Born in Los Angeles, Nashville Explorers Club founder, Josh Ness, 29, moved to Nashville when he was in the 5th grade because of his father’s job.
“It’s pretty much all I’ve ever known,” he said. “This is home to me.”
By trade, Josh is an IT developer for a non-profit ministry called Every Nation Ministry.
“I work there Monday through Friday. People always ask me how I have so many photos. Most of them are other people’s photos that they think are mine. That’s something that I’m working on because that is never my intention.”
After earning a Bachelor’s of Science degree from MTSU, he went on to complete a Master’s degree in computer information systems online through Kaplan University.
Before his time at Every Nation Ministries, he worked at a Christian bookstore.
“[The bookstore] kept making cuts, and I kept thinking I should probably leave,” he said. “One day, I was on Facebook and happen to cross this job posting. The post was six months old and I was thinking this was something someone just forgot to take down, but it never hurts to send an email, so I did. They said they were thinking about reopening the position. In a week, I had the job. It was a crazy God thing.”
Josh leads a team of two others and has been with the company for 5 years.
NASHVILLE EXPLORERS CLUB
Creating the hashtag as a joke, Josh said when he thought about it, it made sense.
“My friends and I were hanging out one day just going around and taking photos of the city and stuff. I posted a photo on Instagram and created the hashtag #NASHVILLEXPLORERSCLUB out of a joke and people started responding, asking how they could join the club.”
Josh was caught off guard by the number of people interested in an actual club.
“I realized there was a need for someone to actually show people more to Nashville than what is currently being portrayed on Instagram or social media,” he said. “At the time, you had a couple Nashville accounts that were just of Broadway or skyline photos. There was so much more and people didn’t even know it.”
He said unlike places in the Pacific Northwest where you can step outside and take a beautiful photo, Nashville is a little bit more challenging because you have to get creative.
Through Nashville Explorers Club, he wanted people to understand Nashville is cool and there are cool things to do in the city, just in a few hours drive or on a day trip.
“I’m still trying to understand how it’s grown so much,” he said. “What started out as a joke ended up identifying a need.”
Josh said people like what they can see themselves doing.
“A lot of people can’t see themselves exploring an abandoned building, but everyone can go hiking. It’s free so you’re basically showing people stuff to do for free,” he said.
Josh is considering in which direction to move the club toward in the future.
He said Instagram is more after the fact, so he’s looking at event planning or just showing people what’s happening around town.
“It’s interesting trying to turn something that’s a creative outlet into a business. It seems that a lot of people are against it, but then there are a lot of those who understand that you’ve earned it.”
Josh said there was this tension in his head that begged the question, to leave it purely creative or turn it into a business.
“I’m kind of like whatever happens, happens. I’ve been making a lot of cool connections that seem to be worth it.”
He said Merrell, the clothing company, put him on their ambassador list.
“I’m trying to do more blogging too. Social media is an outlet; it usually directs you to things, but by itself it’s not as strong so my wife does the writing and I do the photography,” he said. “I’m looking for an environment that will help it grow.”
Josh said the funny thing is that he’s much more of a city guy than an outdoorsy kind of guy.
“It’s this trend that everything went outdoorsy, and I love it. I love going on hikes, I just don’t have the gear for the outdoorsy life. I’m not rugged. I don’t even own a tent,” he joked. “It’s one of those things where I had to step back and say, ‘That is not who I am.’
He said there became a time where he let his account define who he was. He had a moment of realization that he is not just an Instagram account and that Nashville Explorers Club was something he did on the side for fun.
He said marriage had a lot to do with him realizing that it was taking him away a bit.
At the beginning of 2014, Josh started hanging out with friend Daniel Chaney and began to ask a lot of questions about Instagram and photography.
“I’m pretty sure my [personal] Instagram account started off as taking pictures of burgers I cooked and my computer screen. My wife always makes fun of me for it.”
He said it started to change when he was started to be intentional.
In February of 2014, Josh borrowed his brother’s Sony camera and said he fell in love. The following month, he got a camera of his own.
At the start of this year, he created the Nashville Explorers Club Instagram page.
“I never thought an app or a social medium could bring the community together like Instagram has,” he said. “It’s crazy to see how much community is actually being built because of photography. People are meeting and hanging out because they like to take photos.”
Part of the reason he started the Nashville Explorers Club account was because he didn’t like the other Nashville accounts so he wanted to create one that was better.
“It’s crazy to see it grow,” he said. “Instagram is going in a good direction. They’re updating a lot and not being confined to a square anymore, it’s awesome. It’s growing into its own ecosystem. I love it.”
Josh said now he hangs out on Google Maps.
“I put in in satellite mode and zoom all the way in,” he said sheepishly. “I also see photos of people on Instagram so it really is a community thing. I run into some photographers who will not share the location of their photos. That is not helping any community, it just being selfish.”
COMMUNITY and GROWTH
“A community is a group of people doing life together, supporting each other, whether in church, in the neighborhood or through photography. It’s encouraging each other along the way.”
He and his wife of six years lived in the suburbs before moving back to Lenox Village before recently moving to the Germantown neighborhood.
He said out in the suburbs they felt isolated, they went home and hung out with their friends every once in a while. Since moving closer to the city, he said a lot has changed and is part of the reason he started the Nashville Explorers Club.
He said their location now makes it easier for him and his wife to connect with friends and to meet new people.
“I get a lot of emails, asking how to join the club. I always tell those who ask to go out and explore and use the hashtag. I am not the club,” he said. “Everyone is the club, and without everyone, this would not exist.”
Josh said he’s there to help the community move.
“I feature other people’s photos, for the most part, so they’re the ones that are driving the exploring now,” he said.
“As a community, we can do so much more than I can do just as myself. We can conquer so much more ground, find so many more cool things, create ideas, grow and help each other along the way.”
Josh said Nashville’s new growth is exciting and sad at the same time.
“You used to never go downtown,” he said. Josh said the growth of the city is exciting because of all the new things popping up but said it’s sad that it has to come to the price of gentrification.
He said there has been a big rise in a sense of community locally partly because and especially on Instagram.
“It makes you wonder what Nashville is going to be like in ten years,” he said.
To join the club take a photo on Instagram and hashtag #nashvilleexplorersclub. Be sure to follow them too @NashvilleExplorersClub and check out the blog, nashvilleexplorers.club.
Thanks for reading Nashville!
Every Thursday at noon Neat Nashville embraces the community by highlighting an individual in a feature article that tells their story and voices their concerns about the city moving forward. It is our hope to inspire good change locally, to be a force of unity, and support the people we all call neighbors.
It starts with community. It starts where you are.