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22nd November 2016

Review: Portraits in Motion

Part of Berlin Now at HOME, Volker Gerling makes flipbooks an art form

A lone spotlight falls upon Volker Gerling, he pulls a flip book from the mound assembled by his side and, as the pages rush by, projected onto the screen is the moving image of shy but smiling woman. So begins our journey into the intriguing world of Gerling and the many strangers he has encountered from his travels throughout Germany.

Whilst at first encounter the thought of one and a half hours of looking at flipbooks may not seem the most exciting way to spend a Saturday night, it does not take long from the moment Gerling begins to tell his unique story to become absorbed in his fantastical world.

Beginning his ambles in 2003, Gerling has since walked over 3,500km throughout Germany. As he moves from one place to the next he carries his flipbooks as a ‘moving exhibition’ which he invites passers-by to look at if they wish. He asks nothing but for each viewer to offer a donation if they enjoy what they see, and it is from these donations that Gerling pays his way, claiming he needs just €5 a day to afford all that he needs.

Gerling’s journey began when, whilst studying at art school, he decided that his chosen medium would be “Daumenkino,” or “thumb cinema” and began learning the craft of the flipbook.

He tells the story of his first attempt at composing a flipbook in which one of his friends walked through a forest from one tree to the next. As uneventful as it may sound, a lack in communication concerning the direction of the walking saw the affair end in a sudden outburst of tears, itself humorously caught on camera.

It is safe to say that since this first failed attempt, Gerling has more than mastered the art of the flipbook.

In the sparing 10-second bursts of each flip book, the individuals we meet transform from strange faces into people brimming with character. This is the power of Gerling’s artistry in capturing the essences of all those he chooses to photograph, and by the end of the show it is hard not to feel as though you have gained twenty-odd new friends.

It is clear why ‘Portraits in Motion’ won the Total Award for Innovation and Playing with Form at Edinburgh Festival Fringe, as it turns the unassuming flip book into a new form of art.

In a world in which we are so diluted with media, it becomes easy to skim from one image to the next without absorbing what is there. Yet ‘Portraits in Motion’ forces the audience to sit still and truly see what is in front of them, to appreciate the charming attraction of the people around us.

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