Mr. Fusion

May 1, 2009

By Laura Brauer

“Sometimes I think my job description should be changed from ‘photographer’ to ‘problem solver,’ ” says Andrew Matusik. “And if you are a problem solver, then you thrive in a world of obstacles.”

Photographing extensively for both commercial and editorial clients, Matusik is extremely driven and he is definitely thriving. The focus of Matusik’s problem solving is to create images that are as commercially viable as they are artistically satisfying.

Matusik’s eye-grabbing fashion, beauty and celebrity images are arrestingly contemporary. While Matusik’s edgy aesthetic depends on his sophisticated post-production wizardry—surreal visions blended together from multiple images—Matusik’s road to success in the digital era has depended on qualities far more important than Photoshop techniques.

Matusik’s creative process is grounded in an interesting combination of his traditional artistic approach—he is trained as a painter—and his love of computers. But as Matusik points out, “Eighty percent of my rapid success in commercial photography depends on business savvy.”

The Successful, Struggling Artist
Having arrived in New York fewer than five years ago to “make it in the heart of commercial photography,” Matusik now owns an apartment there, as well as one in Los Angeles and Paris. He splits his time between the three cities, with representation in each.

During a series of long talks about his life and career, Matusik spoke to me rapidly, concisely and with intense enthusiasm. His perspective is forward-thinking and he framed all of his experiences positively. He referred to other artists regularly and respectfully, and laughed comfortably when recalling his blunders.

Matusik has photographed scores of celebrities, including Cheryl Tiegs, Hilary Duff, Paris Hilton, and actors from the television programs Heroes, Lost, Scrubs and CSI. His extensive publication credits include Bazaar, Shape, Maxim, Teen Vogue and Seventeen. Matusik explains that on average he shoots one fashion, one beauty and one celebrity image or campaign every two months.

Matusik is a self-proclaimed “tech head” and “typical control freak.” As such, he insists on performing every aspect of his signature post-production work. He has also steered clear of a full-time staff member. “I can’t stand the thought of not being productive,” says Matusik of his frantic work life. He dislikes sleeping more than four hours a night; he winces at the thought of sleeping more than six.

While Matusik thrives in the big leagues of commercial photography, he exhibits a clear frustration with his own work. “I think of myself as being like Picasso in his ‘Blue Period,’ ” Matusik says. “I am simply saying that I am never satisfied with the work I produce.”

The Heart of Fusion
Matusik has begun to use the word “fusion” to describe his most personally satisfying work. These images are his most innovative and stylized, hyper-real and surreal visions. Matusik notes that this work offers a business challenge as such images tend to be least viable in the traditional commercial marketplace.

“I shot thousands of images in Europe after college,” Matusik explains. “And I began using pieces of these photographs as textures and flavors to integrate into my professional images to produce collage effects.” This type of visual fusion is the hallmark of all Matusik’s work, and he notes that even images that look deceptively “straight” are usually made up of multiple images.

Beyond technique, Matusik explains; “[The] fusion is the artistic foundation forged from my past meeting my implementation and use of the technology of today combined with an aggressive pioneering spirit to forge a vision for the future.”

Maximizing Time To Reach Success
Raised in Tucson, AZ, Matusik attended Occidental College in Los Angeles. He graduated in 1992 with a double major in painting and politics. Painting was Matusik’s passion—he gravitated toward abstract expressionism—and of his second major he says, “Being political makes an artist more interesting.”

“Although I attended Occidental on a scholarship, it was a very expensive school,” says Matusik. “I realized if I worked my ass off I could get two degrees for the price of one, and that was just logical to me.”
Matusik has always sought out such strategies to “logically maximize time.” “I couldn’t just walk into a bank to get a loan to start my photography dreams,” explains Matusik, who first ventured into commercial photography in 1999. “So I worked two full-time jobs and slept in my car for over two years saving the money I needed to launch my business.”

“That’s just what any young person does to make it in photography,” notes Matusik. Leveraging his life-long passion for Apple computers, Matusik worked by night as a tech at MacMall and by day as a digital technician in the large in-house photography department for the Robinsons-May department store chain.

“There were 15 workstations,” recalls Matusik. “So basically I had 15 Photoshop teachers with 15 distinct specialties. Essentially, I was being paid to go to school.” Focused and frugal, Matusik learned much and saved $100,000 for his first big professional equipment purchase.

Matusik never studied photography formally. He only began to photograph in earnest after college, during travels to Europe as a part-time production courier. Matusik thought that travel photography might make a good career to support his painting. Quickly realizing there was little money in travel photography, he focused on commercial work.

Matusik says that he became “the digital guy” while overseeing Robinsons-May’s transition to digital capture. During this period he was also improving his photography by working as a photography assistant. In 2000, a pivotal development came in Matusik’s career when he began to assist for Neil Kirk, the well known fashion photographer who worked extensively for Vogue.

