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It's Hardly Noticeable: anxiety portrayed in photography
July 1, 2013 7:57 PM   Subscribe

John William Keedy is a photographer who was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder 9 years ago. Since then, he's been thinking of thoughts and feelings that are considered not "normal," and he has displayed some of these thoughts in a series of photos titled It’s Hardly Noticeable. Wired's Raw File has larger images and more thoughts from Keedy.
posted by filthy light thief (34 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
metafilter: dictatorship of the neurotypical
posted by b1tr0t at 8:02 PM on July 1, 2013


Huh? Pick up the peas with your fingers? Throw away the glass after the first hole? What anxious person would own so many clocks? Buy a new pair of Chux gloves? And good god, why do you need that much light under stairs?

My ten year acute anxiety disorder diagnosis must be different from his. Or I have better medication.
posted by New England Cultist at 8:08 PM on July 1, 2013


I understand he's going for some humour in order to deal with his anxiety but these look like the cringeworthy photos you find on stock photography sites. The whimsical tone gets in the way of conveying any real sense of anxiety.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 8:12 PM on July 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


What anxious person would own so many clocks?

Someone anxious about sleeping through their alarm.

My ten year acute anxiety disorder diagnosis must be different from his.

Yes. Indeed.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:33 PM on July 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


I don't know, I really liked these. I, er, don't think they're meant to be literal, but I will say that until fairly recently I had seven different alarms set on my phone for in the morning. I have cut back to three.
posted by Sequence at 8:37 PM on July 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


And good god, why do you need that much light under stairs?

The artist's statement does specify, "(The subject) negotiates situations constructed to highlight the impacts and implications of his differences on his thoughts and behaviors, and by doing so raises question of normalcy." You expect his expression of anxiety to meet your standards of authenticity, but I think that's just another imposition of the idea of normalcy.

The whimsical tone gets in the way of conveying any real sense of anxiety.

I didn't find these photos whimsical at all. Especially not the one with the flossing doodads. Blackly humorous, yes, but not whimsical. And several of them felt very familiar to me.
posted by gingerest at 8:45 PM on July 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


Regarding the whimsy, the Wired article covers that:
The subject matter is serious, but Keedy also tries to be playful in some of the pictures. He knows if he takes it too seriously, the project becomes impenetrable.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:49 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


My ten year acute anxiety disorder diagnosis must be different from his. Or I have better medication.

Or he is not you.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:01 PM on July 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


Lets see... I have three clocks each with two alarms each.

I have hidden in my closet in a way much like those stairs.

That cup with holes... is how I feel every day. ("But you don't look sick!")

GAD, panic attacks, etc... all well medicated.... but I still have those clocks, and I've been under my clothes in my closet with a blanket in the last 3 months.
posted by strixus at 9:03 PM on July 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


The post-its seem a bit cliche. The concept of the project as a whole is interesting, though.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 9:18 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Whether they're of his condition, or about his condition, these are really interesting and compelling images.
posted by Flashman at 9:22 PM on July 1, 2013


I imagine that the fact that three of his clocks say it's 9:01 but others say 9:00, 8:55, and 7:42 probably isn't accidental, given the theme of the whole project. But I'm not really getting what it's saying. (Okay sure, something about correctness / normalcy, sure, but that's also the high level theme of the gallery already)
posted by aubilenon at 9:44 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


The pea and utensil image is a scarily familiar evocation of my own ongoing experience with an anxiety disorder. Thank you for sharing this.
posted by Corinth at 9:53 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Gah, that alarm clock image. For me, that one's evocative of this feeling from the lower points in my problems with anxiety when I try to keep the panic under wraps, just always staying quiet and hopefully unnoticed and trying to pass like everything's okay, and then SHIT one of the alarms goes off and I have to frantically dig through the pile to just shut it up as quick as possible and now another one and another and alarm clocks are falling all over the place...
posted by jason_steakums at 10:40 PM on July 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


The rubber glove! *shrieks, faints*
posted by dobie at 10:47 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


> My ten year acute anxiety disorder diagnosis must be different from his.

I hereby diagnose you as being two totally different people, who furthermore have different preferred ways of expressing yourselves. Um, duh.
posted by desuetude at 11:00 PM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's fascinating that these images affect us differently. For me, the band-aid glove, the doorbells, and the flossing all set me on edge and capture what my anxiety feels like. I can see how the other images portray anxiety, but I don't feel it.

I'm trying to figure out what I might photograph to best portray the feeling of my anxiety. Maybe a sheet of paper slicing hundreds of tiny paper cuts on the inside of a wrist?

To those who aren't moved by any of the artist's pictures, I'm curious: what hypothetical image would best capture your anxiety?
posted by mokin at 11:15 PM on July 1, 2013


oh god, the flossing! I've dealt with anxiety since I was very young, and the only thing that ever quieted my brain for a second was picking away at myself in some way. I was an eyelash-puller and nail-biter as a child, a cutter during a very dark period of adolescence, and now as an adult I get pretty freaked out if there isn't a pack of floss within arm's reach at all times. At least my dentist is happy about it.
posted by makonan at 12:02 AM on July 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


I wish he would have asked before taking a photo of my front door.

