One man’s mission to find a person from every country on earth within the Greater Toronto Area is almost complete. Starting in June last year, Colin Boyd Shafer, a photographer and high-school teacher, started Cosmopolis Toronto, a blog of intimate portraits of people from all but ten of the world’s recognized nations, and several disputed territories, too. “As a geography teacher, I’m comfortable with talking about countries,” Shafer told us. “So I figured tying that to portraiture could work.” The numbers certainly suggested that the project was possible. In 2011, Statistics Canada calculated that almost half of the Toronto-area population—about 2.5 million people—was born overseas, most of them in Asia or the Middle East. The same year, Canada had a foreign-born population of about 6.8 million, or just under a quarter of the country.
A little over a year after starting the blog, Shafer has interviewed and photographed people born just about everywhere, save for a handful of Pacific nations and Monaco, San Marino, and East Timor. Surprisingly, even people from countries as mysterious as North Korea and remote as Tonga were to be found living in Toronto or its suburbs. Each subject was photographed once in a GTA location where he or she felt at home, and then a second time holding an object with sentimental value. Many chose photographs of loved ones, while others chose food, clothes or a diary kept since moving to Canada. The photos, especially those of people from places riven by conflict, are powerful. “Many of [the subjects] do not fit within the majority ethnicity or religion of that particular country, which I think is really important—that these people are not chosen based on anything other than where they’re born.” Shafer said. “That was something I felt really strongly about and I kept it consistent throughout…this is not a bunch of individuals representing countries, but instead where they were born.”
We asked Shafer to select ten photos that he felt best represented the series. Click through the photo gallery to see them, with his commentary. A book featuring all of the pictures in the Cosmopolis Toronto series is currently in the works.