Festival Hot Seat... Portraits in Motion
Volker Gerling spent over a decade touring Germany by foot, capturing the people that he met in his distinctive flipbook portraits. We caught up with him to find out about the development of his craft and his extraordinary show Portraits in Motion
Can you tell us what your show is about?
In the summer of 2002 I took an old wooden kitchen tray and made it into a simple hawker’s tray. It had room for six photographic flipbooks, which showed portraits of my friends, and I hung a sign on it saying “Please visit my traveling exhibition”.
I walked through Berlin, showing people my flipbook ‘movies’. I screwed an empty honey jar underneath the hawker’s tray so that visitors could pay a symbolic entrance fee.
For nearly a year I showed people my flipbook movies in Berlin. Then, I decided to become a journeyman – I wanted to find out how people all over the country would react to my flipbooks.
And I wanted to make some new flipbooks.
I was afraid that I would miss something if I travelled too quickly, so I decided to walk. In the summer of 2003 I walked from Berlin to Basel – a walk of 1,200 kilometres – and it was a great experience. So I decided to do it again.
Since then I have walked nearly every summer and in total I have walked some 3,500 kilometres, nearly all in Germany. On all of these walks my only source of money came from showing my flipbooks. Portraits in Motion is based on my long summer walks and the people I met on them.
Volker with his tray of flipbooks
How and where will it be staged?
I leaf through the flipbooks under a video camera that projects them onto a large screen, and I tell the stories about the people that are portrayed. The show is a reflection on the passing of time and what it means when people meet each other.
Why should someone come and see your show?
To see my protagonists come to life on screen in a way that you’ve probably never experienced before.
Where did the idea and inspiration come from?
My inspiration comes from my fascination for human beings, faces, portrait photography, walking and storytelling.
Why do you think it’s an important story to tell?
Because every story that is told from the heart is important.
What sort of person is going to love this show?
Everybody who is able to see great things emerge from small things.
What’s going to surprise people about this show?
Nothing will prepare you for the intimacy of the flip books. There's something magical about these miniature glimpses into human souls.
This year marks 50 years of Brighton Festival. What does it mean for you to be part of the festival in this milestone year?
It feels like a big honour for me to be part of the festival this year.