Portraits In Motion
You may remember flipbooks from your childhood – brief sequences of consecutive images that you rapidly flick through to invoke the illusion of movement, lying somewhere between photography and film in effect – montage theory to a tee.
Volker Gerling is a passionate creator of photography, film and an intrepid traveller. His show Portraits in Motion was inspired by this idea of the humble flipbook, incorporating his travels and photographs.
He works with a set of 36 documentary portraits that his flipbooks are made from. “In a flipbook, photographs can be repeated at will and you can see the gaps between them – you can unconsciously try to fill these gaps. In this form, these pictures gain their own very unusual power and poetry,” he says.
Gerling shows off a selection of his favourite portraits, presenting them to audiences by holding them under a video camera so the moving images are projected onto a large screen. The subjects come to life on screen as he shares the heartwarming and moving stories behind each encounter.
“People I photograph usually do not know that I will 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 moments are the essence of my work.”
Gerling shows these images together with the story surrounding each encounter, drawing the audience into the fragile moments that lie beneath the initial staged poses and into something more natural and spontaneous. “My inspiration comes from my fascination for human beings, faces, portrait photography, walking and storytelling.”
It was in 2003 when Gerling first took to the road to share his work with others. He walked over 3,500 kilometres throughout Germany, inviting people to visit his travelling flipbook exhibitions and creating flipbook portraits of some of the people he met along the way. “I met myself many times on my walks, but I also met wonderful, curious and open minded people everywhere I walked.”
Gerling would show his travelling flipbooks on street corners, over garden fences, in cafes, bars and village parties. With no obligation to pay, he would get donations or a “symbolic exit-fee” from those who enjoyed his work. “My own form of wandering cinema 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. Visitors view the flipbooks at their own speed just like my walking is based on my own rhythm and speed.”
The stories he finds along his travels are all unique and when considered as a whole, they become woven together in a narrative that reveals a beautiful, communal event for audiences. Fourteen years on, Gerling is still very enthusiastic about photographing people and hearing their stories. “With so many more stories that are worthy of being told, my exhibition is renewed. Again and again I experience the excitement and the surprise 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 cinema that I carry on my hawker’s tray. Old faces and old stories lead me to new faces and new stories.”
By Katerina Paltoglou