Pros: Accessible storytelling by a fascinating creative.
Cons: The simple format can often feel more like a lecture, so might not appeal to everyone.
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.
Written and Directed By: Volker Gerling
Producer: Aurora Nova
Box Office: 0131 560 1580
Booking Link: https://festival18.summerhall.co.uk/event/portraits-in-motion
Booking Until: 25 August 2018