My Conversation with Ken Burns
Here is the transcript, audio, and video. Here is part of the episode summary:
Ken joined Tyler to discuss how facial expressions in photos have changed over time, where in the American past he’d like to visit most, the courage of staying in place, how he feels about intellectual property law, the ethical considerations of displaying violent imagery, why women were so prominent in the early history of American photography, the mysteries in his quilt collection, the most underrated American painter, why crossword puzzles are akin to a cup of coffee, why baseball won’t die out, the future of documentary-making, and more.
And an excerpt:
COWEN: Why are women so prominent in the early history of American photography — compared, say, to painting or sculpture?
BURNS: It’s interesting, I think, because at the beginning we’re recording ourselves, our families. The first one is a self-portrait. (Of course, being an American it would be a self-portrait.) But families are involved.
There’s so many ways in which we transcend — the Declaration of Independence did not apply to any women. It’s 144 years after the Declaration that women get the right to vote: basic thing. When the Declaration and the Constitution were there, they had no rights. But they were part of the landscape.
They are a majority of the population, and have been. What you have is the beginning of photographs being a much more democratic and accessible medium, that is going to be populated by the people who actually exist. I think it’s that that’s helpful to break down.
As you see in this book, there are lots of images of women from the earliest time involved in things like abolition, involved in things like slavery unions, involved in things like women’s suffrage, involved in just playing, having a good time on the beach in Massachusetts in your bloomer swimming suits dancing, or three gals stealing a cigarette in the early part of the 19th century.
This film is about darkness and light, about black and white — both in the photographic process but in the American dynamic: there are many Native Americans, there’s lots of landscapes of the beauty of the country. There’s lots of horrible signs of discrimination and war and death and suffering and grief.
And that’s us. That’s the story of us. I’ve been trying to tell that complicated history with my films, and this was an opportunity to stop and allow the viewer this time to be the director. That is to say, in most performance art, as film is, I set the time that you get to look at that photograph and you see what you’re able to see in that. If you want to spend an hour with one photograph in this book, you’re welcome to.
If you want to go through this over-amount of time, these photographs, and then hold your thumb in the back matter and go back and forth between the full page of the photograph, that might say “Gettysburg, 1863,” and then the description of people reading the list of the dead outside a newspaper in New York City just after the Battle of Gettysburg in July of ’63 — you can learn a lot more about the photograph, but in a different way. I first wanted the photographs to speak for themselves, un- . . . diminished — I guess, is the word — by words.
There is much more at the link. And I liked Ken’s new book Our America: A Photographic History.