BRITISH THEATRE GUIDE ★★★★★
Portraits in Motion at Summerhall 16/08/2018
Review by Jackie Fletcher
Volker Gerling, walker, storyteller, filmmaker extraordinaire, is an absolute gem. And his show, which won a Total Theatre award, in 2015 is
quite as unique as his art. On graduating from film school, Gerling opted to experiment with lowcost, low-tech flip-up films. Using a single automatic camera, taking 36 black-and-white shots of each subject, 3 shots a second, he develops and prints the shots individually in his darkroom and binds them together into
a small, flip-up format. When he flips them, the subjects come to life, surprisingly and revealingly animated for a brief moment. In less than 14 seconds, eyes can reveal vulnerability; courage grows through hesitant smiles; body language speaks of relationships, isolation, intimacy, caring.
Since 2003, Gerling has spent months on the road every summer, nearly 4,000 km on foot, showing his flip-up films to people he encounters. This is his travelling ‘thumb cinema’ exhibition, which he carries on a tray strung around his neck. He takes no money with him and necessities fit into a small trolley. He relies on the generosity of those he meets to give him food or a bed, sometimes money, but mostly he aims to listen to stories and share his own.
Since 2015, he has been sharing his tales and ‘thumb cinema’ with audiences at international festivals, putting the humanism back into art, and the bardic tradition of travelling storyteller. His narratives are enchanting, as are his subjects, and I defy anyone to witness this show without a smile throughout.
It is, like his encounters with strangers on the road, relaxed and intimate. And in an uncanny way, as we watch his flip-up subjects exposed to our gaze on the simple screen, we become aware of ourselves; through empathy we become spectator and subject too.
This is quite a remarkable and very unusual experience that succeeds in touching our humanity in profound ways.
EVERYTHING THEATRE ★★★★
Portraits in Motion at Summerhall 12/8/2018
Review by Polly Allen
Accessible storytelling by a fascinating creative. Excellent!
A gentle and considered show by a flipbook filmmaker with an eye and an ear for a story. Perfect respite from the fast pace of the Fringe.
This is a show about the moments when we’re caught off guard: the photos taken when we drop our poses and show our real selves, baggage and all. Volker Gerling, a trained filmmaker, began making flipbooks in 1998 as an experiment. Soon he was touring cafes and bars in Berlin, showing flipbooks from a hawker’s tray in intimate one-man shows, and shooting people he met. Here, in jeans and a shirt, he takes us through his best local and further-flung flipbooks.
In the early Noughties, he set out to walk 1,200km from his Berlin home to Basel, Switzerland, capturing people’s portraits along the way – just not telling them he was taking 36 frames instead of one or two. He set out with no money, surviving on donations from strangers viewing his flipbooks.
From that trip came others – worldwide journeys and more diverse subjects. Gerling says he wanted to ‘physically shake them out of their poses’. A couple of teens kiss, leaving their friend the gooseberry; siblings exchange glances. As Gerling shows each flipbook on a screen, rhythmically thumbing through it three times and making the figures move, he tells their stories. Those siblings are Phoebe and Morgan; Morgan has special needs, and Phoebe becomes angry when people judge her sister. Phoebe looks adoringly at Morgan and beams. Other highlights include an Iranian engineer who studied in Hamburg decades ago, and a Canadian writer whose location shot has particular significance.
Though Portraits in Motion uses modern technology, it also relies on analogue charm: no music soundtrack or slick voiceover, just a chatty monologue, plus a brilliant fake smartphone to explain his social media fame. At the end, you can even touch the flipbooks.
Gerling’s own story is alluded to throughout. As he gradually shows his self-portraits, I realise they are all out of focus, because he’s driven by the landscape and people behind him, not himself. This is storytelling at its most accessible and human.
Portraits in Motion at Summerhall 20/8/2018
Review by Jo Tomalin
A flipbook might look like an ordinary but unusually shaped book, but appearances can be deceptive. Open it, flip its pages and you’ll see a miniature movie. In Germany, home of Volker Gerling, the word for flipbook is Daumenkino – literally thumb-cinema. Gerling walked 4,000km in 15 years, photographing those he met along the way. He compiles these portraits into flipbooks which capture magical everyday encounters.
In this creative show, Volker Gerling, a consummate storyteller tells stories about the people he meets on his travels. He is no ordinary storyteller because he takes photographs of some of the interesting people and creates flipbooks. This might sound simple enough but the result is exquisite. Now add multimedia and he has a unique show!
Gerling is an interesting person and you will hear about some details of his life. He is a compelling storyteller, with a careful eye for detail, which one would expect as he is an accomplished photographer, but he takes so much care when performing his show, such as how he begins each of the many anecdotes, compact use of language or how he holds each flipbook, that it becomes art in its own way.
If you saw this show at Summerhall in 2015 you will find some fascinating additions to this year’s show. He is at ease and welcomes everyone when they arrive before the show then begins. He beguiles you with his discoveries and shares them with you. Standing behind his special multi- level table his flipbooks are projected on a very large screen, which enlarges his photographs.
Note that this is not someone showing holiday snaps. But it is an artist showing innovative and precious mini hand made films. It will be difficult to imagine what this show entails, and to avoid giving too much away to spoil enjoyment, if you can, just go! After a while Gerling sweeps us along and we are completely absorbed in the stories and images, we are right there guided by him, listening to every word and not thinking about anything else. It’s an astonishing feeling, and one that we, as adults may have left behind several years ago.
Gerling himself is a complete one-person show and everything in it is created by Gerling. He is a personable storyteller, photographer and his strong interest in people and their lives make him part ethnographer.
Time can be stretched or shortened in the visual storytelling, and Gerling captures one’s imagination when he makes subtle variations. He tells and narrates his stories with smart observations of the people he meets, infused with gentle humour, irony, wit and excellent timing – he also describes his process in between the poignant and fascinating vignettes.
This is a lovely way to spend seventy-five minutes, watching this charming and entertaining show in the company of Volker Gerling as your storyteller. Highly Recommended!