Sometimes it feels like you just can’t win on social media. Some people think selfies are narcissistic attention-grabs, others find profundity within them. Some people think that retweeting compliments is monstrous; others argue the opposite. Then there are those who try to have it both ways, by doing the thing they believe is perceived as gross while cloaking it in false modesty. It is perhaps not the ideal solution. One photographer set out to make this point by posting a series of seriously impressive cinemagraphs and captioning them all with the same overly casual format.
Fashion photographer Mike Mellia obviously has a lot of thoughts on self-presentation. His previous series, Self-Absorbed, mashed up images of himself with some of the more inescapable logos out there to show how personal branding mirrors corporate branding. Now with “a selfie a day keeps the doctor away,” he’s homing on one particular facet of how we attempt to control the way others see us. Mellia’s new series features legit gorgeous, well composed motion images on his Instagram with faux-blasé captions that all begin the same familiar way: “That one time… .”
You know the type of image-and-caption combo he’s parodying, the kind that downplays any obvious excitement in favor of presenting the moment as just another of life’s most typical experience. (A strategy that perhaps stems from the sitcom, Friends, in which every episode title begins “The One With …”) It’s something that may have seemed clever the first time, or even the first time each of us has done it. (Full disclosure: Co.Create has definitely done it.) But after seeing the same posturing again and again, it starts to seem as though something may be fundamentally broken about the way we share ourselves with others.
“Our society has become so obsessed with selfies on Instagram that I kind of wanted to take it to the extreme with highly produced advertising style imagery coupled with captions that reveal unbridled megalomania,” Mellia says. “I was inspired by Instagram’s format of video plus caption, as well as how native advertising is now becoming so subtle everywhere we look. I was also inspired by a few self-portrait video loops I took early on, so maybe I should go find a good therapist.”
The style Mellia is evoking is not exactly a humblebrag, the phenomenon coined by a very funny man who eventually wrote a book about it. The essential aspect of humblebragging is that the person doing it does not appear to know how obvious it is that he or she is bragging about something. For example, an actor might tweet “I went to so many general meetings today. Pilot season is exhausting!” and the message is loud and clear. But with the particular phenomenon Mellia is drawing attention to, the people writing the captions are in on the joke. Or at least they think they are.
“I wanted the Instagram account to be kind of conceptual and at the same time to take on the persona of a self-obsessed and stylish gentleman,” Mellia says. “In the beginning I was curious to see my colleagues’ reactions when bombarded with a barrage of highly produced selfies and video loops. Now, I’m hoping people will have a laugh and enjoy following along with the series. It’s fun to try to keep pushing the boundaries of where I can take it creatively, even through it’s a very constricting format of a self-image plus caption.”
So if you seemingly can’t post a selfie without people calling out your vanity, and you can’t disguise your vanity with ironic detachment because that’s transparent too, what’s the solution to this very modern catch-22?
According to Mellia, “If you can make a duck-face, I heard that really helps!”
Okay, so maybe he isn’t completely against detached irony.
Have a look at more of Mellia’s cinemagraphs below.