Hidden Des Moines + the Art of Romanticizing a City
When was the last time you felt really in tune with the city around you? How did you feel? Were your senses heightened? Where were you? Did you notice any little details? Did they captivate you? Can you take a minute to find some romance in the mundane?
Hidden Des Moines, a collection of pictures and videos under the moniker @hiddenDSM on Instagram, seeks to encourage this feeling of being in-the-moment. Some have told me, its creator, that it can be like a puzzle for them — look at this and try to guess where the image was taken. For others it’s a simple reminder to appreciate the beauty in Greater Des Moines (DSM). The imagery is cinematic in nature, while often depicting a fleeting moment like a bloom in the botanical garden, or the way light cascades down Locust Street during a winter sunset. For me personally, this is a practice in being more mindful — to think about how something makes me feel. By extension the captions are often song lyrics that allude to how I happen to be feeling at the time.
How do you find what’s “hidden?” you explore.
I’m often featuring things that are hidden in plain sight. The Equitable Building is easily one of the most famous in Iowa, but have you ever noticed that little lantern that hangs above the revolving doors? Still, I can’t say that there is a true formula to create an image for Hidden Des Moines. The account is always in the back of my mind — but the point is to get myself out and live in Des Moines. For example, I might revisit the same shot at a different time of day or in a different season, it doesn’t matter if we’ve seen it before. If living is unpredictable then so too is Hidden Des Moines. The account pushes me to get out to make content and then hopefully reminds others to get out and experience our town as well. As a born-and-raised photographer, when something captivates me like an event, a restaurant, an architectural detail, I simply take a moment to take it in and capture it with a camera. It is easy to make something look glamorous or cinematic when you’re already seeing it that way.
If one is looking to understand why I created this account, I’ll talk you through my life at the time. I moved here for work late last year and knew no one. This is hard even without my reclusive tendencies; so, it goes without saying that I needed something to occupy my time. I opened the Instagram app and created @hiddenDSM. I had no goals. I wasn’t looking to be known for showcasing a city or capture any attention. @HiddenDSM only needed to check two boxes.
- I wanted to keep posting to insure my then-worried suburbanite parents that moving to Downtown DSM would not kill me. “Look, ma, I’m having so much fun!”
- I wanted a creative outlet to play with my photography skills. Something “just-for-fun.”
Finding Glamour and Romance in the Mundane
Looking back at this early time, I see now that I was really influenced by an early pandemic trope of “romanticizing one’s life.” After opening the account, I spent the following weeks quietly exploring and getting to know the region. A thirst for more of these captivating details grew within me. I was looking for places to see and things to do and at the same time connecting with others in the area online. People started to send me ideas in my inbox. Sometimes they would share a little story about a place and suggest I go, and I would meander around town. This is how I became familiar with the photographic work of Jim Zeller, who captured Downtown DSM in the late 20th Century. I also started to dig through old news articles online and became more acquainted with the city’s history and identity. The early days of HDSM made me feel like a secret agent or an investigative journalist, what would I dig up next?
Eventually, I needed an outlet to share thoughts in a written format and I opened the blog at hiddendsm.com. Having a website really opened my eyes to the ability for HDSM to be seen by more people. Another local blog, Des Moines Girl, featured me heavily and helped me reach new followers around this time. I became part of this online ethos of people who just really love this city and all that it has for us to experience. As it grew, I was forced to ask myself for the first time “what do I really want this to be?”
Today, I would say Hidden Des Moines is built to invoke a sense of civic pride all while encouraging a “live-life-to-the-fullest” attitude. At the same time, the reality is that I have lived here less than a year, and I feel like there is so much more to discover and so many more people to meet. I’m just happy I get to share my experiences with others and grateful that I have this to keep encouraging me to put myself out there.
Suggestions, stories and other ideas can be submitted on Instagram in @hiddenDSM’s direct messages or at hiddenDSM.com.
Named one of 10 Best Cities for High Salaries and Low Cost of Living in the Midwest and a Top 10 Place Where It’s Easiest to Save for Your First Home, Greater Des Moines (DSM) is a region where you can have it all. Learn more about what it’s like to live here.
Matthew von Schenkel
Matthew von Schenkel is a photographic artist and self-described "anti-influencer." Raised by a photojournalist with the belief that photography is meant to show something as it may not have been seen it before, he created "Hidden Des Moines". He was recently featured in "Double Exposure" at the Polk County Heritage Gallery.