If you are a student at Columbia, chances are you’ve seen Matt Andersen’s work on Instagram. An avid profiler of our prolific city, Matt’s art and aerial photography delight his viewers with perspectives that we wouldn’t normally see. Sometimes tranquil and sometimes an alternate reality, you can readily see the role his design background has played in his photography. Now a Director of Photography at FCB, we asked Matt about his experience at Columbia and advice for senior students.
How did an internship or on-campus job help prepare you for your 1st job after graduation?
My internship at Havas is probably 90% of the reason I was able to secure a full-time agency position after school. During that time, I had access to big name brands and large-scale real world projects that allowed me to slowly cycle my portfolio from school work to “real work.” In my opinion, jumping into an internship is the best way to prepare for agency life. If it’s a good internship, you’ll not only be paid, but you’ll be treated and held to the same standards as a full-time employee, with maybe a little bit less pressure since you’ll have mentors to help guide you and manage tasks. An internship is the perfect place to show what you’ve got people who can help shape your career. Building relationships and making friends with as many people as I could (not just people with a senior role or within my discipline) has been invaluable.
How have design and photography come together for you in your current role?
I received my BFA in Graphic design from Columbia College Chicago and, in the process, grew a passion for photography. My first full-time job was at FCB as an Associate Art Director where graphic design was my main focus. I slowly began to enjoy photography more than design, and threw myself into as many photo/video projects as I could. I was constantly offering to help the creative teams execute social content, make internal videos for the agency, and assist with capturing agency events. Now, I have transitioned into production full time where photo/video projects are what I do day to day. However, I still find projects to help out within the production department that are related to design. For example, assisting the post production teams with graphics and editing/animation used within the video pieces we create. Or, assisting a director in creating a treatment presentation when they’re pitching an idea for a film piece. Having skills in both art direction and production gives me a bit more leverage when seeking additional income, and I’m happy I’m in a flexible position that lets me practice both regularly. If you’re like me and you can’t decide on one or the other, and want to do both, you can. You just have to show people that you can. Sometimes that means you may have to work outside of your job description, but it can pay off in the long run.
What do you love about your job?
I love working at a large agency for a variety of reasons. The potential scale of the projects we do really excites me. I take pride in doing “big” projects that I know are either important to a lot of people or projects that will have a large audience. Our agency really pushes us to create work specifically for Cannes, so there’s great opportunities to assist in creating award winning work. Another big part I enjoy is the people and connections. There’s a lot of talented people that work in ad agencies across multiple disciplines and there is a lot to learn from them. Most of all, I love that I get to do something creative and get paid for it. It’s been a dream of mine for quite a while, so that’s what I love the most — doing what I want to do and making a living doing it.
What advice do you have for senior students?
Don’t panic about your grades, a degree looks the same no matter how well you did in each individual class. Focus on what will help your career and eliminate everything else. Develop multiple sources of income, it will make all of this easier. Ask yourself how your creative work can make you money while you’re sleeping — that’s what will help fund the projects you really want to do. Try to focus only on paid jobs from here on out, if you haven’t already. Not just because you have to eat, but because this monetary agreement will hold you to a higher standard. Make that crucial move from creating work for friends and family to people that don’t already know you. You will be held accountable for your work and begin to move towards the professional level. Have something (internship, entry level gig, freelance clients) lined up when you graduate by starting early. Since you’re in your senior year, you should have already started this process. If you haven’t, it’s never too late, so get going. Milk as much portfolio work from an internship as you can and share those experiences when you apply to entry level positions. Always have a positive attitude. Be careful what you put in writing (emails). Make yourself more valuable than the person next to you. Take risks. Only have relevant work experience on your résumé. Get your foot in the door, then shape your position into what you truly want to do (if it isn’t already that). While school (and a degree) is important for this field, don’t forget to build up yourself outside of class. Freelance as much as you can and go crazy with passion projects. You might not want to hear this, but during the interview for my previous position as an art director, the creative director (my boss to-be) didn’t want to see any school work. Maybe he was tougher than normal, maybe he wasn’t. Be prepared for that when it comes time to transition from internship to full-time. Above all, have plenty of those nights where you lose track of time because you’re just busy creating — the rest will follow.
Matt Andersen Photography on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/mattandersenphoto/)
@matt.andersen on Instagram