Author. Educator. Curator. Gail Buckland’s life in photography is as vast as the medium itself, revealing a love that was born of a dream. Buckland remembers how it all began: “I wanted to be a journalist. My first choice school was Northwestern, the Medill School of Journalism. After she was accepted, my family drove out to visit the school. We drove a thousand miles, and the first thing my parents wanted to find was the Hillel on campus. We kept walking around campus, passing blonde, blue-eyed people the entire way. On the drive from Evanston, Illinois, back to New York, my parents questioned my choice. ‘Why not go to a Liberal Arts school here?” So I went to the University of Rochester. I never thought about photography. I thought I wanted to be a journalist. Then, my freshman year I had a dream. I woke up and I wanted to be a photographer. And that was it.”
From that first moment of unconscious clarity, Buckland’s life has lead her along a path, one that has allowed her to pursue her passion for the medium. Like so many who dedicate themselves to the photograph. Buckland was lead to the form by a need to see more than her immediate senses would allow. She recalls,“I remember one time at AIPAD, I was leading a panel discussion with Ralph Gibson, Eva Rubenstein, Duane Michals, and a few other people. I asked them, ‘What was the one photograph you saw that changed the course of your life?’ At the end, someone asked me to answer my own question. I remember where I was. I went to MoMA and saw Edward Weston’s photograph of a cabbage leaf. I never saw a cabbage lead look like that, and I had been eating cabbage my entire life. It was a revelation. I need a way of seeing more deeply because my own eyes aren’t doing it for me.”
It was here, in this recognition that not only her eyes but also her emotions and her own personal photography would be aided by a study of the masters of the medium. Buckland began to consider the photograph as more than a work of art and a record of the world, but a tool to help herself and others see life more clearly.. She notes, “In school I studied the the metaphysical and psychological realms of photography influenced by the teachings of Minor White and Roy Hattersley, and I was also taking photos to be like Dorothea Lange. I was idealistic. I wanted to change the world in the 1960s, like many others. I was very influenced by Cornell Capa’s Concerned Photographer shows at Riverside Museum.” Capa used that phrase to describe the position some adopted with their work, using photography as a tool for humanitarian service to educate and change the world.
“Once I latched on, I absorbed as much as I could. But I did not want to live in this country under Nixon. I was very radicalized at this time and I wanted to get out before I planted a bomb or did something I would later regret. I went to Manchester, England. I had been printing photographs I had taken the summer before on a trip to Crete with a group artists and I had no one to show them to so I looked up Bill Brandt, who was the only photographer I knew in England. He agreed to see me, saying, ‘I know what it means to be a photographer in a foreign country.’ We spent hours going over my prints. I was an undergraduate and Brandt was enormously generous.”
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