I Control My OCD By Taking Photos of Everything I Do

Andrea has thousands of pictures on his phone to help him remember he turned off his stove and properly locked his front door.

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Oct 13 2016, 11:05pm

This article originally appeared on VICE France

If you'd caught Andrea Aggradi leaving his Paris apartment a couple of years ago, you would have also caught him returning to that apartment a second or two later. The question on his mind: whether or not he had turned off his gas stove. You'd have seen him going inside, making the most of his time by also checking if there was a still-lit cigarette in the ashtray and if he'd properly closed the door. Three minutes later he would have been on his scooter, leaving. Ten minutes later, he'd have been back. Opening the door, going up the stairs, checking the gas, checking the ashtray, checking the door. Going back down the stairs, starting his scooter and leaving. On repeat.

This was Andrea Aggradi's life until 2010, when he suddenly realised he could use his smartphone to control his OCD. That epiphany meant a new life for Andrea – an Italian living in Paris – achieved by taking photos of the things he needed to do before leaving the house, like turning off the stove and closing the door. This resulted in an archive of thousands of photos, carefully kept on his phone and computer.

Andrea Gandini, photographer and founder of the Parisian Jitterbug gallery, turned this huge bulk of pictures into an exhibition called TOC ("Trouble Obessionnel Compulsif"). The two Andreas welcomed me to the gallery to talk about the difficulty of dealing with OCD on a daily basis and the importance of keeping an archive.

VICE: How do you know each other?
Andrea Gandini: I've known Andrea for about 15 years. Soon after we met I noticed that he paid a lot of attention to certain aspects of his daily life – a level of attention clearly connected to control issues. He needs to be able to exactly recall having done some particular action – like turning off the gas – so he doesn't have to go home to make sure he did. But life has become much simpler for him since he got a smartphone – he just takes a picture of the fact that he turned off the gas.

Andrea, how did you come up with that?
Andrea Aggradi: I just had a brainwave one day while looking at my phone. Before 2010 – when I started to use my phone for this – I would sometimes go home five or six times a day to check everything. To avoid that, I'd try doing everything really precisely and do little extra things so the action would stay in my mind – like little physical post-its. For example, I would tap the door to remember that I closed it properly, or I would wave my hand under the water tap to remember that it was off. But that never really worked – I would always question those little actions, too. Although I have to admit that I have even been unsure about the photos on my phone, at times.

What exactly do you feel you need to check at home?
AA: Recently it was all about four things I needed to check before leaving the house: the water faucets, the gas valve, the ashtray and the door. I thought about those four things the whole day. When I'm looking after a friend's house or if I go on holiday I'll take photos of absolutely everything in the house.

A securely switched off gas valve

How long have you suffered from OCD?
AA: I think I've had this kind of OCD for about 15 years. But I've had other types as well, which I treated with medication. I had a phobia of food contamination, for example. That made me lose almost two stone.

What do you think sets off your OCD?
AA: No doubt it's stress – that's the key. Today, when everything's going well with me, I can leave the house without taking any photos. I'll take them out of habit and to make sure I have them if I suddenly have any stress later in the day. Some people say that if I didn't check everything the worst that could happen is an accident, for which I'd be insured. I hate that kind of reasoning – I just want to show I'm responsible.

And you never hid your OCD from your friends, right?
AA: That's right.
AG: Over the years I've frequently told him not to throw away his photos, just in case. Although he would never have thrown them away anyway.
AA: Obviously not. I always keep everything – it's as simple as that. The memory on my phone is quite full, so I delete the older photos hoping that I've already moved them onto my computer – which is most likely, definitely the case.

An empty ashtray

Andrea, as the gallery's director, why were you interested in this huge database?
AG: The compulsive, obsessive, unhealthy yet creative dimension of such a huge quantity of images on one single subject seemed interesting to me. But I didn't understand the size of it at first. When I had the space to organise the exhibition I approached Andrea to see whether he had kept everything. He had. He had thousands of photos. What's more, for the last two or three years he'd also taken videos. We're showing those as well, one after another on a loop. Each video lasts around three seconds and you can hear Andrea say things like, "The gas if off." That sound serves as a soundtrack to the exhibition.
AA: You have to understand that these photos aren't photos for me. They're just notes. I don't have any artistic talent.

A well turned off tap

Why is the subject of OCD so fascinating to you?
AG: By discussing it with other people, we've realised that OCD is something that everyone can relate to. I saw some wry smiles when I told people about the project. To varying degrees, everyone has some form of OCD.

The exhibition TOC (Trouble Obsessionnel Compulsif) runs until the 17th of November, 2016, at the Jitterbug Gallery at 14 Rue Jean Moinon in Paris.

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