My grandparents, Franz & Theresia Protschka, once lived in Bohemia, a historically Czech region with large concentrations of German-speaking people. The area was one of the first to be absorbed by Nazi Germany during its expansion in the 1930s. Under the German occupation, Czech resistance was brutally suppressed. After the war ended, reprisals were swift: the vast majority of remaining Germans were expelled by force under order of the re-established Czechoslovak central government.

My grandparents were one of the families caught up in this movement of people; they lost everything they had. Eventually, they settled in Germany, but one element of their traumatic experience never left them: even as they built a new life, it was almost impossible for them to throw anything away.

They inhabited the same house in the town of Windsbach for more than 60 years; this place in the Franconia region of Germany became the center and meeting point for our family. They were both around 90 years old when they died last year. Unfortunately, given the circumstances in which all the descendants were living, we weren’t able to keep the house. Together with my mother, brother, and cousin, we went to clean it out before the sale.

My mum’s last yoga pose on the bed of her parents. © Nina Röder. 2nd Place, Single Image, LensCulture Exposure Awards 2018

These pictures were taken in the house during this cathartic, though difficult process. In particular, I focused on the endless decisions we had to make about whether to keep or give away historical or emotionally-charged objects. As taxing as this was, one way for us to not be too sad about losing the house—and all the associated memories—was to do absurd things in the photographs. By performing and acting for the camera, we found a way to deal with our loss and express our grief.

The full title of this work is originally in German: “Wenn du gehen musst willst du doch auch bleiben.” It is a sentence from my 9-year-old nephew Luis. He said this to me when he was my photo-assistant during a shoot in the house. I asked him why he often looks so sad when he has to go back to his parents after visiting us in Windsbach (he lives with his parents in another town). The sentence means, roughly, “When you need to leave, but you still want to stay.” I thought it was a very poetic sentiment that fit the series so nicely—we wanted to stay in the house as long as we could, but we knew, in the end, it was impossible.

—Nina Röder

Editors’ note: The image shown above was chosen as the 2nd Place, Single Image Winner in the Exposure Awards 2018. See all of the inspiring work from the 39 winners, finalists and jurors’ picks in the winners’ gallery.