Last month I covered the early morning preparations for the July 4th parade held annually in Coronado, California, as participants stationed in nearby streets prepared for the start of the event. Horses were groomed, chrome-work polished, and bunting arranged neatly. The organising team checked off the one hundred and ten parade entrants on their clipboards and arranged them in the correct order, all ready for a precise ten o’clock start.
In this second instalment, my aim is to present a flavour of the parade itself. Of necessity, my coverage is highly abbreviated given that participants stream along the Orange Avenue parade route for a good two hours.
As a photography team member, one of over two hundred volunteers supporting the event, my patch was a specific two-block section of the road; I was encouraged to capture the essence of this celebratory occasion, photographing both passing extravaganzas and captivated crowds.
I used a Leica SL2 equipped with the Vario-Elmarit 24-70mm f/2.8 lens — both purchased used in the preceding months. Although carrying several other lenses in my bag, I found this combo ideal for the occasion, allowing me to frame multiple shots of parade floats or bands as they approached as well as snap close-ups when vehicles and people passed in front of me.
It was a warm sunny morning with crystal clear skies, ensuring chromework gleamed and colourful costumes stood out. But, it also meant deep shadows and bright highlights, requiring some tweaking during post-processing in Lightroom. To my eye, the camera and lens did a superb job. On my 27” Apple Cinema monitor, people, cars, and animals seem to leap from the screen in incredible detail and vivid colour — not quite competing with those recently published deep space photographs from the James Webb Space Telescope, but for earth-bound images, not too shabby.
I tried to position myself with the sun at my back, albeit in some shade where possible. Still, for sake of variety, I also took some shots into the sun from a sitting position at the edge of the road and while walking along my assigned section of the route, photographing spectators. I hope you enjoy the show and gain a sense of what it was like to be there in person.
Reflecting the significant military participation in the parade, this year’s Grand Marshall was Vice Admiral Roy Kitchener, Commander of the Naval Surface Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet. Sitting astride the folded roof of a splendid vintage Lincoln convertible in shining forest green livery, he really looked the part.
Later in the morning, another Navy big shot cruised along the street: a small shoreline patrol boat on a towing carriage. Ideally, the Navy would have featured one of their big boats, such as the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, currently docked in San Diego Bay. However, width limitations on Orange Avenue definitely constrained their options. Even this puppy appeared enormous in these unfamiliar surroundings.
Here comes the mounted US Border Patrol team highlighted in the previous article while they waited patiently for the parade to begin. Now riding in formation, they enjoy the applause of the crowd as they take a well-earned break from patrolling the outer reaches of the US-Mexico border, some 20 miles south of Coronado.
The next group to appear were the Escondido Mounted Posse – the city of Escondido lying in the northeast of San Diego County. Strolling along behind the team, visible on the right-hand edge of the photograph, is a fellow with the delightful job of scooping up horse droppings found along the way and depositing them in his wheeled can. Clearly, I made the right move volunteering for the photography team rather than the poop scooping team.
In addition to the mounted ensembles above, we were treated to a number of horse-drawn carriages making their way along the parade route. The first of these employed a two-horse team featured in the earlier article who were kind enough to let me grab a close-up photo. Here they are in action, pulling a carriage full of ladies in Victorian attire. I hadn’t realised that people had already begun wearing sunglasses back in those days.
The second carriage is even more impressive, with two pairs of shire horses hauling a wagon owned by the Temecula Carriage Company. I suspect that in the good old days, the wagon would be hauling barrels of beer from the brewery to the bar, but today the team tackled a less demanding load.
Motor Cars on Main Street
Next, we progress from horses to horsepower. I have written previously on Macfilos about the place of automobiles in US culture. No surprise then to see cars of every shape, size, colour and age driving along the route. Many came as groups united by a common theme, for example, vintage models of a particular brand, such as the San Diego MG Club above.
They also came as singletons, conveying a local dignitary or celebrity, such as Miss California.
Here are a few more that caught my eye: a fleet of 1950s Thunderbirds, a bright orange Buick, a troop of 4-wheeled off-road quad-cycles, and an assortment of miniature clown cars.
This Model-T Ford deserves special mention as the granddaddy of American automobiles. It is, of course, black, with leather straps holding down the bonnet, bug-eye headlamps, and narrow tyres on wire wheels rolling along the asphalt. What a beauty!
I was delighted to see a humble garbage truck included in the patriotic fun; it would soon be making a return visit at the conclusion of the parade (see below).
Red, white and Blue
The crowds along the parade route range from casual onlookers just enjoying the show through to highly organised groups with colour-coordinated outfits and elaborate brunch spreads. Many wear items in red, white and blue, echoing the colours of the star-spangled banner. The diversity of permutations for combining those three colours tastefully in a cool but comfortable outfit is apparently limitless.
