How do you tell a story of an undocumented immigrant? In my first approach I tried using the sheer documentary mode of telling a visual story, just to find out I still couldn’t get a grip on the complete story. For the project A Possible Life, I tried a different approach. It seemed sensible to me to make this story’s protagonist, Gualbert, my co-author.
By this collaborative approach, I tried to refrain from objectifying my subject. The combination of a vast amount of archival materials (official documents, personal photographs, letters and fragments of conversations) with my own photographs allowed me to tell a multi-layered story on illegality in Europe. During the many conversations Gualbert spoke of his life back in Niger, a family of five children and a wife he’s left behind, as well as his conflicting desires to return to them and to be successful in The Netherlands. The contrast between expectations and reality is the core of this project.
– Ben Krewinkel, March 2013
In this interview, originally produced by Matt Johnston for Coventry University module Picturing the body (#picbod), Johnston and Ben Krewinkel discuss the project A Possible Life; Conversations with Gaulbert in which Krewinkel co-authored a documentary about identity, memory and documentation of an undocumented person. ‘Gaulbert’, an illegal immigrant who resided in Amsterdam was both subject and collaborator leading to a wonderfully rich, sometimes tense and consistently powerful body of work, published in 2012 (the fee paid by Coventry for this interview was split between Krewinkel and ‘Gaulbert’).
Compiling an assortment of legal documents, postcards, transcripts of interviews, family photographs, and contemporary photographs taken by the photographer, the work gives a sense of the life of an illegal alien, as well as a sort of biography, though the documentation and photographs are anonymised. Bound in an A4 packet of papers which are sealed and must be opened, the medium promotes the feeling of both an official document, as well as a secret which must be kept, and to which we’ve been made privy (but, unless the viewer uses a sharp knife to cut things open, the day-to-day life of Gualbert will remain hidden––just like the lives of illegal immigrant in general are hidden from view). The work contains a ‘complete’ life and history of an alien, and yet, he is unknowable. It’s an insightful collaboration into a lifestyle rarely seen outside of shadows. Krewinkel is currently working on a follow up, with the working title of ‘il m’a sauvé’ with Gaulbert.
The talk is split into four sections: