Portraits in Motion: “A gentle and thoughtful reflection about the fleeting nature of the moment…”
We are thrilled to partner with PuSh International Performing Arts Festival to co-present Portraits in Motion. Back by popular demand, Volker Gerling’s unique flipbook-cinema presentation shares the stories and images of the people he encountered while walking over 3,000 miles around Germany. Portraits in Motion will run January 24-26 at the York Theatre.
Volker Gerling on the Development of Portraits in Motion:
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.
In summer 2002, I took an old wooden kitchen tray and made it into a simple hawker’s tray. There was room for six flipbooks on it. I hung a sign on it, saying: “Please visit my traveling exhibition. I walked through the city of Berlin and showed people my flipbook movies. Sometimes I changed the programme. I screwed an empty honey jar underneath the hawker’s tray so that visitors could pay a symbolic exit fee.
After I had been showing my flipbook cinemas in this way for almost a year, I came to realise that people have a need for “small” and “simple” stories. I decided to travel. I wanted to know how people outside the city would react to my films. I wanted to make new flipbook movies. I bought myself a new pair of walking boots and set off. I did not want to miss anything along the way, so I chose to go slow, on foot. I took my hawker’s tray with me and showed my flipbook movies to people by the wayside and over their garden fences. In the evenings, I went into pubs and restaurants and I visited village parties. I did not take any money with me. I slept in my tent and lived only from whatever people gave me. Sometimes they gave me money as a symbolic fee when they had seen my small show of flipbook cinemas, or they often gave me something to eat.
My journeys are reminiscent of the days when cinema itself was itinerant, when projectionists would move from town to town and there were no movie theatres. My own form of wandering cinema also creates a link between the ways in which my films are seen and my own way of travelling. The rhythms and the sense of time are comparable – just as visitors to my flipbook movies can view them at their own speed, my walking is based on my own rhythm and speed.
In my flipbooks, I am interested in the gaps between the images and everything that gets lost when you leaf through them quickly, and when I am walking I am interested in the gaps between the cities that you would normally speedily cover by car, train or plane. I am interested in what happens by the wayside; whatever you can never see when you travel quickly. I am interested in the people I meet when I am on my way. What are their lives like? What is important for them? What stories do they tell me, the stranger? How do the people in all the different towns, gardens and villages I pass through react to my art?
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.
In 2005, I began to show my flipbook movies in a stage show, Portraits in Motion. 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.
Every year I walk, so every year my show develops at the leisurely pace of a walker.