Pikeville at 85mm


Red Umbrella. Umrellas hang overhead in an alley in Pikeville, Kentucky.
Nikon Z7 with Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S 1/100 sec, f/11, ISO 220.

In the fall of 2022, my son entered medical school at the University of Pikeville in Pikeville, Kentucky. So I made two trips to Pikeville that fall, one to help him move from Louisville and another for his White Coat Ceremony.

Pikeville is not well known, but is the county seat of Pike County, the easternmost county of Kentucky. It borders both West Virginia and Virginia and is very much in the heart of Appalachia. It is rugged coal-mining country with lots of rivers winding through narrow valleys between countless green hills. The big annual festival in Pikeville is Hillbilly Days, held every April, and it is home to the Hatfield-McCoy National Historic Site. (If you weren’t sure whether the Hatfield-McCoy feud was a real thing, it was, and it straddled the Kentucky-West Virginia border in this area.) One other interesting bit of trivia is that Pikeville and Pike County are named after a US Army officer and explorer named Zebulon Montgomery Pike (1779-1813), who also counts Pike’s Peak near Colorado Springs among his namesakes. He led one of the great expeditions west into the Louisiana Purchase, but unlike Lewis and Clark who eventually followed the Columbia to sea, Pike’s more southerly route went up the Arkansas River into Colorado.

Little towns like Pikeville all across America have downtown Main Streets with neat historic buildings. These downtowns come in two flavors: the vibrant and the largely abandoned. Photographically, both have their appeal but it is, of course, much nicer when a community manages to keep their downtown alive. Pikeville—which does have the benefit of being the county seat and having a University—is squarely in the still-alive category. They have clearly gone to a lot of effort to keep the area nice, with statues and clocks and lights strung over the streets. One little example is the alley covered in colorful umbrellas pictured above and below.

Umbralley. Decorative umbrellas shade an alley in Pikeville, Kentucky.
Nikon Z7 with Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S 1/350 sec, f/11, ISO 64.

When I wander around towns like this is often just pick one lens to put on the camera and work with that. For whatever reason, this time I chose my 85mm f/1.8, of which I am very fond, but the zoomlessness of this decidedly not-wide-angle lens definitely influences one’s compositional choices! I remember the image at the top of this post being a real challenge because I was taking the image straight up and the umbrella barely fit in the frame. Short of lying on my back in the alley, I think I was as low as I could get.

Yawning Awning. An arched awning is well past its prime in Pikeville, Kentucky.
Nikon Z7 with Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S 1/100 sec, f/11, ISO 160.

I like all the blues in the image above, between the sky and the building and the awning itself. But when I look at this awning, it occurs to me that fabric awnings almost always look mangy like this one. They are a bit like vinyl roofs on cars: they look tired after a few seasons and rapidly degenerate from there.

I don’t remember what store these fake flowers were in front of, but I love the color palette which perfectly complements the table and chair:

Flowers and Bow. Silk and ribbon flowers decorate the sidewalk seating in Pikeville, Kentucky.
Nikon Z7 with Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S 1/250 sec, f/1.8, ISO 64.

As I mentioned earlier, the couple main streets in downtown were criss-crossed with hanging lights which added to the overall cuteness:

Bokeh on 2nd Street. Strings of lights criss-cross 2nd Street in downtown Pikeville, Kentucky.
Nikon Z7 with Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S 1/1500 sec, f/1.8, ISO 64.

This next image is definitely not cute, but rather stark, so I saved it for the end so as not to mix it up with the others. I really like the way there is just a sliver of light sneaking through the shadows and the way that sliver joins the sidewalk. The little special detail, however, is the way the seam in the sidewalk on the bottom right lines up with the edge of the shadow and then hits the very corner of the frame. (No, I did not use The Photographer’s Ephemeris to plan this ahead of time, but when I happen upon things like this I will happily make them mine!)

Sliver. Awnings shade windows along a street in Pikeville, Kentucky.
Nikon Z7 with Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S 1/750 sec, f/5.6, ISO 64.

I hope you enjoyed this little wander through Pikeville. Thank you for following along!

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2 responses to “Pikeville at 85mm”

  1. Two images stand out for me: Umbralley because of the colours and, crucially, the shadows; Sliver because of everything you mention and also the intriguing slatted effect in the window space.

    Hope your son enjoys his course.

    • Thanks, Rob! It’s always nice to hear which images make an impression. My son is almost halfway through medical school, so so far so good! (Three “so”s in five words could be a record!)

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