Portraits in Motion is a theatrical version of Humans of New York. Volker Gerling goes on long walks in Germany and gets by via the kindness of strangers. He photographs these people he meets and then makes the photographs into flipbooks, which he develops by hand. In his play, which is actually more of an explanation than a performance, he shows us his travelling exhibition, telling us stories of the strangers he meets on his travels. I saw it as part of Mayfest, the theatre festival that takes over Bristol for a snippet of Spring.
A week after seeing Portraits in Motion I learnt about the suicide of a girl from my school. I didn’t know her well but it still seems incomprehensible. She was a person I just assumed in the back of my mind would go on having a life- in the periphery of my own as we were never close- but at the centre of hers. It is awful to think what she suffered, and it is bizarre how the world just goes on when something so devastating has happened.
Gerling shows us each flipbook three times. He does it slowly, the brushing of the pages having the tingle effect of an ASMR video, or that feeling when someone would trace the alphabet down your spine in assembly. As you watch the face in the flipbook, thrown onto the projected screen, and see it break open into a smile you catch yourself, noticing how much you judged the severe face at first, not expecting such a stern person to exude such joy. I guess we never really know what’s going on inside someone.
I don’t mean to trivialise this tragedy by comparing the emotions it causes to those of a play, but in my mind it was a logical link and a way to think about what death actually means. Portraits in Motion makes you realise how much we can miss everyday, how much can be seen of a person in their laugh, and how much we should value those around us. Death, I think, makes us realise similar things. It makes us value our time with those we love more. It almost shocks you into telling someone how you feel about them, how special they are. Seeing this show and hearing this news made me want more memories to keep, more ways to remember people as we part this summer.
It made me want more of a grasp on my friends, I suppose.
I’m very lucky to have them. I love seeing them laugh.