Matthew Rolston

Matthew Russell Rolston is an American artist, photographer, director and creative director.[1] He is known for his signature lighting techniques[2] and detailed approach to art direction and design and has been repeatedly identified throughout his career with the revival and modern expression of Hollywood glamour.[3]

Matthew Rolston
Matthew Russell Rolston

Los Angeles, California, United States

Photography career

Born in Los Angeles, Rolston studied drawing and painting in his home town at the Chouinard Art Institute and Otis College of Art & Design, as well as in the Bay Area at the San Francisco Art Institute. He also studied illustration, photography, imaging and film at Art Center College of Design[4] in Pasadena, California, where in 2006, he received an Honorary Doctorate.

While still a student at Art Center, Rolston was "discovered" by Andy Warhol,[5] for Warhol's celebrity focused Interview magazine, where he began a successful career in photography. Soon after, Rolston began shooting covers and editorial assignments for founding editor Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone, as well as for other publications such as Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, Vanity Fair, W, GQ, Esquire, Cosmopolitan, O: The Oprah Magazine and The New York Times. Along with his friend Herb Ritts,[6] Rolston was a member of an influential group of photographers, among them, Bruce Weber, Annie Leibovitz and Steven Meisel, to emerge from the 1980’s magazine scene. Rolston has completed thousands of photoshoots in his career, including over 100 covers for Rolling Stone alone.[7]

Rolston's career spans the areas of photography, film, creative direction, experiential design (including hospitality development), branding, product design, new media ventures, fine art and publishing.

Four monographs have been published of Rolston’s work: Big Pictures, A Book of Photographs (1991), a collection of early work with an introduction by Tim Burton, published by Bullfinch Press, New York; beautyLIGHT, Pictures at a Magazine (2008), a survey of twenty years of Rolston’s celebrity portrait photographs, published by teNeues, Germany; Talking Heads: The Vent Haven Portraits (2012), a fine art project composed of monumental portraits of ventriloquial figures, published by Pointed Leaf Press, New York; and Hollywood Royale: Out of the School of Los Angeles (2017), a mid-career retrospective, published by teNeues, Germany.

Film career

Rolston also conceives, writes and directs film projects, having directed over 100 music videos and 200 television commercials in his career, including collaborations with artists as diverse as Madonna, Janet Jackson, Beyoncé Knowles, and Miley Cyrus, as well as numerous advertising campaigns - both print and television - for clients such as L’Oreal, Revlon, Estée Lauder, Clairol, Levi's, Pantene, Elizabeth Arden, Gap and Polo Ralph Lauren, among others.

Rolston’s original short film The Most Beautiful Woman in the World (2011, color, 3:00 min) was screened as part of SF Shorts: The San Francisco International Festival of Short Films (2013). The Whitney Museum of American Art screened "Whatta Man" (1994, color, 4:52 min) as part of its Through the Lens of the Blues Aesthetic: An Evening of Short Films Selected by Kevin Everson (April, 2013). Other films include "Foolish Games" for musical artist Jewel (1997, color, 3:57 min), which received a nomination for Most Stylish Music Video at the 1997 VH1 Vogue Fashion Awards;[8] "Be Without You" for musical artist Mary J. Blige (2005, color, 4:09 min), which received a nomination as Best R&B Video (MTV Video Music Awards, 2006); and "Candyman" for Christina Aguilera (2007, color, 3:18 min) for which Rolston was nominated for Best Director (MTV Video Music Awards, 2007).

Responding to client needs, Rolston established a production unit he calls ‘R-ROLL’. Its mission is to provide his clients with behind-the-scenes documentaries of his photo, film and creative direction assignments. According to Rolston, “there’s an overwhelming demand for filmed content, as clients expand their reach beyond traditional media.” R-ROLL was created to serve Rolston’s usual mix of editorial, advertising, entertainment and hospitality clients. “I decided to call it R-ROLL as a joke on ‘B-roll’ (industry parlance for behind-the-scenes footage). The ‘R’ is for ‘Rolston'.” [9]

Since its inception, R-ROLL has produced projects for clients including Time, Inc.,, ESPN and A&E/Lifetime Networks, among others. Said Rolston, “We’re now entering an era where the ‘making of’ is just as important as the ‘of’. And clients seem to enjoy the integration of our media services. Print, film, design, documentary, you might say we’re a ‘one-stop-shop'.”

