Matt Lambert: Money Can’t Buy You Creative Freedom

At 26, filmmaker Matt Lambert was living in New York, partying plenty, and making the kind of money 26-year-olds in New York dream about. He was well on his way to a lucrative career in film. But something was missing. Although he had everything he needed, he felt restricted, claustrophobic and unchallenged.

“I stopped and thought, ‘Okay, so what do I do now? Just get more of this? Get bigger, better, more expensive versions of the same thing and just keep going?’he says. “It was a really fucking depressing realization that you work really hard to have this idea of what success is, and then as soon as you get it, it’s boring.”

The jobs he was working were commercial, big money jobs. Perfect for someone climbing to the top, but he hated them. He wanted to make work he felt good about — work that actually meant something to him, work with integrity. He didn’t want to make commercials for Chase Bank.

“I really had so much admiration for all my friends who had pursued the fine arts. I envied the freedom they had to make the projects they wanted to make,” remembers Matt.

He longed for that liberty and was ready for a change. Having studied abroad in Germany in college, he had been back numerous times for various projects and really liked the slower pace of European life — specifically of Berlin. There was something magical, mysterious and a bit sinister about the city, so he decided to give it a try. He explains, “Berlin was an experiment for a few months to work on some personal stuff and clear my head, and then I was like, ‘Well fuck, why can’t this just be life?’”

And so it became his.

Matt left the paychecks of New York for his new life in Berlin. “The first few years in Berlin were definitely a bit of a struggle to come from NY where I had an established career, but then you realize the paychecks don’t actually matter. You’d make a bunch of money, then spend it on nice dinners, alcohol and trips, just to forget that you fucking hate what you’re doing,” he laughs.

In Berlin there was no roadmap to follow. It’s uncharted and untamed and he was excited by that. “If you go to NY, London or LA people are like ‘Okay, I’m going to do this, I’ll intern there, and do that there; this is what that person did, so I’ll do that,’” he explains.

“Berlin is a city for risk takers. It’s like the Wild West. It’s not going to guarantee you anything. You can come here and spend 10 years at a fucking club and be fucked up the whole time, or you can come here with motivation and create whatever it is you want to create. You can really customize your life.”

The young filmmaker had no idea what Berlin had in store for him. He didn’t know if it was going to take six months or six years, but he came with a strong work ethic, an unwavering energy and sense of excitement, and the wherewithal to know how to get things done. And it’s since payed off in a big way.

Now, Matt Lambert is a sought after and celebrated photographer and filmmaker who specializes in exploring the intimacy in sexually charged gay youth. He published Keim, his first photography book in 2015, and has since published another with Grindr called Home. He serves as the Special Projects Commissioning Director for the app, cultivating art projects from around the globe so that they may bring awareness to social issues. He travels the world making films, shooting photos, and giving speeches about his work. And, if he picks up a commercial job these days, it’s a far cry from a Chase Bank gig. Rather, it’s Givenchy, Gucci, Marc Jacobs, etc.

Never one to shy away from controversial themes, he recently teamed up with powerhouse fashion designer, Rick Owens for a video and subsequent zine which they named Butt Muscle, whose sole purpose was “to make sure the youth stay corrupted.”

Aware that sometimes his work gets so edgy it’s alienating him away from projects he’d otherwise be considered for, he’s okay, and in fact, happy about it. “If someone says, ‘You know, now you’ll never work with Walmart,’ it’s like, well I don’t want to work with Walmart! I don’t want to have people in my world that have issues with my work or don’t see the deeper thinking or meaning behind it,” he says. “I feel like if someone’s not going to hire me because there’s a scene in a film of two guys who are in love hooking up, then fuck ‘em. 20 years from now I don’t think the work that people think is edgy now is going to be edgy anyway. It’s going to be normal. 50-60 years ago, couples weren’t able to be pictured in the same bed on television.”

It’s that disconnect that Matt is bringing attention to.

He asks, “With the amount of crazy violence that is put out into the world, how can people have an issue with two boys fucking but not have an issue with a rape victim being burned alive on CSI at like, 8 at night?”

Bringing awareness to LGBTQ youth is the work he was meant to do, and he believes progress is being made and the world is moving forward.

The richness of the experiences Matt has now are the type no amount of money can buy. It’s not about the launch parties in Paris with horses or the press dinners in Berlin with live art installations, it’s about the ability to touch people’s lives. “The work we’re putting into the world is priceless. The emails and messages I get from young fans saying how the work speaks to them and affects them is what really counts,” explains Matt. “That kind of stuff is so much more meaningful and has so much more value than buying a house in Brentwood.”

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