‘Beauty, Perseverance And Human Connection’: How Our New Explorer In Chief Envisions His Storytelling Role In The COVID Era

Josh Katz is the Downtown Alliance’s newly-announced Explorer In Chief. He was awarded the title last week, and has lived in the five boroughs since 2013. Katz moved to the city from his hometown of Herndon, Virginia, to attend New York University. Since graduating, the 23-year-old has spent his post-college years amping up his photography skills and cultivating a sizable YouTube audience. Just after submitting his winning entry to the Explorer In Chief contest, he started documenting the emerging rooftop culture of New York City as the pandemic put the metropolis on pause.

Now that Katz is gearing up for his next gig as Explorer In Chief (the assignment start date will be based on guidance from city and state health officials), the Alliance caught up with the talented photographer and social-media maven to learn more about who he is and how he’s thinking about his upcoming role documenting Lower Manhattan.  

You have 375,000+ subscribers on YouTube. You have partnerships with large corporations. Tell us more about your current professional life. What do you do? 

Most of my work is in the education space. I’ve created online courses in photography, photo editing and social-media marketing. Sometimes I travel the country giving talks and leading workshops for Canon. Other times, I hole up in my Brooklyn apartment for a month to write photo-editing tutorials for Adobe.

If we’re going for the vaguest catch-all term, you can call me a “digital content creator.”

What was about the role of Explorer In Chief that made you apply?

It feels like a way to get a key to the city to indulge all my creative passions. I’ve been exploring and documenting New York since I moved here six years ago, but this position comes with unprecedented access. It comes with resources and provides time to explore. I’m excited to push these job perks to create the wildest content possible. 

How do you envision shaping such a unique role?

I’m eager to document what the new normal looks like — how neighborhoods and communities are changing. Post-pandemic New York will undoubtedly be a different place, for better and worse. I won’t shy away from the negative, but I’d like to take a magnifying glass to the positive. There will be moments of beauty, perseverance and human connection like never before that help tell the story of New York’s recovery.     

What are you most curious about?

I can’t wait to explore places like abandoned subway stations, rooftops and hidden underground vaults. But I’m honestly more excited to use this opportunity to explore everyday people and places with a new depth. What’s it like spending an entire day in Pearl’s Diner, meeting all the regulars and telling their stories? What’s a day in the life of a bus driver look like? Do bus drivers have favorite riders? What’s a sanitation worker’s favorite street to clean and why? 

Although the Explorer In Chief position won’t start for some time, what do you think will be the most interesting part of the experience? 

I can’t wait to throw 100% of my gusto into exploration. It’s always been a component of my work, but never received my undivided attention. I hope to tell a deeper story of New York City than I’ve ever done before.