Each month a prize-winning photograph from the archives of the Crozet Calendar will be published together with a story from the photographer of how the image was made and commentary by Sam Abell about the merits of the photograph.
The biggest event in my boyhood hometown took place on Memorial Day when the annual parade formed in front of our house. There were high school bands, colorful floats, “royalty” riding in convertibles, decorated bikes, marching veterans and vintage vehicles. It was thrilling—and also impossible to photograph. Too much was happening in too many places.
The best one could do was try to symbolize the parade by distilling a significant element of it into a single strong image. In short, to do what Malcolm Andrews has done with his finely balanced photograph of Crozet’s annual 4th of July parade.
In Malcolm’s words: “As simple as a parade may seem, I found it challenging to combine the elements of people, place and activity into the best composition to tell the whole story and bring the parade to life.
“My original thought was to photograph the color guard at the head of the parade as they emerged from the railroad underpass, with the hope of capturing a sense of the parade expanding behind them. Unfortunately, I found that the slope of the road did not allow that perspective.
“I then decided that the recognizable landmarks of Crozet Avenue were essential to framing the shot, give it a sense of place and help tell the story of the parade. Emmy Thacker’s recently created Crozet mural was the perfect anchor for the composition. It gave the image an undeniable sense of place. When combined with the brick wall of the Mudhouse, the big English Meadows building brought balance to the background.
“In the foreground, the color guard stands out as the subject. It, too, is balanced by the spectators on the curb. It was important to me that the photograph include people gathered along the street in order to tell the whole story. That’s because the parade is not an isolated demonstration of marching. It’s about the families expressing their wonder and gratitude for all those people and floats moving along the parade route.
“Finally, the yellow line on the road provides a lead-in line to direct the viewer’s eye up the path of the parade. To get all of these elements required me to take a low (curbside) angle and use the widest lens.”
Malcolm’s image is an excellent example of how photographs are built. They are built back to front. That is, Malcolm establishes the foundation (the two buildings) and lets the subject (the color guard) animate the image. Then, thoughtfully, he finishes the photograph by including the all-important spectators.
“Compose and wait,” as this practice is known, has many advantages. It allows the photographer to get settled and cease chasing the elusive subject. The subject comes to you.
Locking down the back layer of the composition also allows the photographer to concentrate on timing that brief moment when all the elements coalesce. That decisive moment occurs when the color guard, marching in unison, reaches equilibrium with Malcolm’s already committed background.
Establishing the background results in a deeper, more compelling photograph. From back to front there is structural and pictorial strength. The test for this is to cover the subject—in this case the color guard—with your hand. Minus the marching men is the picture still interesting? The answer is yes, greatly helped by the sharp late afternoon sunlight and the dramatic cloud canopy.
The consequence of this process is a successful photograph of Crozet’s 4th of July parade. Why is this important? In Malcolm’s words:
“The Fourth of July parade is one of those events that draws the community out because it epitomizes the culture of Crozet. And it’s that small-town culture that attracts people to our community. So, the parade is an expression of community along with a patriotic celebration.
“On a personal note, this was the first time in several years I was able to make it to the parade. I was excited to be there with the hope of telling the story in photos that could be shared with the community. It’s always fun to get out with a crowd to photograph this sort of event, and there’s an energy that comes with the temporal nature of the event that makes it exhilarating.
“I think of my photography as ‘summing up a scene.’ As we pass this way only once, each opportunity to tell a story is unique. And it must be captured in a single pass with no do overs. One must walk into a situation, often with only a general idea of the story line, sum up the subject and surroundings and then compose a photograph that, if successful, will tell the story. ‘Summing it up’ and composing the shot is exactly the sort of challenge that the 4th of July parade presented.”