is a remarkable thing to find a place that was never home before, but that feels so familiar. It’s like that friend you met later in life, but who you love like a sibling you’ve known since birth.”

“That’s Toronto for me.”