Mike Mellia is a conceptual photographer based in NYC dealing with American social and cultural issues of advertising, consumption, corruption, compulsion, and technology.
His latest project SELF-ABSORBED, addresses the facebook generation’s egocentric compulsion with technology from a pop-art self-branded point of view. As an ongoing project since 2012, Mike Mellia Photography has been surreptitiously placing these self-branded products inside local bodegas, supermarkets, and people’s homes as an alternative to social media’s online status updates… With our self-portraits shared through social media, everyone now creates their own “Brand.” This product placement project re-imagines some of the most famous branding icons in American advertising. The results are far from Warhol‘s pop-art glorification of consumer products.
In many ways, this series continues Mellia’s other conceptual works that address theses same American social and cultural issues.
platformPHOTO: ‘Self-Absorbed’ makes a satirical commentary on the narcissism of our digital age. Tell us more about the conception and thinking process behind this project?
Mike Mellia: I wanted to expand the realm of how we experience photography, by combining elements of performance art, street art, pop-culture, sculpture, advertising, graphic design, and photography. I created a number of self-branded consumables and left them in local bodegas, supermarkets, and people’s homes to be discovered as an alternative to the self-portraits inherent to social media’s “status updates”. The concept was to outline the similarities in self-branding strategies of a corporation’s advertising and an individual’s online persona.
platformPHOTO: Can you explain how you achieved the production and post-production of this series?
Mike Mellia: The production of the work was the same process I use when creating advertising campaigns for clients. The only difference is that in advertising photography I only create the photograph, but in “Self-Absorbed” I created the artwork, the packaging layout, and the entire product. Once the “Mr. Michael” brand of consumables were created I photographed them as still lifes against a neutral background as if they were advertising product shots.
platformPHOTO: How do you intend people to react to this project? Do you want to provoke people to consider if they have built their own brand and reflect on this? Or do you just want to make people laugh? (We certainly did!)
Mike Mellia: Yes I think there are a lot of “meta” questions that “Self-Absorbed” addresses. I think people enjoy it because it is able to operate on a number of different levels.
platformPHOTO: Once you have placed and photographed a ‘Mr. Michael’ product in a supermarket, do you hide and wait to photograph people’s reaction when they see the product?
Mike Mellia: No, it is more about the performance-art experience for the public. Ironically, I have seen images on social media posted by the public of my discovered consumables even without my intervention.
platformPHOTO: Do you know if anyone has ever tried to buy a ‘Michael’ product? How would you feel if people really could buy in to the ‘Mr. Michael’ brand?
Mike Mellia: Yes there is often a combination of confusion, amusement, appreciation, or introspection involved when a consumable is discovered. Regarding buying into this specific brand, I think the “Mr. Michael” consumables are similar to the celebrity-endorsed products and gratuitous product-placement strategies already prevalent in pop-culture today. The philosophical conundrum is how the “Mr. Michael” consumables operate within this culture and the questions they ask about self-branding in general.
platformPHOTO: Why did you choose to focus on the particular products and brands featured in your images?
Mike Mellia: I wanted to create a cohesive language and a culture around my “brand”, so it was important for the products to be recognizable and to have branding mascots or characters that were universal through their stereotypes. In many ways, the cliché in the original branding is so strong that the products still evoke the same emotion even with my own face on them.
platformPHOTO: Is this an on-going project and can we expect to see more ‘Mr. Michael’ products in future?
Mike Mellia: This has been an ongoing project since 2012 and there are always new consumables being released as the brand continues to expand into new areas.
platformPHOTO: ‘Self-absorbed’ seems to embody a contemporary interpretation of some of the themes and styles of the pop-art movement. Could you tell us more about who and what inspires your photographic practice?
Mike Mellia: I have read reviews that place my work within the context of art history, citing Marcel Duchamp, Claus Oldenburg, The Dadaists, Warhol, Banksy, etc… but for me, conceptual art is always inspired first by a concept. In other words, photography is a tool to pose a philosophical question, so the idea should come first.
platformPHOTO: Mike, thank you very much for your time, we have one last question for you. If we sent you to a desert island and allowed you to take one image by another photographer, what would this image be?
Mike Mellia: There’s a portrait of myself that my wife Laura took, and I think I look pretty good in it…
To view more work from Mike Mellia please visit: www.mikemellia.com