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Review: Portraits in Motion

Adelaide Festival

Intense and intriguing, Volker Gerling’s Portraits in Motion reveals, in his words, the true face of time.

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Gerling’s studies in cinematography sparked a fascination with the dynamic results he could achieve by combining film and photography.

His early experiments, filming friends in directed sequences, were abandoned when he realised he could access greater depth and insight into his subjects by allowing their true nature to shine through. He now creates “portraits in motion” using a Nikon F3 camera, taking 36 shots over 12 seconds with black and white analogue film.

In each sitting, the subjects have agreed to pose but in most cases don’t realise Gerling will shoot multiple images. Once they hear the camera in action their composure changes in response to the change in their expectations – they react spontaneously, true emotion breaking through their previously formal demeanour.

Gerling uses the resulting images to create old-style flipbooks (small sets of cards bound together along one edge) which allow the sequence of photos to be animated. Each short “film” reveals small moments of truth which are the essence of the work. When we view the sequence we “feel the gaps, and have to fill them in”.

In 2003, Gerling took to the roads to share his work with others. During these summer walks across Germany he has covered more than 3500km, photographing new subjects and displaying his flipbooks on a home-made hawker’s tray.

He shows his travelling exhibition on street corners and in cafés and bars. There’s no obligation to pay but, if people, wish, they may leave an “exit fee”. The artist relies solely on these donations to fund his expeditions and sets himself a daily budget of five euros. The kindness of strangers (and forgoing hotel rooms for nights in a small tent) keeps down his costs.

Several years after beginning his travels, the photographer created this stage show to bring his work to an even wider audience.

The concept is simple yet perfectly suited to the subject matter. Standing alone on stage, Gerling talks candidly about his experiences and inspirations while showing, one by one, a range of his flipbook films. Holding each book to the lens of a tiny video camera, he projects the movies onto a large screen.

Volker Gerling has presented this meditative, absorbing piece of theatre in more than 16 countries and describes it as “a gentle and thoughtful reflection on the passing of time and what it means when people meet each other”.

His aim, so beautifully realised, is to reveal the power and the poetry of the story each face tells. Don’t miss this captivating glimpse into human nature and the magic of unhurried connection.

Portraits in Motion is showing at the Radford Auditorium, Art Gallery of SA until March 19.

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