An Amarillo photographer's personal journey through the Dust Bowl- with past and present eyes.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Part 1: On location with Dayton Duncan and Buddy Squires - The Dust Bowl

The day was warm enough - but it was a deceiver. Once the sun set, the cold would set in - fast. It's amazing how quickly it can go from a pleasant day in late March - to a frigid night on the steppes of eastern New Mexico.

My friend (frequent adventure cohort) Ken Hanson and myself had been invited to a small abandoned farm north of Clayton, NM to watch award-wining-cinematographer Buddy Squires and Florentine Films writer/producer Dayton Duncan capture on film the sun setting behind an abandoned Dust Bowl era farmhouse.

I had scouted out this location months earlier. To say it is in the middle of nowhere is an understatement. The landscape is stark and featureless except for a hint of mountains far to the West. There are not many trees - just the ones next to the farmhouse - transplanted no doubt by the former residents - now long gone from this world. It comforts me to think some part of those hardy settlers lives on in this land.

I had discovered the house on my trek from Kenton, Oklahoma while traveling down Highway 406. I had found several abandoned farms along this route. Most were in poor shape- only ramshackle remains and yet some (like this one) were in amazingly decent shape. Weathered -yes, but perfect visual metaphors for the harsh realities of life in the Dust Bowl.

The particular house we are shooting this evening faces northeast - it's backside toward the sun, perfect for a sunset silhouette shot. Plus, after dark comes the magic time - the beautiful graduated cobalt blue to orange sky, typical of this region and quite the perfect setting for the documentary.

On my location scout, I had marked this house on my GPS, photographed it and (just for safety's sake) used Google Maps to make it very easy for the crew to find in the vastness that is northeastern New Mexico.

Ken & I arrived an hour before sunset to find the Dust Bowl crew already set up. Dayton Duncan greeted us warmly and introduced us to the crew and (of course) cinematographer Buddy Squires who was peering through the lens of a 16mm Aaton not too different then the one I used when I was taking cinematography classes some thirty-odd years ago.

Although I was surprised to see they weren't shooting digital - I understood it. Film still looks really great and this crew was - well - old-school.

In fact the whole idea behind Florentine Films is old school - producing historical documentaries like no one else ever has or will do again.

Still, Florentine wasn't mired in the stone-age. Buddy told me the film would be converted to digital and edited on modern non-linear editing system such as Avid.

I have to confess - Buddy Squires is an idol of mine. His work on The National Parks- America's Best Idea was epic. His list of projects is downright staggering and his eye for capturing the beauty of our history is humbling.

As a nature photographer and wannabe film maker, I can connect with what Buddy is trying to convey and can only imagine the difficulty he has encountered in trying to get the perfect shot - which he manages to do quite often. Be it Yellowstone in the dead of winter to capturing the grittiness of Brooklyn street life.

His intimate-style photographic work (especially the one-on-one interviews with WWII veterans in The War) has often been copied - as in HBO's Band of Brothers.

I never get starstruck around celebrities - but I am around Buddy Squires.

I met Dayton Duncan when I was invited by my sister, Shelley Stanton to a sneak-preview and meet & greet with the writer/producer at Amarillo College just before "The National Parks America's Best Idea aired on PBS. KACV had produced their own local tie-in program on our own local natural wonder - Palo Duro Canyon and Dayton Duncan had graciously agreed to hold a lecture for the station.

Before that - I had worked with KACV on a community education outreach-program as a tie in for another Ken Burns documentary "The War." My small part was to take collected video interviews with local WWII veterans and produce a DVD for KACV TV to give the families of the interviewees and as part as an educational package for local schools and for The Panhandle Plains Historical Museum archives.

I had screened The War - and it was magnificent- an intimate document that was begging to be made - not just another overview of dates, major battles, politics and weapons, but the words and views of the veterans themselves and the families involved -the impact on their society and lives.

The War was hard to watch - yet compelling and documentary television at its best.

Therefore when I was given a chance to meet one of the producers, I jumped at the chance.

Myself and Florentine Films producer Dayton Duncan.

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