by David Marshel
A young boy and his father stand atop a parking structure in downtown Los Angeles. The day turns from azure to a deep lavender while fiery clouds and a sinking sun begin to redden the sky. Electric lights begin to dot the skyline as the last of daylight retreats behind towering skyscrapers.
There is a subtle “click.”
The boy has just taken his first photograph with a digital camera.
A day before, young Matt Gush thought he wanted to be a painter.
“That kick-started my love affair,” he said. “That one photo on that one parking structure, on that one night, I realized the power of photography.”
Now at 29 years old, Gush is the university photographer at Cal State Fullerton.
He is also an alumnus who earned a bachelors of fine arts in photography and a minor in anthropology.
Evolving from an undergraduate to a professional photographer was an eight-year journey that transformed him into a highly skilled visual artist. All because of that one night.
During his time as a student at CSUF, Gush landed a gig through a friend of his who knew someone in need of professional headshots. The subject was Jeffrey Cook, associate vice president for Strategic Communications at CSUF. To Gush they were just simple headshots, but by taking it seriously he offered up his best work.
It turned out to be the entry point into his career.
“The evocative power of photography is his life and I was very impressed with what I saw,” Cook said. “I encouraged him to apply for the student assistant position. Ultimately, he was hired.”
Gush worked his student job for two years and when he graduated, the timing couldn’t have been better.
The university was merging the public affairs department into a new strategic communications division and they needed a full-time photographer. Gush applied for the positio
n despite fierce competition with well-established professionals. His work stood out because he understood the unique essence of the CSUF community.
“There is a huge spectrum of life on campus in people doing things,” Gush said. “It’s really profound. I get to interface with all of them, showcase what they do and tell that story to the world at large.”
As the sole university photographer, he needs to make connections with subjects quickly. His minor in anthropology brought forth his intuitive understanding of people, a valuable component his friends and family already knew he possessed.
“I like to think of Matt as a chameleon when it comes to people because he has an ability to fit into any social setting,” said long-time friend, Aaron Perseke. “Matt genuinely cares for people and I think that shows in every photograph he takes.”
Gush’s family thought earning a living with a fine arts degree was merely a pipe dream.
His father was supportive of college but on the fence about a career in fine arts. Family expectations drove Gush to spend years chasing symbols of success, like driving a nice car or buying a house. Putting so much emphasis into his career made Gush realize he was neglecting himself.
“I was looking for these validations that I had made it as an artist. That was dangerous in a way, because the type of gigs I was pursuing was just for the money and not the love,” he said.
Then he discovered international travel.
By both traveling abroad and doing photography work he was passionate about Gush validated his career to himself and developed a deep understanding of his own place in the world.
“That was a turning point. I realized that I can chase money until the cows come home, but for what? It’s time for me to do work that I care about,” Gush said.
Compiling a decades worth of content, Gush launched his website, “The Human Experience” in March 2017. With a unique approach to photojournalism, his work, captured from the 6th Street Bridge in Los Angeles to Belize, illustrates single moments as smaller components of time.
As his new project continues to grow, so will Gush. Looking forward, he can see himself on assignments around the world or by helping academic researchers document their discoveries. From that one night atop a parking structure to now, he offers this nugget of wisdom to photography students:
“Do not compromise what you’re passionate about,” he says. “Wherever you direct your life, is where it will go.”