Cedar Rapids man captures Iowa in photographs using Legos

Matt Grimm is neatly positioned outside the Old Capitol Museum on a Wednesday afternoon, a smile etched on his face as he appropriately dons a black University of Iowa Hawkeyes shirt.

Then his living, breathing counterpart snaps a picture of him on his phone.

The Matt who posed for the portrait is actually a Lego minifigurewhat are these legos called: minifigures de Grimm, a man from Cedar Rapids who for six years portrayed his life, that of his family, and the places he encounters on the Instagram account lego_grimmy1which has more than 5,000 subscribers.

The narrative documents scenic stops, including Iowa landmarks, from the perspective of a figurine no taller than inches, and reveals Grimm’s zeal for photography and creativity.

How two Instagram photography accounts ‘tell a story together’ of Grimm’s life

In 2011, five years before the Lego Matt adventure began, Grimm began his Instagram account grimmy1 as a way to motivate him to be creative and document what he was up to that day, especially when his job at a film production company was less inventive and more about logistics on certain days.

It became a “visual diary”, he said.

“It also motivated me to stay active and get out more and stuff like that, instead of going into the lull of the world and just working and going home and doing nothing. So that brought me back outdoors, which I really enjoy,” Grimm told the Press-Citizen. “Years passed and photography was just something I did every day.”

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When he came across an account full of Lego photographs, it prompted Grimm to pursue him on his own.

He started picking up pieces to better recreate his Lego self, trying to get the hairpiece just right. When this was finally set up, Grimm began photographing his lookalike figure at landmarks such as Brucemore in Cedar Rapids, the Englert Theater in Iowa City, Wanatee Park in Marion, and the Iowa State Fair in Monks.

Matt Grimm uses Lego minifigures in his photography, including recreating a moment when he had his portrait taken outside the Old Capitol Museum at the University of Iowa on August 31.

His first photo on the Lego Matt account was from 2016, a scenic image of water at Pinicon Ridge County Park in Central City.

The Lego minifigures featured in his photos include loved ones, but it could be anyone, Grimm said. Equipped with various headwear, outfits and accessories, Grimm can capture a person and recreate them as a figurine for their photo.

When Grimm is somewhere and sees something he likes, he doesn’t always immediately snap a picture. Lighting plays a role.

For example, Grimm can take a photograph of the Old Capitol Museum at any time, but if he can capture it at sunrise, or when the sky is shrouded in clouds, it adds a particularly interesting visual element.

If he can’t use the weather to his advantage, Grimm is always looking for ways to make a photo more interesting.

In many of his photos, the natural world lends a helping hand. Blackberries, mushrooms and flowers all take on a different appearance when juxtaposed against a miniature object like Lego.

His two Instagram accounts both tell an intertwined story, Grimm said, a story that began one winter when Grimm set up his Lego minifigure to appear as if he was taking pictures of Grimm.

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“I identified myself in it,” he said. “So that was probably one of the first where I put those two accounts together. And then recently I was like, no, they really have to go together, because if you look at that account (Instagram), you say, ‘Well, what is it?’ And then you might see my other account (and say) “Oh, exactly, OK.” These two, they tell a story together.

Of the places Grimm visited and then photographed — included on one of his Instagram accounts — Wrigley Field in Illinois remains a favorite.

Behind these photos hides the art of placement, and of time. In the case of a Wrigley Field photo, about 15 minutes.

Others needed an extra 25 minutes to get to his liking.

Although Grimm can sometimes spend a little too long trying to get a shot, he says, he remembers to drop it.

How Photography Connects Across Generations for Grimm’s Family

With over 6,700 photos between the two Instagram accounts, the Cedar Rapids photographer continues to upload photos regularly.

There is a whole community of people who photograph Lego minifigures. The Lego website has a guide for those interested, with some examples. Lego itself is practically its own world, with amusement parks, conventions and movies.

There are people who don’t quite understand Grimm’s Lego photography, he said. He said it brought joy to others, though.

Grimm carries an Altoids box, but inside the distinctive metal box are no peppermints. Instead, it’s his Lego minifigures and a few accessories, a handy way to carry such small items while being easily prepared to snap a photo of anything that catches his eye.

The canister once caught the eye of a police officer, who assumed there was contraband inside, Grimm said. The revelation surprised, and perhaps delighted, the officer.

Matt Grimm uses an old mint container to transport his Lego minifigures, Wednesday, August 31, 2022, on the Pentacrest in Iowa City, Iowa.

Grimm graduated from the University of Iowa in 2004 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a major in design and a minor in sculpture and ceramics.

Much of what he learned about photography was self-taught, but his interest in it stemmed from his family. Grimm’s mother always had a camera and documented what Grimm and his two younger brothers were up to.

A few years ago, Grimm’s mother gave him a photo from when he was one. In it, he grabbed a flower from a tree and explored the world.

“Now that I have a son, I think back to those pictures. And what’s really cool is…I’ll see pictures of my mom or my dad with me or my brothers and then I’ll recreate them with my son,” he said.

Paris Barraza covers entertainment, lifestyle and the arts at Iowa City Press-Citizen. Contact her at [email protected] or (319) 519-9731. Follow her on Twitter @ParisBarraza.

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