Seeing the Fourth in Randolph

July 03, 2014

This photo of Randolph’s 1988 Independence Day Parade was the product of planning ahead and finding just the right perspective for the 300mm lens to do its magic. (Herald File / Bob Eddy)

In the life of a small town some annual events require newspaper coverage every year. In Randolph, the Fourth of July parade is always on the photographer’s calendar.

After a decade, or certainly two, one would think there’d be nothing fresh to photograph on the Fourth, but this is far from true.

Each year I’m surprised by exuberant anticipation as I hear and feel the cadence of drums rumbling up the street with the approach of the RUHS marching band. The color guard passing by, riders high atop well-groomed horses, the grand marshal in the back of a huge convertible; it’s a panoply of sights and sounds that never tires for me.

I close my eyes and see the scouts, the ball teams riding on hay wagons, the kids from the Chandler musical, long lines of tractors and Corvettes, fire engines from every town, Dick Ellis with the South Royalton Town Band, Sam Sammis and the Three Stallion crew pitching tennis balls into the crowd as the Star Spangled Banner proudly sounds from the final float.

Then there are the spectators, very often the main event: little ones clutching prized balloons, seniors in lawn chairs pulled tight to the curb, teens running about like spring heifers just freed to the pasture after a long winter, generations of families spilling from porches out onto front lawns, all gathered to celebrate American Independence Day and the official beginning of Vermont’s shortest season.

The Vantage Point

Each year the question arises, where will I photograph the parade this time around? With rare exception, I’m drawn either to the stately promenade of Highland Avenue, where maples crown the procession, or the more open, wildly chaotic, gathering in Depot Square where the parade spills down from Hospital Hill like a river flowing onto an expansive delta, gathering energy from the crowd, rising in fevered pitch until the turn to the finish on School Street.

Some years I move between both locations, and more than once I’ve climbed up onto a float or fire truck, riding down into the square photographing onlookers as flags and music and shouts of joy filled the air.

In 1988 I had just purchased a Nikon 300mm lens and was anxious to make good use of it on the Fourth. The Chamber of Commerce had lifted a particularly fine banner above Main Street that year and from the right angle I hoped to include it at the top of my image.

Two days before the parade I visited apartments on the second floor above the old Union Block, which stood where Pleasant Street diverges from Main until it was destroyed by fire just three years later. There, above the Union Market, George Rye’s Barbershop, and the Sears Catalogue Store, several apartments were afforded an excellent view up toward the square.

As prearranged, on the morning of the parade I placed a Nikon camera firmly mounted on a tripod in an open apartment window focused on the then empty Depot Square. Wanting to have as much of the scene in focus as possible, I trained the lens pretty far up the street, taking care to slow the exposure speed and close down the aperture to maximize the depth of field.

This done, the stage was quite literally set. Now, all that was needed was for the actors to take their positions. I left the apartment and headed up the street to photograph the parade from the ground until that moment arrived.

Why This Image Works

About an hour later, when the parade was in full swing, I found my way back to the apartment and photographed the scene below. Depot Square was wild! Especially when viewed with the telescoping properties of the 300mm lens, the square seemed bursting with people. Indeed, I can’t think of another photograph of Main Street in Randolph as full of humanity as this.

I am astonished at the number of balloons which add immeasurably to the festive spirit. Close examination reveals they were provided by a vendor, a carpet store and an insurance company. We thank them all!

Also, on this weekend (when Vermont Castings would celebrate its remarkable success as co-founder Duncan Syme assembled the very last Defiant stove) the antique Yellowstone Park touring bus owned by Vermont Castings made an appearance in the parade. Here, with an unnamed passenger assuming the pose of figurehead, or explorer looking into the distance, that touring bus sweeps down the street, parting the crowd and providing a crucial anchoring element for the scene.

Apart from all the balloons and framing by the banner and the bus, there is another key reason for this image’s success. Stopping down the aperture, using only the heart of the lens, kept everything in sharp focus. We can read the license plate on the touring bus as well as the Stage Coach signs 300 yards in the distance.

Like a Bruegel painting of a village scene, this photograph is focused on no one thing, but upon the entire parade. In fact, the distinction between those parading and those watching is almost completely obscured.

This, then, is the Fourth of July. Here, as in the democracy we celebrate on this day, everyone, not just a selected few, is fully a participant in the experience.

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