Our 2016 Program has launched! Over the next fortnight, we’ll introduce you to some of our exciting 2016 artists. To kick off, we’d like you to meet Volker Gerling. Since 2003, Volker has walked over 3,500km throughout his native Germany photographing the people he meets and creating flip books of their portraits. In his show, Portraits in Motion, Gerling shares a selection of his favourite flip books by holding each one under a video camera so that its moving images are projected onto a large screen. What he revelas is truly magic. Sunday Times says, ‘These miniature stories rinse your eyes like spring water.’ Read more about this intrepid traveller and storyteller below and watch the trailer for a glimpse into the show.
Tell us about your show in one sentence
The show is a gentle and thoughtful reflection on the passing of time and what it means when people meet each other.
Describe the relationship between walking and creating
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.
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 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.
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.
Tell us about the magic of the flipbook
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.
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.