Rolston has also appeared as a guest expert on a spectrum of beauty-oriented broadcast programs, from Bravo's Shear Genius and Make Me a Supermodel to the CW's America's Next Top Model.


As Rolston began to redefine the scope of his career, he expanded his practice into the fields of creative direction and branding, developing innovative projects in the area of experiential design, including hospitality projects, product design and new media ventures. Rolston’s first hospitality brand creation, developed for Los Angeles-based hotel and restaurant owner Sam Nazarian's company sbe Entertainment, opened in 2010. Called The Redbury, Rolston was deeply involved in every aspect of the project, from the naming to the logo, from design concepts to marketing strategies. As the brand's creative director, he oversaw every detail with an extensive team that included architects, interior designers, graphic designers, music supervisors, scent experts, the uniform company that created the staff wardrobe, and more. Since that time, other hospitality clients have included Mahmood Khimji's Highgate, Richard Branson's Virgin Hotels, and Barry Sternlicht's SH Hotels and Resorts.

Fine Art

Rolston has created four photographic fine art projects that have led to a series of publications and exhibitions.

Talking Heads: The Vent Haven Portraits, which consists of monumental portraits of ventriloquial figures housed in the Vent Haven Museum in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, was Rolston's first self-assigned photographic series.[10] The work debuted at Diane Rosenstein Fine Art in Los Angeles, California,[11] and has since traveled to venues in Miami and Berlin, among others. Rolston's third published monograph accompanied the exhibition.

Hollywood Royale: Out of the School of Los Angeles — which includes Rolston’s fourth monograph, as well as a traveling exhibition[12] — is a retrospective of his editorial portraits from 1977 to 1993. Edited by long-time Los Angeles–based gallerist and curator David Fahey,[13] this series presents an array of portraits that capture the 1980s and its myriad talents. From Michael Jackson and Madonna, to Prince, George Michael and Cyndi Lauper, the selection of images reflects the era.

Art People: The Pageant Portraits is a series of emotionally-intimate portraits of participants in “Pageant of the Masters”,[14] a tableaux vivants show that is part of an annual arts festival held in Laguna Beach, California. The project features dramatically-scaled color prints; one installation alone is over thirty feet wide. Ralph Pucci International exhibited this series in its Los Angeles gallery.

Vanitas: The Palermo Portraits is yet another dramatically-scaled portrait series, this depicting Christian mummies housed in the Capuchin Catacombs of Sicily. The project, which has not yet been published or exhibited, represents Rolston’s continuing evolution as a photographer and is an attempt to elevate his portraiture to a conceptual level.

Rolston has stated his purpose with art-making is to "pose questions about the things that make us most human."


