“Some people in this world are born on the outside looking in.”
Michka Saäl’s posthumous New Memories features not only photographer Anne. J. Gibson, but the vibrant Kensington Market neighborhood upon which she thrives. Toronto is not always a welcoming city to the populace on the fringes. The recovering drug addicts, the artists, the hippies and musicians. These marginalized people embrace the Market area as it embraces them. Gibson captures the people and places that give Kensington character.
As a child, Gibson thought the Market was so exotic and otherworldly. Until she held a camera, she did not realize the humanity of this “theatre of the absurd” all around her. She discovered photography late in life, after difficult periods of family abuse, drug addiction and living on the streets. For her, picture taking is an act of mental health. The process of framing her shots holds meditative qualities, and the camera gives her the opportunity to connect with people in a way she never had. The concept is like falling in love. It involves chemical changes in the brain, and a sort of merging with one’s partner. Photography merged Gibson with the world at large.
Saäl follows Gibson through the bohemian quarter in an almost invisible way. It mimics how Gibson herself seems to disappear into the background as she captures portraits of the locals. She fits in so well with the streets it’s as if she’s part of the environment rather than a pedestrian or an observer. Most people don’t even notice her presence, and those who do, are happy to be captured by her lens. Because of her non-invasive approach, she can express herself very comfortably. By being respectful of how she approaches potential subjects, she creates very vibrant and natural images. Even the posed shots don’t look staged. They appear to be moments captured in time, even with the subject looking right into the lens.
The first half of the documentary is interview-heavy and a little bit pale compared to the second half. Once the proceedings move to Kensington, it is a colorful look at local haunts and street art oft overlooked by many Torontonians and tourists. As Gibson remains truly on the fringes of what is deemed ‘normal’ by society at large, she uses the camera to rescript her life. These are her new memories.