There were no rallies, runs or pink ribbons in 1991 when Matuschka was diagnosed with breast cancer, but she turned her plight into art, photographing herself after treatment, mastectomy scars and all.
"There were no pink ribbons, and AIDS was the disease du jour," Matuschka, who uses only one name, told photography and sculpture students at Northwest School of the Arts Wednesday. "I just felt I had to do this because no one else was doing it."
Matuschka worked on her project for two years. One of her self-portraits, "Beauty Out of Damage," made the cover of the New York Times Sunday Magazine in 1993, creating controversy, garnering a Pulitzer Prize nomination and adding momentum to the fledgling breast-cancer movement.
Instead of producing raw images, Matuschka made hers artistic so they would be embraced by the media. She said photographers should strive to be unique in their vision, even though that is more difficult today with the plethora of cameras and amateur photographers.
"As new citizens of the creative world, if you look and see something through your lens that you've seen before – I can only stress – don't take it again," she said. "You have to look at things differently. You need to constantly do and to be in dialogue with other people on what's going on in the world."
Matuschka also is a painter. She said she loves the medium because it's three-dimensional. Shades and layers also have been key elements in her photography, and chemicals used in the darkroom process allowed her to achieve what can't be done digitally. While she has moved into the digital world, she warned against hyperrealism and the search for perfection.
"A lot of people don't understand a picture doesn't have to be perfect," she said. "I didn't really cross the digital divide that well. It's a totally new world, but it's not my world."
Matuschka told the students she likes to take on long-term projects and showed photographs from "Ovulation Copulation," which addresses the inhumane eradication of geese and ducks. She said all of her work deals with some kind of internal struggle and encouraged them to find their vision and stick to it.
"Never think your ideas are in vain," she said.