Some people create images to make a statement. Others, like Matt Wisniewski, do it because it looks pretty. “It’s mostly just aesthetic,” explains the 21-year-old computer science student of his spectral photo collages. “Whatever looks nice, really.”
Art for art’s sake is no new conceit. But Wisniewski has created a particularly successful iteration by overlaying portraits with organic patterns—from flowers to jagged peaks to a Rorschach blot. He came to the combination through experimentation. “It just sort of clicked,” he says. “Natural elements tend to be a little simpler and fit together a bit more obviously with the portraits than urban elements.”
The process begins with images from Tumblr and other online portfolios. A few experimental overlays later, Wisniewski lights on something that catches his eye. “I decide that I want to go further on it and then clean that up.”
For his image of a bearded man in a diaphanous red coat, Wisniewski found an overlay photo that “fit well and had a similar shape to his body.” Although many of his portraits eschew color, the red hue of the overlay image appealed to him. “I just thought it looked interesting.”
Whether he works on the face or body is also guided by aesthetic fancy. “Usually if I do something with their body it’s because it’s simple enough that I can just work over it,” he says. “Sometimes I see that covering up their face looks a little nicer than not.”
Wisniewski, who studies at New York’s Rochester Institute of Technology, prefers Photoshop to a paintbrush. Yet despite his technical knowledge—he works as a web-developer in his spare time—he’s self-effacing about his tools. “[Photoshop] is a lot more forgiving,” than traditional media, he says. “I can easily fix mistakes or experiment with an idea and complete erase those changes if I feel they don’t fit.”
That isn’t to say he hasn’t tried drawing, painting and photography. Growing up in Philadelphia, Wisniewski applied his tinkering instincts to whatever was at hand. “I’ve created things for as long as I can remember, really. The collage is just sort of something that happened as a result of that.”
On the cusp of graduating and moving to Brooklyn, Wisniewski hopes to maintain his autotelic creed. “I honestly don’t think of anything I do as a hobby or not,” he says, emphasizing that he wants to keep up his web design alongside making collages. “I’m obviously going to continue doing this as long as I enjoy it. Hopefully that will be a long time.”
Matt Wisniewski is a student at New York’s Rochester Institute of Technology. More of his work can be seen here.
Sonia van Gilder Cooke is a reporter in TIME’s London Bureau. Follow her on Twitter at @svangildercooke.