Flipping people off
Volker Gerling journeys from town to town, carrying a hawker’s tray full of flipbooks, reviving the tradition of hobo craftsman in his own way. A film academy graduate turned self-proclaimed flip-bibliopegist, he entertains people with a one-man motion-picture theater. Remember that photography was a gateway drug into motion pictures--and when you take it back to flipbooks, time can actually flow through your fingers, he says, and he’s fascinated with the gaps.
He photographs the moon passing over the Berlin cathedral over the course of a night, shooting out of his kitchen window for one year, or spending 21 hours in the men’s room. But since nobody can afford to purchase his exclusive flipbook movie productions, he has simply decided to perform them. It doesn’t keep time from passing, but we accepted a private show from this hungry, sweaty scumbag after he marched for days carrying his tray.
Vice: How should one prepare for being a tramp? Just empty those pockets and go for it?
Volker: First I built my “showroom.” I used an old tray and an empty honey jar. The tray carries my flipbooks, the jar is for the symbolic donations – you know, whoever watches my shows should feel free to give. Until I turned this thing into a fulltime preoccupation, I did flipbook shows in Berlin during the day and then returned to my tiny apartment to sleep. Soon I realized that I had to leave my home and hit the road to do a proper touring show.
Where did you end up?
My first trip took three months. I traveled from Berlin through Munich to Basel – a trip of 750 miles, walking without a Euro-cent in my pocket. At the beginning, I felt a little shy performing one-on-one, so I preferred public areas. By and by people told me, that they actually appreciated my art and its street-bound character.
And that made you more confident?
It sure did! I started approaching people at bars and cafés. In the end I even lived off of the bucks I was earning. Let’s rather say people provided my honey jar with enough coins to keep me traveling.
Your flipbook performance is something rather intimate. How do people react to your invitation to that kind of tête-à-tête?
Sometimes I am surrounded by a bunch of people, but apparently it is mostly single performances. People at the countryside usually can’t relate to my flipbooks, but they are really curious. Sometimes they don’t even want to touch the books. Then I get to do the flipping for them, while they watch.
Have you ever been insulted? Any bad experiences – I mean you are around a lot of strangers…
Many people think I am unemployed – someone who has got the time for taking walks, obviously ain’t got much work to do. I show my work to people at bars, for instance, who don’t care about art. A guy once asked me if I went to college. When I told him I did indeed enjoy a higher education, he wasn’t surprised at all. “Only people who go to the university can come up with such nutty ideas.” I meet a lot of weird people. A guy called Jean-Pierre in Basel asked me if I needed a shower, and I happily accepted. On our way to his place he turned out being pretty pushy. I told him I’d rather not go to his apartment. The whole thing turned awkward and I didn’t want the situation to escalate. He seemed to be getting me wrong. In the end he freaked out, screaming and telling me that I wasn’t his type anyway.
Friedericke on the other hand stripped down naked for me. I met her at a bar as well and showed her one of my flipbooks. She asked me then if I didn’t feel like making an erotic one of her. She felt comfortable and took her clothes off right there.
So people not only look at your books but are sometimes even taking part?
Oh yes! I won’t tell people before I start though. Usually I ask my protagonists if I can take a picture of them. Then they expect two or three shots being taken and start posing. What they don’t know is that I always have my camera set to rapid fire, taking three pictures per second. When I go for it, you can hear the camera rattling through their hearts and souls. Every single clicking sound pulls the people out of their poses and when they realize that I’m not going to stop they start acting. What they do is not planned or set and is a very momentary situation. I believe those moments to be very true and poetic.
Describe one of those moments please.
There was Alfred. He saw me passing by his fence, called me over, and asked me what I was up to with all that baggage. He invited me in and showed me the bed his wife had died in. It reflects the situation of a lonesome old man who hardly has visitors. We had some schnapps and he showed me his old colorful suits. While doing so I was taking photos. He noticed that I took a lot of them. He said: “I’ll pay you for all the pictures you’re making of me. I have enough money and all my life I’ve paid for everything.”
That sounds kind of sad.