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Compulsive Viewing: These Pics Put OCD On Full Display

A still-life series captures the look of larger-than-life anxieties–in a world where order is imposed on peas.

John William Keedy’s photographs depict a world of unsettling order: a dinner of green peas is tidily kept and grouped in a cluster. A wall of key cards lined up in a grid of rows, with inscriptions and reminders meant for their author’s benefit. A glass of milk is ridden with holes, where arcs of the liquid spill out.

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Some of the images, like the leaky glass, can come off as almost comical. Other photos in the series are anything but–glimpses inside the heads of people who are dead-serious about their degree of control over the objects they’re interacting with, from lining up garden vegetables on a plate to cataloging a disturbing number of hatch marks on a wooden fence. As Keedy tells Co.Design, the photos explore themes like “compulsive behaviors, mental illness, psychological instability, even anguish.”


It’s Hardly Noticeable” took Keedy a year and a half to complete and shows an intimate, first-person understanding of some of the issues in front of the camera. Keedy was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder nearly a decade ago, some time before he graduated from college with a degree in psychology.

“The images are quite personal, and the work draws a significant amount from my own experiences,” he says. “Though often they are pushed to an extreme or transformed in some way.”

Such extremes are a welcome break in the intensity of the series. Often with humor–though still neurotically overwrought in their own ways–these pieces offer a bit of playfulness and the suggestion that we should all be able to laugh at what lurks in the dark matter. An alarm clock is actually eight clocks in one, because clearly a wake-up call with seven backups (and seven times the snooze function) is more reliable than just one. You can sleep easy now. The human tendency toward obsession or excess is exaggerated for droll effect. We all have it in us. How we choose to express or repress it is only a matter of degree.


Keedy says he sometimes took care to distance himself from the “potentially unpleasant” scenarios depicted. Other times he stepped right into the frame as a character, “establishing the performative nature of the work.” In one photo, a young man–Keedy himself–is trapped inside a chalk square scrawled on the sidewalk, unable to step over its borders. In another, he’s seen bent over a desk, manically marking up a newspaper and making notes in a very neat notebook.

“I’ve found a means to indulge my own anxieties in a more controlled way than I had before,” he says, in an example of self-analysis (and attention to detail) that’s surely an asset to photographer, subject and the overall body of work.

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[All photos: John William Keedy]

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About the author

Sammy is a writer, designer, and ice cream maker based in New York. He once lived in China before being an editor at Architizer.

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