American Cathedral is Cameron's primary long-term project, gathering images and refining the series’ unique printing process over several years to create a stunning body of work. Each platinum/palladium on vellum over gold print can take several weeks to create, with only the most flawless prints passing inspection to be hung for final display. This pursuit of perfection is what defines Cameron as an artist through every stage of the creative process. Each shot is painstakingly researched, planned, and executed using a variety of techniques, from astronomically-focused digital platforms to traditional hand-developed film. Digital negatives used for platinum/palladium printing are relentlessly refined, adjusting the output for optimal results with notoriously difficult vellum papers. Final prints go through several iterations, first at small sizes and eventually final display size. Even the frames, usually an afterthought to get artwork on the wall as cheaply as possible, are integrated into Cameron's artistic vision. Each hand-assembled American Walnut frame is adorned with a gold fillet, flawlessly matching the tones of the black and gold print while simultaneously creating a holistic piece of hand-crafted artwork. Properly stored, each print will last for generations.
All of these factors work in tandem to reinforce Cameron's message: a request for thoughtful consideration, introspection, and reflection of how Americans perceive their public lands. Manifest Destiny, once a driving force behind American Westward expansion, was also a key factor in the establishment of the first national parks, creating outdoor museums enshrining the splendor of Creation. Competing with the great museums and towering cathedrals of the Old World, the United States created monuments to what they exclusively possessed through divine mandate. This legacy has left a tangible impression on some of America's most iconic landscapes, both subtly and overtly affecting how modern Americans interact with their most beloved places.
By using this unique print process to create "illuminated landscapes" evocative of 15th century illuminated manuscripts, Cameron draws a critical connection between Gothic religious texts and the environments in his photographs, equating modern "American Cathedrals" to the Catholic institutions of the Middle Ages. Further, this comparison asks viewers to consider how the legacy of Manifest Destiny has created a culture of restriction around iconic landscapes, with fees and permits acting as barriers to accessibility in the same way that illuminated manuscripts were only accessible by the clergy. Those with greater resources were permitted to be closer to God, whether it was in the context of European cathedrals or the exclusive lodges of America’s parks. Will National Parks see their own Protestant Reformation?
The back side of a platinum/palladium on vellum over gold leaf print.