Americans love — and I mean love — to label lesser-known cities as “up-and-coming” places. Austin, Texas is probably the poster child for this exercise, considering it topped Business Insider’s list of budding metropolises in 2018. Peruse that article and you’ll notice a trend: most of these cities are down south or out west, with a Midwestern sprinkling here and there. Look closer and you’ll find five Carolinian cities, three of which are located in North Carolina. None of them, however, are this place:
Asheville is a mountaintop city of about 92,000 people in the western part of the Tar Heel state. Southern Living magazine tasked Cameron Reynolds with visiting and shooting the hot spots in a place that has cultivated a unique identity as the beating heart of Appalachia.
I think “Appalachian Culture” is a way of life that centers around a creative community of unique people and businesses that includes hearty comfort food, good beer, and eclectic art.
One of the coolest characteristics of Asheville, as alluded to in this article’s title, is the fact that the steadily increasing population hasn’t stripped the city of its personality. Asheville combines its roots as an agrarian town and craft beer haven with an ever-growing arts scene and budding reputation as an international food hub. There’s a lovely dynamic at play here, with longtime residents and fresh arrivals buying into both the new and established aspects of the town. This made it tough for Cameron to figure out who was who.
It’s hard to tell who is truly a local in Asheville, but from what I could tell from the outside, the locals have a really laid-back, artsy, hippie, carefree vibe about them. But they were warm and welcoming to us and other visitors, too. The newcomers seem to fit that description as well, so it was hard to differentiate between the two.
It seems that people aren’t afraid to be themselves in Asheville, and that’s endearing to locals and visitors alike.
Though Southern Living had a fairly detailed shot list for Cameron, the publication also allowed her the chance to do some exploring. As the new mother perambulated about town, she picked up on minute details she might not have noticed if she were simply visiting for vacation.
There’s lots to see in Asheville; it’s an extremely visually interesting and beautiful place! It was fun to have a road map of shots I wanted to get but also have the flexibility to shoot what I found to be interesting in the moment. We had some extra time in between scheduled shoots to explore and capture the uniqueness of Asheville while also having enough structure from the assignment to hit some hot spots. I really appreciated that about the assignment.
If you read the SL write-up, you’ll see that the piece goes right into Asheville’s hottest spots. The city’s ability to combine cultures manifests itself in numerous ways, including through the owners of the restaurants Chai Pani and Buxton Hall. The former serves Indian food and its proprietor, Chef Meherwan Irani, has also partnered with pitmaster Elliott Moss, whose Buxton Hall gives visitors a chance to scarf down traditional Carolina-style barbecue.
It’s hard to choose a favorite restaurant because they were all truly delicious, but I’d say my favorites were Chai Pani and Buxton Hall. I’m not normally a big fan of Indian food but this place changed my mind. It’s considered Indian street food and someone at Buxton Hall had suggested Chai Pani to us, so we decided to try it last minute.
Asheville is a town that has never strayed too far from its roots. Even though it might get lost in the shuffle of the craft beer boom, the longtime-monikered Beer City, U.S.A. is overflowing with great breweries.
I’m not a huge beer drinker, but we did taste a beer or two while we were there. The popularity of beer is extremely evident in Asheville! I like how there are breweries on every corner and how they facilitate large gatherings and al fresco dining and drinking, something that is extra sweet in the fall!
The atmosphere in the Asheville location is colorful, lively, and modern. It’s definitely a place you can spend hours trying lots of different small plates and craft cocktails without even realizing how much time has passed.
Alright, now that we’ve covered the “hearty comfort food” and “good beer” that Cameron discussed at the beginning of this article, let’s delve into the “eclectic art” that’s proudly showcased throughout Asheville. The town does a nice job of emboldening artists of all kinds to express themselves through a mix of “dedicated art galleries” and “more casual and approachable” art.
I love when art seeps out of galleries and workshops onto the streets of a city, and Asheville definitely has some top-notch street art. It seems that the city values and helps stimulate the creative community by encouraging this on-the-go type of art. I appreciate that graffiti seems to be celebrated, especially in the arts district.
I also appreciate the commissioned murals like the Dolly Parton one I got to shoot in West Asheville. I like the balance that the city has created with dedicated art galleries and districts and more casual and approachable street art.
Of course, this being a mountain town, a trip to Asheville wouldn’t be complete without taking time to soak in the stunning vistas the surrounding peaks have to offer. It’s another chance to see how Asheville expertly melds its past with its future. No matter how big and populated the Appalachian cultural capital gets, its heart will always be in the mountains.
I loved shooting the view from above the city at dawn, when everything was quiet and at dusk — but equally when the city was bustling with activity.
Seeing the contrast in lighting but also in the sounds and life of the city from above was inspiring. [The shoot] was lots of fun and allowed me to see the city from a more detailed perspective than I would have if I had visited without my camera and an assignment in hand.
Assistant/Videographer: Caitlin Colcolough Williams
Photo Editor: Mary Katherine Morris
See more of Cameron’s work at cameronreynoldsphotography.com.
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