Dave Katz, photographer and filmmaker, teaches us how to find adventure in our own backyard through his micro-exploration of the Finger Lakes, Central New York.

Mountainsmith Mountain Shelter - Pictured here in a field near Varna, New York.

As much as I want to agree with the age-old phrase goes “There’s no place like home,” over the last decade I’ve opted for spending lots of time away from home.  Travel continues to inspire my curiosity, either by simply exposing myself to a new visual landscape or immersing myself in a new culture. This curiosity is one of the sentiments I cherish most about being a human and being alive.

It wasn’t until recently that I realized that a legitimate adventure can be had in my backyard.

Through my work as a photographer and film maker, I’ve spent an average of 11 months per year on the road in recent years. During this time, I’ve lived mostly out of duffle bags, camp grounds and the occasional hostel. Most of my work takes place in wilderness areas or overseas. This means I spend a good portion of my time away from home simply moving myself or my equipment from location to location.  When I’m on location, my time is filled with what I call “micro exploring,” which basically involves looking for camera angles, building up camera support equipment, light direction, recording audio, etc. When the camera finally comes out, there’s often a narrow window of good natural light for shooting and I work quickly to capture the necessary shots to help support the story. All aspects of this work demands being focused and present, as a departure from that state of mind could be easily dangerous and likely inefficient.

In the first years I traveled abroad to the developing world and wilderness areas, coming home from this was a pleasant re-adjustment to a variety of the immediate luxuries of running water, electricity and ice cream! At the same time, being at home I quickly lost the feeling of being focused with many distractions abound. Simply put, coming home began to feel like a disappointment, almost like coming off the high point a roller coaster. For a few years, instead of returning home between assignments, I would simply mail my media for a friend to archive for me, and drift from assignment to assignment without returning home at all.

At one point, I visited 18 countries on 6 continents, a year on the road, without returning home.

This year, between assignments overseas, I decided I would spend some time at home and apply the same pursuit of “micro exploration” to my home town that I would while on assignment. To this end, I spent two weeks living out of the back of borrowed station wagon, sleeping under the stars and in general, exploring the light and landscape. I’ve been to places I never knew existed, met all kinds of interesting people, rekindled old friendships and overall gained a new appreciation of my home.

In the end, this journey kept me inside a 20 mile radius of my hometown and I have experienced some of the same feelings I’ve had on the other side of the world. I’ve kept the focus, inspired my own curiosity and created work I’m happy to share.  By applying an additional level of exploration, I was able to rediscover my passion for my home and the adventures next door.

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