These are wonderful.
posted by Maladroid at 1:08 AM on July 2, 2013


It was the Sisyphean glass of milk that resonated most with me (I battle anxiety, cyclothymia, bipolar, depression, fibromyalgia). According to the Wired article, the milk glass depicts a more positive approach to life, but with a constant effort required to maintain that positivity. That is my life, right there, in a photograph.

He says this in the project's artist statement:

"Is it possible for a society to have a commonly held idea of what is normal, when few individuals in that society actually meet the criteria for normalcy?"

The movement to break down the stigma of mental illness in our society is finally coming to light, and in many ways it involves those of us who battle with it, explaining to others what it's like. It's projects like this, where art is used to make these experiences/feelings more accessible, that make me feel hopeful and grateful -- and inspired. (I used to use photography/self-portraiture/blogging to share what depression is like, and I need to get back to it.)

Thanks for posting this.
posted by flyingsquirrel at 3:43 AM on July 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


The floss one actually made me super anxious because my first thought was "Oh God he's leaning on the sink. Oh God the sink is going to crack and come out of the wall. Why is he putting all that weight on the sink? Why? WHY?" and then I had to take some deep breaths.

What anxious person would own so many clocks?

I get pretty anxious and I have clocks around the house all set to different times; my alarm clock is about twenty-five minutes fast (actually more like thirty something but DON'T TELL ME THAT SO I DON'T HAVE TO KNOW) and the clock on the stove is baaaaasically right but the clock on the microwave is like thirty minutes fast and my watch is approximately eighteen and so on. If I could get away with it I'd probably have like four clocks in each room with precisely calibrated incorrect information. Many, many people will be like "but that defeats the purpose, now you never know what time it is" and I get that and I would love to be one of those people but for me the purpose is not knowing what time it is, it's knowing what time it isn't; if I leave the house when my alarm clock says twenty-five past then actually I'm leaving in plenty of time even if it feels like I'm cutting it close so it gives me a cushion of relief. It would be great if I could set all the clocks to the same time but I can't because then I would know about them.

I understand that someone might well come into this thread and be all "That doesn't make sense" and yes, thank you, I'm aware of that and I've heard it before (including from my husband although he is very kind about it and pretty tolerant of the clock thing; he solves this by only ever checking the time on his phone). The point is not whether it makes sense, the point is whether it is something I have to do to help myself get through the day, and for whatever reason, having a ton of clocks set to different times helps me. And I think that's sort of the point; you can't apply regular thinking to this sort of anxiety. It absolutely one hundred percent does not make sense so trying to understand it in non-anxiety based terms is not going to work; it's a completely different frame of reference.

So, anyway, yeah, there are anxious people who would have that many clocks.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 4:04 AM on July 2, 2013 [15 favorites]


Also the clocks are a metaphor.

Anyway, I found these a bit uninspired, but some folks like 'em and I don't begrudge that.
posted by Mister_A at 5:52 AM on July 2, 2013


The desk and the doorbells felt very familiar to me, but it was the glass of milk that made me think, "oh, there I am."
posted by sldownard at 5:56 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've never been diagnosed with any sort of anxiety disorder, but about half of these pictures absolutely fill me with the screaming meemies.
posted by the bricabrac man at 6:02 AM on July 2, 2013


The one that most spoke to me was the overflowing bin of notes under an immaculate wall of post-its. It makes me think of of striving to attain perfection on the surface and anxiously hiding any imperfections.

Some of them have less ... meaning? depth to me than others, but it's a thoughtful set of images that makes me feel a bit less alone.
posted by NoiselessPenguin at 6:08 AM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wish he would have asked before taking a photo of my front door.

Me, too.
posted by BrashTech at 6:10 AM on July 2, 2013


This one - copying the newspaper article? That captures my anxiety about my inability to retain information, especially these days when it feels like reading to much crap Internet has rotted my brain.

In school I used to copy chapters and articles, because it felt like it was the writing that cemented things in place in my memory. Copying lists of spelling words was soothing. And if I didn't write things perfectly, I'd start over again and I'll tell you, I have great handwriting because of that and went on to a job where I was paid great money to to provide handwriting for a department store ad for an ad agency. I actually feel anxious sometimes that my daughter's school doesn't require more drills and copying.

I'd have happily used Umbridge's Quill on myself if it meant I could never forget things I wanted to remember after the first time learning them. These days, it's that anecdote about Einstein "Never memorize what you can look up in a book" - whether it's true or not - that keeps me from freaking that I can't remember everything I'd like to. I have too many bookmarks and screen grabs that I have to review, rename and sort periodically, but I enjoy organizing and tidying that way. On my desktop when I open my "Folder Full of Folders" which has a folder named "Time Sensitive" (which contains a folder called "to File Away") it looks a bit like the image of the wall of post-its with the overflowing basket underneath. It's like my brain where I can go "These are the thoughts/memories/bits of info I need to keep, placed where I can find them - and the trash on my desktop is full of I can let go of because I didn't need them after all."

