Photographer John William Keedy has been dealing with anxiety disorder for years, making routines and repetition a part of his daily life. Though the experience has been personal, he's found a very public way to explore the facets of his compulsive behaviors in an online photo series, aptly titled "It's Hardly Noticeable."
A milk glass covered in holes, a fence adorned in tally marks, a bathroom sink filled with bloodied floss -- the images in the series address the variety of anxieties that have become part of the Keedy's existence. At times difficult to stare at for more than a few seconds, the scenarios confront not only the photographer's sense of identity, but also the more general understanding of which behaviors and compulsions are socially acceptable to others, or "normal."
To find out more about the series, we spoke to Keedy via email. Scroll down for the interview.
In the statement for "It's Hardly Noticeable" the works explore "the world of a character who navigates living with an unspecified anxiety-based mental illness." Is this character you?
The images are quite personal, and the work draws a significant amount from my own experiences, though often they are pushed to an extreme or transformed in some way. The character is not directly me, though in a number of very real ways, I based the character on myself. Years ago I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, which, coupled with my undergraduate study in psychology, has greatly influenced my art. The series did not start with a therapeutic purpose, but in creating the images I've found a means to indulge my own anxieties in a more controlled way than I had before.
Where does the title of the series come from?
The series title, "It’s Hardly Noticeable," began as a tongue-in-cheek name for a single image, "It's Hardly Noticeable I." Originally, as an image title, it served as a mantra for the pictured character, providing reassurance -- albeit empty reassurance -- concerning his ability to hide his behaviors.
In the series' statement, you also pose a lot of questions about the nature of the term "normal" in contemporary society. How do you see the term functioning today?
I am fascinated by the recent adaptation of the term "New Normal" into the cultural zeitgeist. The term was originally coined in relation to the American economic landscape, but was quickly adopted in a cultural and societal context. I think using the word normal in this way can be dangerous. It carries a strong and oftentimes finite connotation of a clear and permanent definition of what is acceptable, when in reality what is considered normal differs greatly across cultures and sub-cultures, and in fact, is constantly in flux within any one society. For example, until 1986 homosexuality was included, in one form or another, as a mental disorder in the DSM (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). The prospect of a behavior which at once point was believed to be abnormal, even unhealthy, being re-classified as normal fascinates me, and that idea plays a large role in my work.
The images you have created are sometimes unsettling, overwhelming and maybe even exhausting to look at for prolonged periods. Are you intentionally trying to evoke these types of emotions in viewers?
The themes of my images -- compulsive behaviors, anxieties, mental illness, psychological instability, even anguish -- can be difficult to view, and when creating a number of the photographs I considered how I might be able to elicit in the audience a version of what the character is experiencing. That being said, I have found viewers respond very differently to the same group of images. There are some photographs, like "It's Hardly Noticeable XXXI," which bother some and comfort others. I'm always interested in hearing how people respond to each image, because it seems as though depending on their personal experiences with anxieties and pathology, there is a wide range of responses to the same photograph.