Between 2013 and this fall, he has toured with his Cosmopolis Toronto project. This was Shafer' yearlong journey in which he photographed someone born in every single country of the world who now calls Toronto home. After hearing his talk at TEDx Toronto, I thought it would be interesting to know more about Shafer and his work. Here is my interview with him, where he shares more about his love of photography, culture, and combining the two.
HM: From your bio, I have learned you are both a documentary photographer and a teacher. How do you navigate both roles; are the interconnected for you? What came first?
Colin B. Shafer (CBS): I really think my education has complemented my photography and vice-a-versa. When doing documentary photography, it is important to know a little bit about the stories you are telling - and because I have taught or studied topics like religion, conflict, multiculturalism, migration, gender equality etc. it makes for a better ability to understand some of the contexts behind my photographs. While doing projects like Cosmopolis Toronto, I feel like I am still teaching... but just that my class is now those who are viewing the photographs and reading the stories.
HM: On your website, you also share five series you have compiled in the past couple of years. They include various people and locations. Are you most drawn to people and portrait work when documenting with your camera?
CBS: I am definitely most interested in people. My most immediate goal with photography is not to take beautiful pictures, but instead, I think I really aim to take meaningful pictures. I liked street photography at first because it is often beautiful, and does involve people, but it is with portraiture and documentary photography that I can really get to concentrate on a story and feel connected to what/who it is that I am photographing.
|Yasser from The Maldives|
Photo: Colin B Shafer - Cosmopolis Toronto
CBS: My understanding and interest in culture has definitely changed since I started taking photographs. In the beginning I was interested in taking travel photos of 'exotic' cultures, but the more i learned re: Anthropology the more I felt like i was a part of this long history of the 'western gaze', 'fetishizing the other' etc. While I still love travelling, when it comes to photography I am most interested in pursuing series/projects that have depth, and do not involve me capturing photographs of beautiful / interesting people I know nothing about and then sharing them blindly.
HM: Your Cosmopolis Toronto project -- wherein you photographed one person from each country in the world -- has garnered a lot of attention. It has been discussed widely in various media, and you presented it at TEDx Toronto a few back in October. Could you tell those who are unfamiliar with it what drove you to create this photographic project?
CBS: I wanted to 'come home' after being overseas in Malaysia and the UK for 5 years and concentrate on photography in some way. I really needed to come back because my grandmother is 89 and I wanted to spend time with her and help out. While planning out a project, 'diversity' seemed like a topic that was central to being from the Greater Toronto Area. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that nobody had done a project like this, and with my Geography background it seemed like the perfect idea - trying to find someone born in every country of the world who now calls Toronto home. It was great in that it told the stories of the people that make up this grand concept 'diversity', individualizing it and rendering it more complex yet understandable.
Obviously the idea was a good one! No regrets.
|Sale from Mozambique|
Photo: Colin B Shafer - Cosmopolis Toronto
CBS: While diversity of countries of birth present in Toronto was the focus of Cosmopolis Toronto, INTERLOVE project aims to explore the diversity of relationships present in Canada. As I was doing Cosmopolis Toronto, I met a lot of people who were involved in interfaith relationships, and it got me thinking how this is something that is quite common in Canada, but nobody has tried to explore in depth using photography.
While interracial relationships have been the focus of many portrait photographers, I think in Canada today, those stories have become mainstream (which is awesome) BUT with interfaith relationships there are a lot of unknowns.
The project is currently being crowd-funded on INDIEGOGO and the response has been great. A the moment we have over 130 people who have backed the project, and if we reach the $15,000 mark it will go Canada-wide!
This project will also demonstrate how two people who believe very differently - manage to love, raise a family, navigate through society etc. Globally there are a lot of conflicts that have been identified as being along religious lines. If two people can believe differently and still love each other, surely we can all learn from these examples. Finally, it is great that in Canada such project can happen. In some places these stories couldn't be told.
Shafer's work is certainly a neat way to know more about ourselves, our city, and each other. If you like what you see, I encourage that you visit his website. You can read more about his projects and also donate to fund the INTERLOVE Project as well. I also encourage you to be social and share this piece or leave your comment for myself and Shafer. Remember, these are ideas worth spreading.