(Above: Charles Search’s black-and-white photograph, “Reeds in Fog,” is emblematic of his search for peace in nature)

By Paul Carter

Being unable to find peace within myself, I made use of the
external surroundings to calm my spirit, and being unable to find
delight within my heart, I borrowed a landscape to please it.
— T’u Lung

Charles Search reads more poetry these days. It helps him make sense of life and follows quite logically from his love of photography. In a sense, he has been a poet for many years, but he wrote his poetry with a camera.

Charles Search; photo by Paul Carter

Search is a meditative landscape photographer. His pictures express the ineffable in the terrain — from sweeping panoramas to closely observed details that often escape the notice of the rest of us. His reward: He has walked into the Oregon landscape and come back with truths about himself. Also, he believes that when his pictures are working, the viewer can psychically enter the landscape with him.

The artist is an amateur in the best sense of the word. He practices photography because he is passionate about it. While he admires those who make a living at it, he is happy to do it simply for the peace it brings him. If indeed there is a Zen method in photography, Search knows it.

Until recently, he carried a medium format camera on a tripod from the coast to the high desert. The camera was almost always loaded with black and white film. Color is a distraction for him. Too often, a color picture is about the color.

So don’t expect sunsets in Search’s portfolio. He has walked miles to discover the beauty at his feet as gladly as on the horizon.

Now, at 78, he no longer zigzags across the state. He has not photographed seriously for three years. The realities of aging make it tough to go on hauling his 6X9 cameras over difficult ground. “I could not confidently go to a place like Fort Rock and walk all day,” he said. He sipped tea while we talked at a downtown cafe.

He has shown his photographs widely and his body of work continues to demand attention. Beginning on Sept. 22, his photographs will be featured in a two-man show at the White Lotus Gallery in downtown Eugene. He will show along with fellow Eugene landscape photographer Gary Tepfer.

Photography came late in Search’s life. Pursuing a high-stress career in financial services, he realized that he had no way to express himself outside the boundaries of the corporate world. At the time, he was commuting from a town near Philadelphia to Princeton, N.J. where he worked for Dow Jones. He was not happy.

His career was humming along, promotions coming apace. Finally, after a corporate headhunter talked him into a job interview in Boston, he forced himself to take stock. He concluded that what was good for the corporation was not good for Charles Search. It was time to quit the ratrace.

In 1974, he and his wife moved to Eugene. “I felt like I needed to take control of my life,” he said. He had seen a lot of the United States, but the look and feel of Oregon and people like Gov. Tom McCall impressed him most.

Charles Search’s “Trail”

Around 1990, he bought a Nikon 35mm camera. He took no classes, attended no workshops. Through trial and error he taught himself to use the little camera, making prints in the darkroom at the Maude Kerns Art Center. Photography offered him “a way to explore myself.” He found that places in the Cascades, on the south coast and in southeastern Oregon were teaching him how to inhabit an environment at the same time that he came to terms with himself. “You inhabit a space and after awhile it begins to inhabit you.”

In his earlier life, goals were defined by the corporate world, a place where you are “constantly measured by your numbers.” Photography, on the other hand, gave him the freedom to express more undefinable values.

To his surprise, three photographs entered at the Lane County Fair photo competition were all winners. He entered his first juried show in 2000 at PhotoZone Gallery. Work shown at the Corvallis Art Center received praise. The feedback showed that viewers were responding to his photographs.

Search has avoided digital photography. He bought a digital camera once but sold it after a month. He was not at all comfortable with the puzzles of white balance, histograms and menus. “It’s how I see that matters,” he said. “All I need is a dark box.”

Now that he no longer ventures into the outback, Search is still seeking

“Prairie House” by Charles Search

answers to the big questions. The clues come in the lines of his favorite poets — Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop, Theodore Roethke, A. R. Ammons among others.

“Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake.”
— Wallace Stevens

Landscape Through a Lens: Two Visions

When: Sept. 22 through Oct. 27; reception for the artists is 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sept. 22

Where: White Lotus Gallery, 767 E. Eighth Ave., Eugene

Description: Gary Tepfer and Charles Search are two traditional film photographers who explore and interpret the landscape. Tepfer uses color film utilizing cibachrome prints to express his vision. Search pairs black and white film with the silver print as his medium for perception. Both use a deliberative approach employing primarily medium format cameras attached to a tripod. This method allows both photographers to apprehend and inhabit the environment in which they place themselves. However, through the different mediums, the outcomes provide distinct and personal visions. The result provides an interesting contrast on how the choice of medium alters the landscape we see.

Gallery hours: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday

Information: 541-345-3276 or wlotus.com

“Trees From Rocks,” by Charles Search