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

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The kidnapping of Ken Burns - Part One

The plot to" kidnap" documentary filmmaker Ken Burns (Baseball, Jazz, The War, The Dust Bowl) was hatched more than a  month ago when I received an invite in the mail. It read "You are cordially invited to an Evening with Ken Burns."

Needless to say - I was excited.

As you may have read in this blog, I enjoyed a very small part of the production of The Dust Bowl - as a scout - prowling along the back roads of the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles and northeastern New Mexico, looking for dust-bowl era scenes, windmills, vistas, abandoned homes and other assorted locations for Florentine Films renowned cinematographer Buddy Squires & award winning producer Dayton Duncan to film.

It was a great gig for a free-lance Amarillo-based photographer and a once in a lifetime chance to work with Academy award winning documentary film makers - whom I greatly admire. To be even peripherally associated with a production as historically significant as The Dust Bowl is an honor in itself - but to be invited to an exclusive dinner with Ken Burns & Dayton Duncan was a creme on the cherry on the cream pie itself.

The invite was for me and a guest. Because he had helped me so much during the production scout and I had commandeered him and his vintage 1927 Ford as my model & muse in re-creating photo representations of Black Sunday (link to the Black Sunday Photo Project) my plus one would be good friend and collaborator Ken Hanson.

Not only does Ken have the same first name as Mr. Burns - Ken Hanson also shares  a love of American history and in particular that of antique vehicles. The Ford we used for our artist recreations was perfect for our photo project and not to mention Ken helped tote me around the northern Texas Panhandle looking for locations (when my car was having mechanical issues) plus  he was also with me during the shoot near Clayton, New Mexico, and as a result  was the only one I even considered as my plus one for this special dinner.

So - we got to talking. Although I was thinking it - Ken mentioned it first.

"You know what would be cool?" he said.

"If we showed up at the dinner in the Model T?" I asked, already knowing where he was going.

"Yes- exactly." he replied. "It needs a little mechanical work but I'm sure I can get it done in time." he added.

I imagined pulling up in front of the gala in his forest green Ford - it chug-chug-chugging in that distinctive way a Model T sounds.

"You know what would be cooler?" I said.

Ken smiled. he also knew where I was going with my next thought.

"That we could take Ken Burns for a ride in it?" he answered quickly.

"Yes, that would be awesome. Imagine getting a photo of you and Ken Burns in your Ford - a historical documentary film maker in a iconic example of automobile history - a 1927 Ford Model T - still working  - still running well beyond the Dust Bowl."

The symbolism was not lost on either of us. Much like the hardy Dust Bowl refugees - Ken's Ford had survived to see better times and actually thrived well into this modern age.  Like Ken Burn's documentaries - it was an important living example of how far we had come, how hard times could be overcome and how we must remember the hard lessons of the past to prevent us repeating them in the present.

And then reality set in - Ken said - "Ken Burns is an important man. I'm sure everyone from the Mayor on down will be vying for his attention at this event. I'll doubt we'll get a chance."

I was more optimistic. I replied, "I'll bet you once he sees that glorious example of a Model T parked out front he'll make a bee-line for it."

Ken was  not convinced."Maybe he's not a car guy." he said.

I replied "You are kidding me right? He's an historian. Your car is a piece of history - directly tied to the Dust Bowl - besides - have you ever seen Horatios Drive - America's First Road Trip?

"Nope what's that?" he asked.

"Only one of the best documentaries of the coming of age of the automobile." I replied. "It's about Horatio Nelson Jackson - the first person to drive across the country - spurred on by a fifty dollar bet."

A week or so later, Ken & I sat down and watched Horatio's Drive on Netflix. Although I had seen it many times - it's a favorite and looked forward to seeing it again.

After it was over Ken looked at me and said, "Yep - he's definitely a car guy."


The Dust Bowl - trailer released.

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