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Footloose with the Flippant Flâneur

 Photo pilgrim Volker Gerling's retro animation FX regale PuShFest crowd @ York

Frau mit pelz. Images: Volker Gerling

Saint Paul commands us to “Look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.” But how to do that through a camera lens?

The human eye “sees” motion as 24 still images per second. Unseen are the interstices between these images, too evanescent for the mind to process.

But that’s where the magic happens and people reveal their essential natures, as far as photographer Voker Gerling is concerned.

So, taking Saint Paul at his word, Gerling sets out to slow down the flicker of freeze-frames just long enough for us to impute the fleeting thoughts and emotions of his portrait subjects. He’s criss-crossed his native Germany on foot yearly since 2003 asking ordinary people for permission to photograph them.

His subjects typically expect a single “snap,” but instead find themselves captured by his noisy, motor-driven Nikon in 36 shots over a dozen seconds. Their reactions to this ambush can range from embarrassed titters to flaunting exhibitionism to unflappable fixity.

Gerling compiles these serried images into 36-card flipbooks that he thumbs through to display for us via an overhead projector, at the same time relating the “back-story” of each encounter. He can speed up or slow down the flip show to draw out hidden resonances of his imagery. The result is oddly affecting – eerie or funny or poignant, but always far more resonant and nuanced than could be achieved with either a static portrait or a normal film clip.

The technique works not just for people, but also for places. He displays flipbooks of grim flatblocks, random crossroads, city skylines, gallery walls, even a public loo. These he shoots with a fixed camera over much longer intervals: hours, days or months, so as to capture changes of lighting, weather and passersby. Viewed this way, even a still life or inanimate tableau acquires its own “personality.”

In Corinthians II, 4:18, Saint Paul goes on to explain his admonition: “For the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” Gerling’s flipbooks might fall somewhere short of eternity, but they do leave a lasting impression.

Temporally, though, his PuShFest engagement at The Cultch’s York Theatre lasts only through Thursday, January 26th. Well worth catching while he’s still in town.

In between shows, look out for footloose flâneur stalking the local streets; he’s been known to flip Vancouverites before.

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