Inspired by tidal treasures like kelp, shells, leaves, driftwood and sea glass that she sees on her daily walks, Seldovia artist Jenifer Cameron’s exhibit “Beauty and the Beach: Small Views from Seldovia” showcases these found objects captured through macro photography.
“In between the heartbeat of the waves, I discover nature’s art at my feet,” Cameron’s artist statement reads. “From timeworn sea glass to life sustaining kelp, the wrack line offers daily entries to entice my curiosity. Collecting and learning about the biodiversity and fragility of the living inhabitants at the ocean’s edge offers an endless palette of discovering. Using this palette, I design and photograph my macro landscapes. Each photo is created to show a world of unique elements created by the ocean environment.”
Using magnifying eye loupes and a light box, Cameron discovers hidden textures, colors and patterns in these natural items, which she then photographs with her iPhone, zooming in to capture macro scenes.
A retired art teacher, Cameron said part of her inspiration for this body of work came from the Private Eye Curriculum she taught, where students got on their bellies to look at nature up close — bark, grass and butterfly wings, for example. With Cameron’s macro photography, a viewer is looking at items in a zoomed in format; for example, in her image “Translucent Nest,” sea glass appears to be 3 inches across when in reality, it is only one-eighth of an inch, and a piece of kelp appears to be the size of one’s hand, when it is really so much smaller.
For Cameron, this world of small things is significant for the importance played in nature and ecosystems as a whole. When collecting kelp, she keeps it in buckets of salt water and then returns all the living items back to the ocean, believing that all nutrients are vital to the health of the sea. She is also intrigued by this world of small things as it is filled with elements her creativity seeks out, like composition, colors, textures and patterns, aspects she taught to her students and used in her own collage art.
“Throughout my career, I made learning meaningful for kids by drawing from what was around us — light, weather, animals and people, which are the same elements I pull from for my own art,” she said.
Cameron’s creativity was nurtured from a very young age. Her father made his living as a commercial artist, her mother sewed, crafted and painted and there was an endless supply of art supplies in her family’s home. She moved from Minnesota to Fairbanks in 1978, studying ceramics, drawing, design and education through the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, receiving a degree in elementary education with an art minor and then a Master in Art Education. For nearly 10 years, Cameron taught in Western Alaska and Southeast Alaska before returning to Fairbanks in 1999 to work as an art specialist for the Fairbanks School District.
During this same time, Cameron also pursued collage, working in a variety of mediums, including a technique of fusing fabric and textiles to copper. From 1998 to 2018, she exhibited and sold her collage art at 2 Street Gallery in Fairbanks, which she co-owned.
When she retired from teaching in 2018, Cameron and her husband moved to Seldovia. During beach walks, the new surroundings of ocean and tide tugged at her creativity and she found inspiration in collecting items that were now a part of her daily life — shells, glass, wood and kelp.
“I was looking for something new to do,” she said. “Collage is my nature so why not collage with nature?”
Cameron began by pressing plants in her backyard, then adding the natural found objects. Viewing these items with her light box and using her iPhone to take zoomed in photographs, she saw the potential the materials presented for unique collage creations. In 2020, while the world reeled at the news of the pandemic, Cameron took to her favorite beaches and this body of work was birthed.
Used to composing collages by hand, Cameron said learning the technology required to create these collages was a challenge and one she is still adapting to.
“That piece was tough — learning how to capture what my artist eye sees through a piece of technology, enlarging an iPhone photo, aligning my files with the printer and then sending them to a lab to be printed on metal,” she said. “With this technique, I’m two pieces removed from my original art and that’s new to me, but learning how to design and photograph these time-sensitive portraits pushes me forward, a slow and steady tide on my art-making journey. I also love that what I photograph can never be recreated. Once I return the kelp to the ocean, I can never get that image again.”
In sharing the beauty of the natural world as she sees it, Cameron hopes that people who view her work will walk away understanding that art doesn’t have to be complicated, that it can be something as simple as what one notices every day.
“Art can be the rock by your shoe or the shadow on the side of the house,” she said. “It can be whatever strikes you, makes you take a second look, stop and wonder about something or ask yourself questions about things. Inspiration for my art is everywhere when I savor the moment and look at even the most common of materials through diverse lenses.”