A Day in the Life of DSM Photographer Matthew von Schenkel
If one were to ask me what a typical day as “Mr. Hidden” of Hidden Des Moines were to look like, I’m not sure I could answer. There is a certain spirit of adventure that comes with creating the content that I do. There is no master plan for finding locations for me to shoot. The experience is very organic.
My days off from my “day-job” are then the days when I produce the most content. I don’t normally prefer to plan them out, but for this day I had a rough idea.
Brunch with my friend Grace in the Historic East Village.
- Wander around the region in search of images.
I said it was rough.
An important thing to remember about the work of a contemporary photographer, or a digital photographer, is that I might take hundreds or thousands of images in a day and only ever show off a handful.
Shoot Locations Around DSM
I live on the western side of the river Downtown Des Moines (DSM), so I took the D-Line to the Historic East Village. If you don’t know about the D-Line, it is DART’s free line that runs between the Iowa State Capitol and the Western Gateway neighborhood. Taking the DART bus has been a great way for me to get to know the city as a newcomer.
I met Grace at The Continental, which recently reopened on East 5th Street. I snapped pictures along the way, not knowing if any might be the next thing that I post on HiddenDSM. Grace is a colleague of mine who has lived in Greater Des Moines (DSM) all her life. She’s always been really reassuring about my work, sometimes I even discover things she did not know existed. A conversation might go like this:
“Did you know we have an observatory?”
“No, how did you find out about that?”
I wish I could answer. I seem to absorb the locations of these fascinating places like a sponge. Which brings me to where I found myself next.
Recently, the Des Moines Register ran an article about a public high school receiving a large donation. I must admit I did not read that one, but the feature image showed a gorgeous older high school building. I knew I had to go. I messaged another colleague who is a longtime resident and learned that it was Theodore Roosevelt High School off Polk Boulevard. Off I went! The bright blue doors (see header image above) inspired a very Wes Anderson-esque photoset. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves here.
I packed up my camera and I was ready to head home. On the way back, however, I accidentally missed my turn. I was in the wrong lane trying to go from Grand Avenue to Locust Street where they loop together and wound up on Fleur Drive. In the spirit of HiddenDSM, I wasn’t worried about it. I went to turn around at Des Moines Water Works (DMWW) but decided to get out of the car when I saw a fountain I had not noticed before. It’s in a corner closer to the treatment plant and has a memorial to Charles Sing, who apparently envisioned DMWW.
At this point I got in the car and just drove. I recently created a map page on hiddendsm.com so that some of the viewpoints or interesting places could be made accessible, particularly with newcomers like me in mind. I thought maybe I could work on taking some photos to flesh that idea out, so I found myself on the south side at Fort Des Moines.
I very nearly lived in the renovated buildings that dot what once was the Fort, but I hadn’t been back to take any pictures recently. This area is of particular interest to me for its historical significance, but it’s also just cool. There are a handful of buildings that are yet unused that demonstrate how much work had to be done to create the apartment complex that is there now. The manicured lawns and brick buildings feel a bit like a time capsule.
Speaking of time capsules, my next destination was a fighter jet that decorates an Altoona park. I’m not certain, but I think it’s an A-7 Corsair II, from the 1960s. I work in Altoona, so I had driven past before and noticed it. I can remember saying “what is THAT?” aloud and alone. Normally, I have seen these used as statuary, sometimes called gate guards, at the entrance of military bases. I think it’s meant to be a hint alluding to Altoona’s history as an aviation center. The jet is not of the same era as the airport that once existed there, but I think it’s a hint either way.
My last pictures of the day came from true exploration. It occurred to me that there might be a place in Pleasant Hill with an interesting vantage point of DSM, so I wandered off into the hills. The images I’ll show for this will not make it onto Instagram. I found a cool viewpoint, but I was there at the wrong time of day with the wrong weather. Too late in the afternoon with the sun too high and too much haze in the air.
Lastly, to drive home the idea that not every idea works, I found myself at the back gate to Waveland Golf Course. (For those that might not be able to picture it, I had now made a giant loop back to the area where Roosevelt High School is). It was golden hour by this time, and I was hoping I could get some shots of the Drake Municipal Observatory. To my dismay, the gate was closed for the evening, and trespassing just isn’t usually my style.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. Life is unpredictable and so too is creating Hidden Des Moines. I would like to thank all the people who write me and send suggestions, as well as the people I meet in everyday life that tip me off on where to go and what to check out. Without them, adventure days like this would not be possible.