It takes a brave and fearless man to dedicate himself to a journey – especially one that required a walk of over 3,500 km throughout Germany. Since 2003, Volker Gerling has not only walked, but invited people to visit his trailing flip book “thumb cinema” exhibition, while creating portrait flip books of some of the people he has met throughout his extensive journey.
In Portraits In Motion Gerling shows the audience a selection of his favourite portraits by holding each flip book under a video camera, and by projecting the moving images onto a large screen behind him. The images come to life as he shares the moving stories behind each of these unique encounters.
But before we tell you the entire tale, and before you see Gerling’s portraits come to life during his performance, we sat down with the artist to ask him a few questions about the show and his motivation behind this project.
Catch Portraits in Motion from January 18 – 21, 2017 at Theatre Junction GRAND, as part of the 31st annual High Performance Rodeo.
Tickets are on sale at theatrejunction.com or https://www.hprodeo.ca
Q&A with Volker Gerling of Portraits in Motion
Can you tell us a bit about the show?
During my time as a student of film at the Academy, I understood that my passion was not for the big screen movie or television, but for a very special small form of film I called photograph flipbook cinema. In my flipbook films I mainly work with documentary portraits of people. The 36 images that my films are made of would run by in about one and a half seconds of ordinary cinema or television, but in a flipbook movie they can be repeated at will, you can see the gaps between them, and you can unconsciously try to fill these gaps. In this form, these pictures gain their own very unusual power and poetry.
The people I photograph usually do not know that I will not take only one picture but will actually shoot a whole analogue film in just twelve seconds. Reacting to the camera in action, people shift and move and abandon the poses they first assumed when they knew they were going to be photographed. They react spontaneously. Their gestures and emotions are immediate, caught up completely in the present. These people are suddenly very beautiful and what they show is true and real. These moments are the essence of my work.
On stage, I use a video camera to project my movies onto a big screen. For a brief moment, the people in my flipbooks come to life. They are so real that sometimes you feel you have known the people in them for years. I tell their stories and tell of my own big, small, serious and bizarre encounters. My show is a gentle and thoughtful reflection about the fleeting nature of the moment and what it means when people meet each other.
What inspired you to go on this adventure and tell these stories?
My couriosity about life and human beings.
Do you have a favourite flip book? Why?
It’s a flipbook of a young woman, her name is Katja.
Just one year after Katja’s father died she lost her brother too. He died in a car crash. Shortly after the death of her brother, Katja and her boyfriend separated in a very painful process. She realised that she would have to say goodbye to something really important to her in order to move on. So she cut off her pigtail, put it in a bag and forbade herself to long for it or cry for its loss. When we met in her apartment, and when I asked to photograph her, she brought out her pigtail and permitted herself to do what she had denied herself. That is what you expierence in the flipbook.
It’s called “Woman with a Pigtail” and it is the most intimate flipbook I have ever made.
How have people reacted to your show and how do you think the Calgary audience will receive it?
Last year I got this email after one of my shows:
“Dear Mr Gerling,
Last night, me and my girlfriend had the great pleasure of watching you present Portraits in Motion. I would just like to say that both of us were stunned by the beauty and poetry of the show. We spent the entire journey home talking about our favourite flipbooks, changing our minds every time each of us remembered another specific book.
As someone with strong working class roots, I am always reservedly dubious about art and often feel obliged to think or feel in a certain way about a piece of art. This was not the case with your show. From beginning to end I had the largest, most pure smile on my face. I never once had to trick myself into seeing some meaning that I suspected everyone else could see but me. The meaning was there in every image, but it was also wonderfully elusive when left unexplained – and what I felt was the very real thrill of truth and respect for every shade of humanity. I didn’t want the night to end.
The flipbooks took my breath away. The dedication you show to capturing a moment’s truth, the generosity in which you choose to share these moments with us, your captivating ability as a storyteller – all of these elements astounded me.Thank you so much for a wonderful, inspirational, provocative evening. L.W.”
I hope the audiance in Calgary will also love my show. I hope they will be able to see great things emerge from small candid portraits of strangers that offer fascinating glimpses into the human soul.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Today I can look back at 3,000 miles of walking, mainly in Germany, and nearly a year on the road in total spread across more than 10 years. Again and again I experience the excitement and the surprises of setting off without knowing what will happen next. I remain true to the principle of my very first walk – I take no money. I finance my journeys by showing my flipbook cinemas that I carry on my hawker’s tray. Old faces and old stories lead me to new faces and new stories. My exhibition is renewed.