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A Conversation With Matt Bernstein

As New York City prepares to play host to the biggest Pride event in history, we spoke with one of the LGBTQIA+ community’s rising stars, Matt Bernstein. A current NYU student, Matt’s ongoing photography series merges makeup with human rights messages, particularly those highlighting concerns affecting the queer community. Fascinated by his work and keen to delve deeper, we spoke with Matt about his work and inspiration.

Where did you grow up and when did you move to NYC?

I grew up in Westfield, a small suburb in New Jersey. I moved to New York City two years ago when I was 18 to study at NYU, not really thinking I would be doing anything else but study. I study photography and marketing at NYU. 

Your recent LGBTQIA+ photographic series published on your Instagram account (@mattxiv) is hugely popular. How do you curate the messages you share, and who or what inspires them?

People who followed me 6 months ago would only really consider me a photographer, because that’s mainly what I did. Things took a turn away from photography as I began to feel confident in expressing myself through experimenting with makeup. New York City has an atmosphere of acceptance, which made me feel grateful and finally feel comfortable to embrace my passion for glam and beauty. I leveraged my social platform to showcase my new content and people really connected with it. I do take my own photos but the true emphasis for me is on makeup and using beauty as a form of self-expression and protest. Some of the messages in my recent posts derived from archival protests and things that I’ve seen, in which case I’ll credit the source. A lot of ideas are constantly streaming in my head, either stemming from my childhood or my own experiences being queer. I then like to think about how I can package and phrase these messages to be bite-sized and easy to digest. I really try to get my messages across quickly to ensure things remain relevant. I like to pay homage to queer history, but also to current and ongoing issues. It’s important for me to stay on top of LGBTQIA+ news so that I can further express my opinions and add my take to on-going social conversations.

Make-up is a key part of your identity. What do you love about it, and how did you develop your technique?

I’m completely self-taught, for what it’s worth. I do think YouTube is amazing! I would definitely call it a fascination, I love makeup so deeply. Just the idea of transformation is a really cool part of it. I started getting into makeup when I was dealing with a lot of anxiety, on a clinical level, shortly after moving to New York. Makeup ended up being something I could do for an hour, sitting down in an almost meditative state, trying different things. I tell my friends the best part of going out is getting ready. In my day-to-day life I typically wear toned-down makeup, which can be shocking to people who follow me and expect a full-fledged look from me. Once you understand face shapes, bone structures, and how eyeshadow works it becomes much easier to blend colors, and understand color in a way that doesn’t look juvenile. That being said there’s no wrong way to do beauty.  

Who inspires your eye, photographically but also generally?

I am constantly inspired by people who use beauty in unexpected ways. I go on Pinterest a lot, and pull inspiration from lots of different places. I was in Fire Island recently and met Jonathan Van Ness, who I really find inspiring as a visibile queer person in the industry. We had such a lovely conversation on the beach about hard work and hustle. 

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. How will you be commemorating and celebrating World Pride?

I’ll definitely attend the parade in NYC, but I’ll be conscious to have an ongoing and open dialogue on my social platforms with my followers about Pride and other key conversations. It’s important to remember the first pride was actually a riot. It’s so important to remind everyone that there are still massive issues within our community, including huge rates of incarceration and homelessness for underprivileged queer people of color. Transgender women are still incredibly oppressed, which is an important issue for many of us to continually educate ourselves on. I think it’s important to have the conversation and educate, not only for Pride in June but all year round. 

What are your favorite spots to work and play in NYC?

I live in the Lower East Side and enjoy all the quaint coffee spots. I love Variety Coffee in Chelsea, or any place with a good WiFI connection for that matter! I’d eventually like to find a good office space to work from, because when I work from home I find myself falling asleep on the couch or wherever. I constantly rely on caffeine – I think that’s a huge part of NYC culture. New York is an expensive city in the summer. I really love going dancing with my friends. The city’s nightlife was one of the biggest reasons I got into makeup originally, because my friends and I would go out and try “looks”. I really got to experiment with zero pressure or judgement which was so liberating. 

With your focus on makeup being so strong, we are curious to know if you have any tattoos?

I don’t. Here’s the thing; I come from a Jewish background and you can’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery if you have tattoos. So most of my family are opposed to tattoos, but I’m not necessarily opposed to getting one in the future. The reason I love makeup is because you can experiment and ultimately take it off. Let’s just say that if I were to get a tattoo, it wouldn’t be of a boyfriend’s name, ever.

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