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Mel Sauerbeck

Timeless Photographs of Southeast Asia: "Views from the Pathless Path"

by John Sorflaten

Mel Sauerbeck image
An ancient tree grows over a carved stone entrance to Angkor Wat (photo by Mel Sauerbeck).

Recent experiments demonstrate that you, I, and all of us have structures in our brains called “mirror neurons.” These mirror neurons let us comprehend actions we see without any need to “think” or “reason” about it. Stand in front of Mel Sauerbeck’s latest photo exhibit, “Views from the Pathless Path: Images of Southeast Asia,” and you will definitely feel those mirror neurons humming away.

He took the pictures towards the end of 2004 during his six-month trek through Thailand, Cambodia, Lao, and Myanmar (formerly Burma). With more than 30 big and bigger images in the exhibit, there is much to awaken the special feeling of being in Southeast Asia.

Take, for example, one particular image of a monk standing on a steep stone stairway shrouded by intertwining tree limbs. The stairs go up and up . . . and up and up . . . until you forget about thinking up, but something in you keeps going up. And, then, of course, the monk’s smile reminds you that he probably experienced the same thing. Mel told me “this hopefully conveys the feeling of the difficulty and confusion of what some see as the ‘path’ being long and confusing, but the tranquil smile on the monk’s face tells another story entirely.”

Another of Mel’s favorites is the big print of a giant tree growing up out of an ancient stone-walled entrance at Angkor Wat. Neurons whisper . . . timeless pursuit along the pathless path (I confess that my mirror neurons fibrillate along similar lines). I can’t help but think “Buddha” and “bodhi tree.” But then focusing on the entrance takes my mind off the words and into the point through the tree into the distant horizon. One forgets the details and falls into a pleasant state of confidence that all’s right in the world. It’s a bit like the serenity conveyed by that smiling monk on the steps.

Now, I look at my Scientific American article again, and read that our mirror neurons let us directly map other people’s emotions into our own experience and thus reproduce that emotion in ourselves. Getting mystical now. Hey, here’s the picture I like, but black and white newsprint does not do it it justice. You have to see the six-foot-long color panorama image in person to feel what it must have been like to experience a sea of pagodas rising from the morning mist with evanescent peaks melting into the horizon. Words fail and the experience of the “Pathless Path” melts into a feeling of wonder. Being there without going there.

You can also visit Mel’s NavaSwan Images website. Check out “Views from the Pathless Path” showing now and at 1st Fridays Art Walks. And to find the exhibit, just remember the stairs, the stairs inside the doorway of 108 W. Broadway—on the corner of Main St. and Broadway, just off the square and above the new ICON gallery. Those special stairs.

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