Thanks for posting this. The misery of anxiety loves company, even when it kind of hates company.
posted by peagood at 6:25 AM on July 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


I really liked this, and love the idea of portraying an individual feeling of dread, horror or anxiety encapsulated in seemingly mundane objects or situations organized to convey that highly personal and otherwise mostly obscure reaction. I'm lucky enough not to suffer from much anxiety, but most of these images made me feel distinctly off-balance, disturbed or insecure.

Just to maunder a bit, the specific idea that came to mind for me is this: I am somewhat highly attuned to potential physical accidents-in-the-making. For example, the handle of a frying pan full of hot grease. Where is it, exactly? How likely is it that a loose sleeve or ill-conceived movement could cause a horrible burn incident? I re-position pots and pans and their handles constantly when cooking. The boiling hot bowl of something I'm taking out of the microwave: Where is the dog? How am I transferring this? Where exactly am I going to set it down? How far away? Drinking glass near the edge of the counter? Well, that's just awfully, terribly close to being jagged shards on the floor that could slice right through a foot or paw. Etc. All the time, every day, second nature. Or first. But not something that handicaps me in any way.

So, I'm always aware and adjusting various things in my near-vicinity to minimize the visualized consequences of haphazard actions, accidents, and incidents, and this is not considered an anxiety disorder (and is in fact quite beneficial, I think), but I'm now thinking that this seems so nearly close, on some level, to debilitating anxiety issues that I'm inclined to view the problem of some anxiety disorders as extreme, ultra-aware, or hyper-responsive, hypersensitive, or even hyper-evolved survival instinct. Is this klaxon-obvious old news? I don't know. I've never really examined that idea before or read any studies, so it was just thinking about these images that gave me that scrap of an idea, which makes me pretty impressed with the effort.
posted by taz at 6:25 AM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


i started having to pay attention to my breathing right about here. there are a lot of these that are highly evocative for me - like this one was years of my life. i hung out in closets, under stairs, in half bathtubs, in crawl spaces.


I was an eyelash-puller and nail-biter as a child, a cutter during a very dark period of adolescence, and now as an adult I get pretty freaked out if there isn't a pack of floss within arm's reach at all times.

oooohhhhh!! ok - as i sit here picking at my face and feeling to figure out if i have eyelashes left from last night, maybe i'll pick up some floss at the store this week.

I have clocks around the house all set to different times

yes! me too. when i'm setting clocks it goes something like this "husband, can you tell me a time that is somewhere between 3 and 9 minutes from the time it is now without telling me the current time, please" - except the stove and the microwave have to be exactly the same as each other (no easy feat). we set two alarms, offset by 4-7 minutes (and now i'm thinking i might want a back up one or two, which is maybe an argument for staying out of threads about anxiety)...
posted by nadawi at 7:16 AM on July 2, 2013


"Is it possible for a society to have a commonly held idea of what is normal, when few individuals in that society actually meet the criteria for normalcy?"

"The only normal people are the one's you don't know very well." (attributed to Alfred Adler [PDF])

We have that as a magnet on our fridge at home. My wife suffers from anxiety and panic attacks, though they've been good as of late. It was interesting to see how people responded when she told them that she had recently received her first prescription for an anti-anxiety medication. Some people told her "it's all in your head," including her father, who himself suffers from seasonal depression and what seem to be low-level manic mood swings. His mother wanted to get electro-shock therapy to balance herself in the early 2000s, though the local hospital hadn't offered that treatment for decades.

Then there were the numerous friends who said they were on the same medication as she was, and often in higher doses. The best part was that they all seemed so balanced and "normal."

Either normal is a personal sliding scale, or a very hazy metric for the population at large. Or a completely meaningless thing to gauge.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:29 AM on July 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh Lordy, I have had SO MUCH anxiety directly related to that tiny clock on top of the pile which I bought for about $4 in a pinch. Sometimes it would ring silently.
posted by pajamazon at 8:24 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was looking at this photos, feeling something, couldn't quite convey it, then read: "but these look like the cringe-worthy photos you find on stock photography sites" That's it exactly! Also, second the description of "uninspired."
posted by MoxieProxy at 2:32 PM on July 2, 2013


Probably, I'm just more realistic about anxiety disorder being a medical condition as opposed to the abstract something that a camera lens turns it into.
posted by New England Cultist at 3:29 PM on July 2, 2013


I think I'm just one of those people who can't really connect with abstract things like this. I have dealt with panic attacks, depression, social anxiety and agoraphobia for years but none of these pictures really got to me. The fact that they do remind me of bizarre stock photography doesn't help.

It's interesting to see other people's reactions, though. The ones that I think convey my anxiety best are these three:

fence hashmarks
the box on the sidewalk
under the stairs

Especially the first one, it reminds me of marks in a prison cell which is exactly what severe agoraphobia feels like.

And this thread is making me feel better that I'm not the only one who occasionally hides in closets.
posted by kassila at 12:13 AM on July 3, 2013


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