In his latest project, photographer Mike Mellia is more or less taking a selfie of society and distributing it in the exact opposite way that most self-generated images are shared.
Rather than doing what is typical of young people in 2013—frequent self-portraits on social media—the photographer created his own brand of products and began leaving them in local bodegas, supermarkets, and people’s homes (basically anywhere they’d be guaranteed to be found.) The result is performance art by way of street art, as if Andy Warhol were locked in a supermarket for a weekend with Banksy and a bunch of iPhone-wielding millennials.
"I’ve always been interested in the intersection between advertising and fine art," Mellia says. "Deconstructing these American icons of advertising was a way to address many social and cultural aspects of the social media generation."
Each image in the collection Self-Absorbed contains a portrait of the author blended into the logo of a famous consumer good. When choosing what products to use in the experiment, Mellia looked for American advertising that was universally known but considered rather cliché at this point. He used mascots like the Marlboro Man to emphasize the intent behind the way brands are sold and how that relates to our own typical self-branding through social media.
"In a consumer-driven society of product-placement and constant contact through technology," Mellia says, "the self-absorbed Facebook generation and advertisers make the exact same self-branding decisions."
The project also serves as a commentary on how the Facebook generation appears to process advertising in a different way than previous generations. The ingrained distrustful attitude toward advertising that once branded bands with songs in commercials as "sellouts" appears to be eroding, perhaps due to sheer inundation.
"I love great advertising and think it has the same impact as great art. The only difference is that advertising conveys one specific message while art conveys multiple possibilities," Mellia says. "In our culture, however, the trend is now to blur the line between advertising and entertainment, so now more than ever we experience advertising as a streamlined experience."