  • Hollywood Royale: Out of the School of Los Angeles – 1st Edition, teNeues, 2017
  • Talking Heads: The Vent Haven Portraits – 1st Edition, Pointed Leaf Press, 2012
  • beautyLIGHT: Pictures at a Magazine – 1st Edition, teNeues, 2008
  • Big Pictures: A Book of Photographs – 1st Edition, A Bulfinch Press Book, 1991
  • James Danziger: Visual Aid – 1st edition, Pantheon, October 12, 1986.
  • Andy Warhol, Pat Hackett: The Andy Warhol Diaries – Warner Books, January 1991.
  • Mark Francis, Margery King: The Warhol Look: Glamour Style Fashion – Bulfinch, October 1997, p. 246, 252-253ss.
  • Steve Reiss, Neil Feineman: Thirty Frames Per Second: The Visionary Art of the Music Video 1st Edition, Harry N. Abrams, October 1, 2000, p. 26, 206-211ss.
  • Henry Keazor, Thorsten Wübbena: Video Thrills The Radio Star. Musikvideos: Geschichte, Themen, Analysen Bielefeld 2005, p. 27ss.
  • Sarah Mower: 20 Years Dolce & Gabbana – Slp edition, 5Continents, November 2005.
  • Trey Laird: Individuals: Portraits from the Gap Collection 1st Edition, Melcher Media, October 30, 2006, p. 37, 59, 82, 94, 98, 104, 120, 230ss.
  • Justyn Barnes, Nate Giorgio, David Nordahl Jordan Sommers: The Official Michael Jackson Opus – OPUS Media Group, December 7, 2009, "The Last Sitting," p. 242-247ss.
  • Charles Churchward: Herb Ritts: The Golden Hour: A Photographer's Life and His World – 1st Edition, Rizzoli, October 26, 2010, p. 74-77, 79, 82-83, 99, 130, 207, 295, 311ss.
  • Kathy Ryan: The New York Times Magazine Photographs – 1st Edition, Thames & Hudson, September 30, 2011, p. 304-305ss.
  • Derek Blasberg: Harper's Bazaar: Models – 1st Edition, Abrams, October 13, 2015, p. 214-215ss.
  • Josh Baker, Allen Jones: Naomi Campbell – Collector's Edition, TASCHEN, 2016.
  • Joan Juliet Buck: The Price of Illusion: A Memoir Illustrated Edition, Atria Books, March 2017, p. 158, Plate Section Two (p. 5)ss.
  • Claudia Campaña: Michael Jackson: Artes visuales y símbolos – Metales pesados, Ediciones, 2018, p. 14-16ss.
  • Tim Street Porter, Annie Kelly: Splash: The Art of the Swimming Pool – Illustrated Edition, Rizzoli, April 2019, p. 4 (dedication), 216-217ss.
  • Paige Powell: Paige Powell: Beulah Land 1st Edition, Dashwood Books, May 2019, p. 229.
  • Sara Dallin, Keren Woodward: Really Saying Something: Sara & Keren – Our Banarama Story Hutchinson, October 2020, Plate Section One, p. 10


  1. "Matthew Rolston Biography". The Los Angeles Center of Photography.
  2. "Photographer Matthew Rolston: How to light yourself at home". Retrieved 2014-05-24.
  3. Krier, Beth Ann (October 22, 1991). "Guardian of Glamour : Photographer Matthew Rolston Focuses on Images of the Past to Capture Today's Stars". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2014-05-24.
  4. "Icon Worship: Matthew Rolston Leads Tour Through the Getty's "Icons of Style" Exhibit". ArtCenter College of Design.
  5. Mark Edward Harris. "Matthew Rolston - Simply Glamorous." Digital Photo Pro: Monday, March 3, 2008
  6. "Herb Ritts: L.A. Style Documentary". The Herb Ritts Foundation.
  7. Rolston, Matthew. "Matthew Rolston Biography".
  8. Steinbach, Sharon (October 11, 1997). "MTV Taps Into the Opinions of its Audience for 'Viewers'". Billboard Magazine. October 11, 1997: 94 via Google Books.
  9. Company, And. "Matthew Rolston [Creative] Inc. OFFICIAL SITE". Retrieved 2018-08-14.
  10. "'Talking Heads': Puppets from the past". Retrieved 2018-08-14.
  11. "Diane Rosenstein Gallery". Retrieved 2018-08-14.
  12. "Matthew Rolston | Hollywood Royale: 21 Oct — 2 Dec 2017 at the Camera Work in Berlin, Germany". Wall Street International. 2017-09-15.
  13. "Matthew Rolston at Fahey/Klein Gallery | Art Talk". KCRW. 2018-03-01.
  14. Stuart, Gwynedd (2019-07-12). "Southern California's Most Fascinating Tradition Turns People into Works of Art". Los Angeles Magazine. Retrieved 2021-02-18.
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