Many of us move house a number of times during our lives. We leave our childhood homes, rent a room in our impoverished twenties, then climb on the ladder with our first mortgage. We expect to move only a handful of times before we finally set down roots in one house, one home. Petra Stridfeldt’s relationship to place differs from this pattern. She has changed location 25 times, and ruefully admits this process continues still.
With this book of 25 images she shares the familiar sights we associate with moving house, such as the dust revealed when furniture is lifted away, or a painting propped against a wall waiting to be hung. Pervading these mundane moments, however, is a poignant sense of sadness. Petra’s photography expresses the emotional cost of compulsive movement.
This may be an autobiographical work, but it is telling that she is not physically present within the frame. There is evidence she was there a moment ago: a coffee cup stain, a drip from freshly applied paint, but caught up in her restlessness she has not stayed still long enough for the camera to capture her.
In conversation, Petra talks of looking for the perfect home by the sea, with mountains behind her, and the excitement of a city nearby; ‘where I can fit in like a glove’. This continual relocation then is self-induced. Interspersed amongst forensically detailed photographs are surreal images of an anonymous woman. She stands barefooted, rooted to the ground, almost settled, but her body is blurred in a frenzy of nervous energy. Reminiscent of the indistinct figures of Francesca Woodman’s self-portraiture this shaking woman is unfinished. Even as she makes herself a new home (represented by different wallpapers) she is tempted away by the exciting promise of new places, cultures, and people.
As a body of work it may seem paradoxical that a book entitled Restless contains photographs of a quiet monotone design. There is no colourful jumble of household goods in the back of a removal van. No one strains to lift a heavy box. It is not physical restlessness that is portrayed here, but instead the souls’ intangible yearning.
With characteristic elegance of expression Petra skillfully presents the tension between going and staying, an agonizing experience even we, less well travelled, can empathise with. Janet Walsh