Matusik and Kirk developed a strong mentor/mentee relationship. Matusik was in a unique position to help Kirk embrace digital, while Kirk exposed Matusik to critical industry insights for succeeding in New York, where Matusik moved in 2005.

The Editorial Value for Commercial
“Production costs are such today that I can’t do a job for less than $55,000,” Matusik notes of his base commercial day rate, which can go up to $150,000. “You simply can’t do it for less.” Nonetheless, Matusik goes out of his way to secure editorial assignments in which he offers the same scope of services for day rates from $2000 to $8000.

“I am basically doing these editorial jobs for free,” Matusik says. But he explains that editorial shoots are very different from commercial shoots in one critical way. “With editorial, I am king—or sometimes MacGyver.” Matusik points to his satisfying working relationship with the hip magazine GenLux. “Basically, I have free range to create my own vision.”

“With commercial shoots the client is paying for your creativity,” notes Matusik, “but they are also participating in the finished product. With editorial shoots there is no margin for error.”

Matusik explains that editorial work also gives him the chance to better present his vision to his commercial clients. “I want to open their eyes to the evolving visual tastes of their customers,” Matusik says.

His New Star Wars Aesthetic
“I am all about how far I can push my work into the realm of my clients,” Matusik says. He explains that he is engaged in a conscious effort to help bridge the gap between the old aesthetic of film and the new visual possibilities of digital. To illustrate how his truest artistic vision does (and doesn’t) fit into the current landscape of commercial photography, Matusik related a story about the “old” and “new” Star Wars movies.
“Anyone who grew up with the old Star Wars doesn’t like ‘new’ Star Wars,” Matusik said. “They can’t read the new digital dialogue. But younger people want the new Star Wars because they have grown up in a culture that needs an amped-up version of imagery.”

“The industry is in transition,” says Matusik. “Commercial clients are caught in this transition of both medium and sensibility. Old Star Wars vanguards are holding on to the past aesthetic. But a new generation of consumer sensibilities is developing akin to the youth’s unequivocal connection with the new Star Wars aesthetic.”

At 39, Matusik is firmly a fan of the old Star Wars, and insists that he is a painter at heart. However, his more traditional tastes have fused with his profound love of computing. The result, as Matusik explains of his photography, “I just happen to be a new Star Wars director.”

Communicating and Team Building
“Commercial photography is really all about nurturing clients,” says Matusik, explaining that his success has hinged on his ability to foster constant communication with clients. “When you are in pre-production meetings you spend a lot of time talking about the target demographics and marketing psychology for the subtext of the shoot.”

Matusik explains exactly how a shoot will unfold, preparing clients for unexpected problems. “Circumventing problems before they happen and being prepared for the ones that are inevitable is a crucial part of taking commercial pictures,” he says.

“My job is to hire the right team to be able to deliver the expected image,” explains Matusik. He says his team does all the work on shoots while he communicates with the client and stylists. “It is important to know your team is going to deliver the proven product, allowing you to focus on the clients.”

For typical commercial jobs, Matusik’s team consists of two freelance assistants (the senior assistant handles many aspects of production), a digital assistant (who handles the digital back, computer and file management), a hair, makeup, wardrobe and prop stylists. Bigger teams require a producer, casting agent, location scout/manager and post-production assisting.

Matusik notes that celebrity photography provides its own unique challenges, with many additional layers of checks, such as pre-shoot negotiations with the celebrity’s publicist. “Navigating and problem solving non-photographic variables in commercial and celebrity photography are an important aspect of the business,” Matusik says. “I don’t see it in a negative light. It adds an additional thrill and, when done well, it is sometimes as rewarding as the photography itself.”

Sculpting Photographic Marble
“The amount of planning versus playing depends on the project,” Matusik says of his process of creating his fusion photography. For commercial jobs Matusik explains about 80 percent of the image is created in pre-production planning and during the actual shoot, with 20 percent of the process left to post-production creativity. With editorial jobs, the ratio is closer to 50/50.

“All the previsualization, planning and in-camera work goes toward capturing the raw material I will need to work with in postproduction,” says Matusik. “I share my vision with my team and lead them in a direction by sharing the concept I want to create.

“Postproduction is where I am most painterly and free to experiment,” notes Matusik, making a comparison to Michelangelo’s process of sculpting. “Michelangelo could see the work he wanted to create inside the marble,” says Matusik. “I use my team to help me create the marble I want to work with and then I start hammering away.

“Once all the creative elements are brought together, with the right planning and the correct team guided with clear vision and leadership, an organic quality takes over,” says Matusik. “This will manifest into a fantastic and hopefully memorable image.” You can view Matusik’s work at

Ethan G. Salwen is an independent photographer and writer based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He specializes in Latin American cultures, and also covers a wide variety of topics for professional photographers including digital technology, marketing techniques and industry trends. Salwen received his training in photography at Rochester Institute of Technology.