December 11, 2014

Photography Spotlight: Colin B. Shafer

This past October, I was fortunate to attend the TEDx Toronto conference. The day was full of ideas worth spreading. One of the many people who shared their ideas and work with us was photographer Colin Boyd Shafer. His photographic work has been receiving lots of recognition in Toronto and beyond.

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
HM: Has culture always been a topic you've been curious to explore in your work?

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
HM: You are now embarking on another project, here in Canada, the INTERLOVE Project. You mentioned to me that diversity and interfaith relationships are topics worth exploring. Is this where the idea for INTERLOVE came from?

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.

December 8, 2014

Geekdom: Toronto ComiCon One-Day Show

For one-day only, get your fandom fix at Toronto ComiCon’s special holiday show. With local exhibitors including artists, dealers, and retailers, it’s an ideal place to holiday shop for the nerdy or nice on your holiday list – or just treat yourself!

This will hold you over with enough comics, sci-fi, horror, anime, and gaming until the big Toronto ComiCon March 2015 show.

On this one-day special show, you can mix and mingle with the likes of:

Francis Manapul (Detective Comics), Ken Lashley (Superman: Doomed), Mike McKone (Justice League United), Leonard Kirk (Fantastic Four), Dave Ross (Iron Man), among others.
Photo: HeidyM.
All of this one-day goodness will take place Sunday, December 14th, 11:00am to 5:00pm, at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre - South Building Hall F.

Admission is only $10 Adults and Children Under 12 are FREE. Tickets are available at the door.

For more information on special guests and the Toronto ComicCon One-Day Show, please go to

November 29, 2014

Preview II: BITS 2014

BITS continues at the Carlton Cinema today, November 30th with a line-up which includes some macabre, psychological thriller-like films.

The following is my recommendation for today.

Black Mountain Side - 4:15pm & 6:45pm
Starring: Shane Twerdun, Michael Dickson, Carl Toftfelt, Marc Anthony Williams,
Andrew Moxham, Timothy Lyle, Steve Bradley

Director Nick Szostakiwskyj's Black Mountain Side feels more likie a thriller than a horror, but it works quite well. In the film,  a grouup of anthropologists gather at a remote part of Northern Canada, where in winter there is an average of 5hours of sunlight and minus 50C temperatures. They are there to verify if a stone formation dates to Mesoamerican times, which would place it rather off course by thousands of miles.

Soon after their arrival, things begin to change. Even the local Inuit helpers decide to leave the site, altogether. They find themselves isolated with no means of communication. Members of the team also begin to develop an 'illness' that no one has any idea of what it could be. Could it be symptoms of their isolation or something more sinister?

Black Mountain Side works well in building up tension and supsense with long exposure shots, as well as, by focusing on the members of the team. For a first feature, with a limited budget, Szostakiwskyj does a good job in creating the aforementioned tension. We watch as the team members lose grasp of their sanity, in some sense. The cold climate and landscape also adds to the chilling tension in the film. The cinematography aids in advancing the plot better than some of the actors, in some instances.

Albeit limitations, Black Mountain Side is worth seeing on the big screen. For those of you who like films like with creepy suspense, this film will appeal to you. One note on the ending though, it leaves you wanting a little more. Some may like it; others may hate it, but I am kind of okay with its unclear message… I won’t say more as not to give away much here.

Black Mountain Side screeens at BITS today at 4:15pm and 6:45pm. A second screening was added due to a high demand of tickets for this film.

There are still other films screening at BITS, as well. Closing the festival is director Greg A. Sager's Kingdom Come, also with two screening times. If you have the time, make it a double-feature. You can find more details at