Exploring Rochester 

click to enlarge Explore Rochester's first-ever meetup in 2014.


Explore Rochester's first-ever meetup in 2014.

There’s something picturesque around every corner in Rochester, from the sleepy canal towns and the breathtaking roar of High Falls to the café-dotted streets of Park Avenue and the blooming lilacs of Highland Park. Being an artist is easy when the canvas provides a head start.

Since the rise of the Instagram platform in 2010, sharing holiday pics and brunch plates has become an addictive pursuit for two billion monthly users. But for local photographer Steve Carter and designer Justin Dusett, the early days of Instagram were an opportunity for more — a chance to connect with those passionate about photography, to create community and showcase work.

They launched Explore Rochester in 2015, a dedicated Instagram account with an accompanying hashtag anyone could use. The premise was simple: let a new contributor take over each week to post their photos and share a fresh perspective on Rochester.

Carter and Dusett booked a gallery to commemorate their first year and invited all 52 contributors.

“We had over 500 people there for the opening night,” Carter said. “It was wild.”

click to enlarge The Year One gallery in 2014. - PHOTO PROVIDED.
  • The Year One gallery in 2014.
They knew then they were on to something big.

As the account approaches week 500 next month, Explore Rochester has amassed more than 4,000 posts and 50,000 followers during its first nine years and continues to surprise and inspire its creators.

“Not everybody needs to love living here, but I've learned I do,” said Dusett. “And it's partially because of the perspectives I've gathered and the people I've met through this project.”

click to enlarge Justin Dusett. - MIKE MARTINEZ.
  • Justin Dusett.
Dusett, a Greece native and Monroe Community College alumni, discovered Rochester’s unique side early.

“I started coming downtown as a teenager,” he said. “I would ask that my birthday dinner be at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que solely so I could explore the abandoned subway. That was my first glimpse into how cool this city is.”

As a transplant to Rochester, Carter views the city through a different lens. Originally from Saratoga Springs, he studied business at Roberts Wesleyan University. Rochester was fertile new ground.

“I wanted to create an account and feature different people out there exploring Rochester like I was,” he said.

Explore Rochester is both crowdsourced art and tourism at its best. But those benefiting the most are the Rochesterians who call this city home. Contributors aren’t just photographers; they are artists, musicians, business owners, bartenders, community organizers and more. Everyone has something in common: a shared love for the nooks and crannies of this city and an appreciation for the hardworking people who hold it together.

Carter and Dusett also love the stories that bring a personal connection.

“Some photos might look the same,” Dusett said, “but one person had their first date there, or someone's dad worked here, and another person just likes to go there to read a book. How we experience these things personally, is really cool to see.”

click to enlarge Steve Carter. - DAN KIM.
  • DAN KIM.
  • Steve Carter.
Carter agreed.

“The caption adds that layer of substance,” he said. “I think that's the magic of it—images and stories paired together.”

Explore Rochester remains their altruistic side hustle, their gift to Rochester. Early on, Carter considered options to monetize the page but decided against it.

“This needs to be a resource for the community and it needs to stay that way,” he said.

That decision opened other doors instead. Both founders credit Explore Rochester with connecting them to new people and creating deeper relationships within their community. Carter now leads marketing at the photographic film company CineStill, while Dusett is creative director for lifestyle brand Neon Wave in Victor.

What Carter and Dusett have created has become the city’s unofficial family album, highlighting myriad diverse voices and viewpoints. Like any good photo album acquiring dust, it will always be there to flip through. They jokingly refer to each other as “the intern,” but their contribution to Rochester’s history and visual identity is much more significant.

“We're inherently a very creative city that shows its face every week on Explore Rochester,” said Dusett. “We’re proving to everybody here that something can be built, and that's a really important belief to have.”

As the tenth anniversary approaches later this year, Carter and Dusett are considering a second exhibition featuring all 500 contributors.

“Maybe we’ll need a stadium.”

Jon Heath is a contributor to CITY.
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