All images by Mike Mellia. Used with permission
I think that without any argument, anyone can make a powerful defense to say that we as a society are quite self-absorbed. That’s the premise behind Mike Mellia’s project called Self-Absorbed. It is a satire on society’s “me, me, me, me, me, me, me, not you me” fixation via social media and other venues. It is an ongoing project that started in 2012 and in addition to the production of the products, Mike has been creating the items and placing them in bodegas around NYC. Mellia believes that people create the own brand through social media and he combines this belief with iconic advertising in American culture.
We talked to Mike about the project, his creative process, and his views of American society.
Phoblographer: It’s super easy to see how millennials and others are very self absorbed, but what actually broke the camel’s back and made you want to create a project about being self-absorbed?
Mike: I am always interested in the fine line between advertising and art. This product placement project seemed to address a number of concepts all at the same time, working within the American context of consumption, compulsion, corruption, and technology. It seemed like ordinary people, celebrities, and big corporations are all now making the exact same kind of self-branding decisions in their “advertising”. By taking somewhat cliché icons of American advertising and replacing them with my own face, it makes us question what is the branding message they are conveying.
Phoblographer: You’ve been doing this project since 2012, what are your plans for it and where do you ultimately want to take it?
Mike: I would like to expand how people experience photography into the realm of performance art, street art, pop art, and sculpture. I like photography that can ask more questions than it answers. The “Mr. Michael” family of consumables is always expanding into new areas.
Phoblographer: Why did you choose the items that you have? I totally understand how people can be so absorbed and addicted to cigarettes, but something like a cleaning agent? Were you really just trying to mimic branding icons as you state in the description or is there a segment of the population being poked at in each image?
Mike: I looked for American advertising that was universally iconic yet simultaneously narrow-minded and cliché. This paradoxical combination further emphasized our conscious decisions in Self-Branding through social media as a culture. Unwitting observers who discovered these consumables around NYC found it surreal to see the portraits of an overly masculine cowboy, a sailor obsessed with cleaning, an elderly African American woman who makes syrup, or a southern colonel, replaced by my own face. It causes the viewer to consider the way they were sold the product, and the way in which they sell their own self-branded “product”.
Phoblographer: Tell us about your creative process for this. Is there any story boarding involved?
Mike: For me the creative process is to force yourself to become obsessed with an idea, to think about it constantly day and night, to dream about it, to let it take over your entire life, until the only way to make it stop is to execute it.
Phoblographer: When you leave the objects in bodegas, have you ever seen how people have reacted at all? What is it like?
Mike: I think people enjoy “Self-Absorbed” because my consumables are able to operate on several different levels: as subversive street art, intellectual conceptual art, a hilarious prank, a meta-commentary on society, banal advertising, or an existential quest for self-enlightenment.
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