These feet were made for walking
The parade moves at human walking speed, even though the horses and cars could move much more swiftly. As a result, spectators have plenty of time to take in the spectacle, and the pedestrian elements of the procession can proceed at a leisurely pace, enjoying the attention as they pass each section of the crowd.
The lineup is quite diverse: as a man of the people, the local mayor strolls along wearing an inverted baseball cap to protect his scalp from the sun; a family member carries a placard depicting a local hero, Tom Rice, who made a parachute landing on Omaha beach on D-day, and who recently turned one hundred years of age; star troopers scan the crowd, looking for the Mandolorian; an overgrown Robin reconnoitres the route, in advance of Batman; and a flag-waving Captain America greets his adoring fans along the roadside.
One of the most impressive displays was a giant American flag, held aloft by countless volunteers, proceeding sedately along the route, stirring hearts and providing shade to kids who snuck in below the billowing canvas.
These feet were made for marching
Without a doubt, my favourite elements of the parade were musicians — marching or being driven along the street. The Naval Band Southwest, pictured at the start of this article, took first prize. It was fun seeing my ‘selfie tuba’ pass by, along with the ceremonial bass drum that had been sitting patiently at the roadside an hour before.
A Scottish bagpipe band, complete with kilts and sporrans, is an annual crowd favourite. It is clearly thirsty work keeping that pig’s bladder inflated; a brief hiatus in the march whilst traffic lights briefly halt the parade affords an opportunity for some hydration. I wonder where he stows that bottle of water when not in use?
Some bands, such as the Brass Animals, were informal, whereas the Chula Vista High School Honour Core and Marching Band were beautifully regimented.
High school marching bands can be found in many countries. Still, in my limited experience, those in the United States often perform at an outstanding level — probably reflecting the country’s distinctive jazz heritage and commitment to excellence in this field. This band was preceded by a flag twirling Honour Corp, the entire ensemble delivering the complete package of patriotism, spectacle, presence and mobile open-air concert.
It would be asking a bit much of a marching ukulele player to project sufficient volume to reach the crowd, let alone read their music from a scrap of paper taped to their instrument. So, we can cut the Coronado Ukulele Club some slack for being driven along in an open-top vehicle, employing electric amplification. Even viewed as a 1.2 Mb JPEG, the lens (at 48mm, f/5.6, 1/400) has clearly captured the details of hair, wrinkles and muscular contours on the player’s arm.
This final photo of official parade participants is of a whirling, twirling dance troupe, bringing colour, energy and motion to the scene. I was stationed towards the start of the parade route, so the dancers were undoubtedly full of beans; I suspect that these gals were just as energetic at the tail end of the route as they were here.
And now, the end is near…
Not all the vehicles joining the parade make it to the end of the route. Here is a van propelled not by horses or horsepower but manpower. Having broken down in the middle of the route, passengers and volunteers rally round to push the vehicle to a convenient spot at the side of the road.
As soon as the final float passes, the crowd begins to spill onto the road, and cyclists seize their final opportunity to wander along the middle of the carriageway without having to share it with cars. An enterprising ‘sandwich board’ man, just visible in the shot above, strolls along the route, urging the remnants of the crowd to repent of their sins.
Before commencing his self-authorised parade, here he is, presumably calling up to HQ for instructions…
At lightning speed, the clean-up crew swings into action while the parade is still underway along the route. Garbage bins are emptied, small amounts of street litter are gathered, and horse poop residues are washed away — an incredibly impressive example of organisation!
Through the Leica lens
I am aware of the considerable speculation, even within the pages of Macfilos, regarding the manufacturer of the Leica 24-70mm f/2.8 Vario-Elmarit-SL zoom I used to take these photos, as well as the widely held belief that the lens is actually a Sigma Art 24-70mm f/2.8 in a Leica body. I weighed this possibility carefully when considering which lens to purchase.
I am comfortable buying used camera gear, so when I found a pre-owned Leica version available at a significant discount, greatly reducing the price difference between brand-new Sigma and Leica versions, I decided to go the Leica route. Had the Leica option not existed or used options not been available, I would have gone for the Sigma without a quibble. I own two L-mount Sigma lenses, including the 14-24mm f/2.8 Art model, and know from personal experience that they are outstanding. Having decided in favour of Leica, I am very happy with the results.
I hope you enjoyed this digest of the parade, viewed through a Leica lens. I aim to use my SL2 and Vario-Elmarit 24-70mm/f/2.8 rig to tackle many future events of this kind. You never know — the results might even make their way into the pages of Macfilos in due course.