Language of Time, Cortona, Italy, 2004 / © Jim Vecchi

For the past 30 years, Jim Vecchi’s camera has helped him turn his gaze inward. “My artworks are a reflection of my ongoing search for meaning,” he says. “I rely on beauty and the act of seeing to explore, question and reinterpret the way that we perceive the world.”

Vecchi’s photographs offer a way in. It’s as if his camera searches for clues to symbolic meanings in the ordinary and the overlooked — a telephone pole, a stone stairway, faces reflected in glass — while, like a third eye, giving him access to another, more profound level of existence. As Jean Caslin, independent curator with Caslin Gregory & Associates of Houston, Texas, says, “There’s nothing superficial about his work. He’s seeking depth in his life experience, and he pauses long enough to find it.” Vecchi has found a calm center, and you feel it the minute you meet him. Quiet in manner, he speaks from his heart and listens with his eyes. In his photography, he has never stopped following his own true north.

“Growing up, I had no idea I’d be a photographer,” says Vecchi, who was raised in suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Right after high school, his parents urged him to follow his two older brothers to Carnegie Mellon University. Not knowing what to study, he ended up in business administration, which he continued to pursue as a Ph.D. student at Stanford University and the University of California Berkeley. But his heart wasn’t in it, so he left. Then he didn’t do much of anything for awhile, as he puts it, until a UC Berkeley health economics professor needed an assistant. For 20 years Vecchi worked for him part-time so he could explore other aspects of life.

In between writing economic reports, Vecchi took a 45-day cross-country motorcycle road trip, an Instamatic camera in his pack. It was 1981, and he was 25 years old. “I looked at the pictures and thought, maybe I can do this, be a photographer,” he says. “I liked that it changed the whole way I saw the world. Everything was new and exciting seen through a camera. I took photos like mad.” He also began a meditation practice. “The two felt interconnected to me. With a camera, I saw the world in a fresh way; and with meditation, I looked deeply at myself. Everything was opening up.”

A few years into photographing whatever was in front of him, still living in Berkeley, Vecchi met photographer Cay Lang and became her studio assistant. He also signed up for her nine-month practicum, “Taking the Leap: Becoming an Exhibiting Artist.” He did just that with his first real body of work, The Center of the Universe (1990-1991).

Vecchi was struck by the beauty of poles, columns and wires, and placed them dead center, immersed in blurriness. Center of the  Universe was also a sort of meditation for him. “You put something in front of yourself and concentrate on it, and everything else becomes an open door,” he says.

More of this article can be read in the Fall 2011 issue.