116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — For most artists, an eye for detail is key. But for one Cedar Rapids man, appreciating the little things in life has taken on a new meaning.
With the contents of a repurposed Altoids tin, Matt Grimm has managed to take the tiniest works of art to great heights with a daily post to thousands of Instagram followers.
For some people, the world is their oyster. For Matt Grimm, the world is his Lego scene.
A photographer at heart ever since he watched his mother snap childhood memories on a film camera, Grimm was always known for carrying a camera around. With a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, the 2004 University of Iowa graduate didn’t let a lack of formal photography education or experience keep him from pursuing the passion as a hobby.
But eventually, working a 9-to-5 office job started to drain his creative juices.
“You come home and you don’t feel like doing anything,” he said.
And eventually, he hit a block even with the photography he loved to do — kind of like a writer’s block, he said. Seeing another photographer take photos of scenes created with miniature figurines gave him the spark he needed to take his art in a new direction.
Enter: Lego Matt, who has lived his life mostly parallel to Grimm’s since he was created in 2016. Starting as one figure with blond hair painted brown to match his human counterpart, Lego Matt was the first of Grimm’s collection of hundreds of Lego figures and props that help Grimm make art that imitates life.
“It was a visual diary,” he said. “That’s what I equate my photography to now.”
With 95 percent of his Instagram photos taken in the real world without artificial backdrops, Grimm’s Altoids tin is unpacked and painstakingly assembled for shots on his iPhone that take advantage of forced perspective.
With some putty to keep figures from blowing away in the breeze, Grimm makes the most minute adjustments in between photos. Things like specks of dust — seemingly invisible to other eyes — are somehow caught by him during production.
Other details are taken care of in Photoshop — putting a preview image on the screen of Lego Matt’s camera or erasing the blue putty holding him down, for example — before going to Instagram. With exceptions for Hawkeye apparel, Lego Matt rarely wears an outfit more than once.
Over the last six years, Grimm has committed to one post each day, amounting to thousands of photos that correlate with his other Instagram account to show his life through two sets of eyes — one with retinas and one with plastic pupils. As he committed to a physical lifestyle through biking, he took a creatively active lifestyle just as seriously.
“Posting to my Instagram was my way of getting out there and staying active,” Grimm said. “Instead of sitting down and spending 80 hours on a drawing, I could jump in and take a photo and stay creative.”
With each photo, Grimm’s tiny counterpart is more than a literal blockhead. Through silly, scary and sincere scenes, the man who concedes he has little talent for writing manages to convey an essay with each photo by using pieces of plastic.
If Grimm is shutting off water lines for his job at the Parks and Recreation Department in Iowa City, Lego Matt will bring along a wrench. If Grimm has a mishap changing his son’s diaper, Instagram will be able laugh along as Lego Matt tells the story.
Moments like his wife receiving a sonogram while pregnant with their first son — a post that helped the popularity of Grimm’s account take off — were the first marks of validation that made him realize his craft was worthwhile. Now, he’s recognized by strangers around the Corridor as he sets up shots.
The hobby has turned into a side gig, at times too. Grimm has done custom work for advertising with local businesses, and his work has appeared in spots at FilmScene.
Continuing the tradition set by his mother in a new way, the depth of field and lighting required for a perfect post forces Grimm to think more deliberately about the scene he’s trying to set. To figure out what makes each scene worth seeing, he has to boil down the elements into something that will fit in the camera’s frame.
To realize what makes his life good, he has to look at the little things. And through Lego Matt, the camera-shy photographer has found a new level of comfort in being able to show himself to the world.
“Sometimes, there’s a bigger meaning,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s nothing more than I just think it’s cool.”
Grimm has difficulty picking favorite photos, particularly ones he would want to frame and put on the wall.
“How can you decide?” he said. “They’re all good.”
While the creative process has taught Grimm that he’s his own worst critic, Lego Matt has given him a new perspective on his life: “that it’s pretty good.”
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