Returning @ Summerhall

Cloned Sheep, Extraterrestrials and Volker Gerling on Capturing Strangers’ Stories and Photographic Flipbooks

By David Pollock

We don’t just offer a first home for shows to become Edinburgh Festival successes at Summerhall – we also welcome back past hits from Fringes gone by, nurturing a continuing and open relationship for shows with which we’ve enjoyed mutual success.

In 2018 we’re hugely excited to (re)present Sh!t Theatre and Show and Tell’s Dollywould, their unique homage to Dolly Parton from 2017, as well as Sugar Baby, written by Alan Harris for Dirty Protest, which tells of an itinerant Cardiff drug dealer. Lesley Wilson’s Wired was first presented last year as part of our inaugural Army @ the Fringe season at a former drill hall in the New Town, and presents the story of a female soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, while Middle Child’s All We Ever Wanted Was Everything is a piece of gig theatre about the end of the world, which is back for a very brief visit. Paines Plough and Theatr Clwyd’s How to Spot an Alien, meanwhile, is a fantastical search for alien life and friendship.

Having first introduced the show to Summerhall’s audiences in 2015, Berlin-based Volker Gerling tells us more about his Portraits in Motion, which reveals characters he has met through an innovative, performance-based form of photographic portraiture:

“Portraits in Motion is a show based on long walks which I’ve taken in the last fifteen years in Germany. I walk with a flipbook exhibition in front of me on a hawker’s tray, and I make my money purely by showing my exhibition to people who I meet on the streets. When I meet really special people with a story to tell, then I sometimes make a new flipbook portrait of them. So the theatre show is based on my flipbooks, and based on my walks; I show flipbooks of people that I met on my walks through a video camera and tell the story behind these people. It’s really a very special way for the audience to encounter others.”


“They’re photo flipbooks, but they’re film-based. I use a photographic camera with a motor drive and I photograph people thirty-six times in twelve seconds, at three times per second. Nothing is staged, so people react really naturally and the books contain all the emotions and gestures that they convey in these twelve seconds. It’s really touching; it sounds quite simple, but it’s amazing how differently people react and how much they show of their personality.”


“When I meet special people I ask if I can take their photographs, but they expect to be photographed only once or twice. My camera is really loud, which is very important for this kind of photography. It physically shakes my protagonist out of their poses, every click of my camera throws them back on themselves, and all of a sudden they start to react, even if only out of exasperation that I haven’t stopped. That’s how it happens, it’s my camera which brings them to emotion and gestures.”


“That’s a good question. I’ve been doing this since 1998, and I realised quickly that I don’t have to search for special stories, they will come to me. You have to imagine, I have this hawker’s tray with me as I walk and there’s a sign on it saying ‘please visit my travelling exhibition’. So that’s an invitation for people who are open-minded and curious to visit, and if there’s something special when I find the right people… it’s hard to find the right words, but there must be something special between them and me. If there is, in addition to that special story which in my eyes is worth telling onstage, then I ask the people if I can take their photograph.”


“My first walk was back in 2003, it was from Berlin to Basle in Switzerland, which was a three month walk. I stopped in a town in the centre of Germany to visit a friend, but I didn’t find the street in which she lived so I asked a woman on the street to help me. In passing she mentioned that she was looking for an electrical socket – I asked why, and she said that two hours earlier she had decided to cut off all of her hair. She had hair clippers and two friends with her, so I took them to find my friend’s house. I asked if she might close her eyes as her friends shaved her hair, so I could photograph her very first reaction when she looked at herself in the mirror and saw she had no hair. That’s one of many stories, but you can’t go looking for such an incredible subject, you have to wait for them to come to you.”


“I believe it is the best place, at the best pace, to encounter people. Also the relationship between walking and the pace with which people look at my flipbooks – when I walk I do it with my own rhythm, and when people look at my flipbooks they also do it with their own rhythm. They can flip it quickly or slowly or even stop. Walking and making these flipbooks feels very interconnected.”