Portraits in Motion

Volker Gerling
Aurora Nova
Summerhall
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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 low-cost, 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.

Jackie Fletcher