Smile and Release

In Thich Nhat Hanh’s mindful breathing exercise “Breathing in, I smile; breathing out, I release,” the concepts of smiling and releasing are combined to create a powerful tool for cultivating emotional balance, inner peace, and well-being.

The act of smiling is not necessarily directed at a specific object or person. Instead, it serves as a gentle reminder to cultivate feelings of joy, happiness, and gratitude within oneself. Smiling has been scientifically shown to release endorphins, which are natural chemicals in the brain that can help improve mood and reduce stress. By consciously choosing to smile as you breathe in, you are fostering a sense of inner happiness and contentment that is not reliant on external circumstances. The smile in this context is an expression of self-compassion, loving-kindness, and gratitude for the present moment.

On the other hand, the concept of “release” refers to the act of consciously letting go of any negative emotions, tensions, or stress that may have built up in your mind and body. When practicing this breathing exercise, the focus is on using the exhale as a means to release and let go of any feelings of anxiety, stress, anger, or emotional pain that you may be experiencing. This can help create space for positive emotions and thoughts to arise, fostering a sense of mental and emotional well-being.

By combining the act of smiling during the inhale with the release during the exhale, Thich Nhat Hanh aims to teach individuals how to cultivate emotional balance and inner peace. This practice encourages individuals to be aware of their emotions, acknowledge them without judgment, and then consciously release them, promoting a greater sense of mental clarity and emotional stability. In this way, the mindful breathing exercise of “smile and release” can have a profound impact on your mental and emotional well-being, as well as on your interactions with others.

Piranesi Circus


The exhibit in the courtyard in the middle of the Chicago cultural centre has always made a strong impression on me.

I later found out that the work, the Piranesi Circus, was from the Chicago firm Woodhouse Tinucci Architects who worked with Tokyo-based Atelier Bow-Wow on the execution and construction of the project along with Thornton Tomasetti (structural); Chicago Scenic Studios (fabrication).

G.B. Piranesi’s Carceri d’Invenzione (Imaginary Prisons) influenced the work where the vast interior spaces can be considered a visual metaphor for the mind. I wanted to focus on the individual elements by reducing the composition by limiting exposure and tonality.

See also: Marguerite Yourcenar = (The Dark Brain of Piranesi)

I took the pictures in the summer of 2017 always around midday when the sum evenly illuminates the courtyard. Since access to the yard is limited, the images were shot through the windows and provided some reflection on the inner of the building.

The cantilevered balcony lurches out into the void and challenges the observer to enter.


The use of a ladder that leads nowhere provides a recollection of dreams where the subject works in some unending loop.

The swing/trapeze hangs waiting and expresses a feeling of desire.


Zone System overview


Ansel Adams and Fred Archer formulated the zone system to give photographers a systematic way to set the correct exposure.

Film photographers were the original users of the system; however, the technique is still relevant when shooting digital.

The fundamental concept is that exposure meters give a reading that correctly exposes middle grey.

Middle grey exposure works for most situations. However, there are exceptions:

Light tones dominate
Consider shooting a picture of a very light subject, for example, snow – since the meter gives exposure for middle grey (not nearly as bright as the subject) the reading given underexposes the subject. The underexposure is because the meter brings the luminance down to middle grey.
To get the correct exposure the photographer needs to increase the exposure by a few stops.

Dark tones dominate
Conversely, if you are shooting a dark subject, for example, dark wood, then the meter gives an exposure that brings the dark up to medium grey, again the yields the dark wood tones overexposed – so the photographer needs to reduce the exposure.

To take your shooting to the next level, start to look at the scene you are photographing and decide the tonalities you want in your picture, are the main subjects dark or light? How do you want them to appear?

Once you have decided the tonalities you want, you can use the table below to figure out the appropriate zone.

Zone Description
0 Pure black
1 Near black, with slight tonality but no texture
2 Textured black; the darkest part of the image where you can see small detail
3 Average dark materials and low values showing adequate texture
4 Average dark foliage, dark stone, or landscape shadows
5 Middle grey: clear north sky; dark skin, average weathered wood
6 Average Caucasian skin; light stone; shadows on snow in sunlit landscapes
7 Very light skin; shadows in snow with acute side lighting
8 Lightest tone with texture: textured snow
9 Slight tone without texture; glaring snow
10 Pure white: light sources and specular reflections

There is a one stop difference between each zone. Let’s suppose you decide the primary tones are in zone 8 since that is three stops above zone 5 so you will need to increase the exposure by three stops to get the exposure right.
For example, if your meter read f16, then you would use f 5.6 when taking the picture (remember that reducing the F-stop increases the exposure).

Hubbard Street murals project


I undertook this project to photograph some of what was the Hubbard Street mural project initiated in the 1970’s by Ricardo Alonzo, an Art Institute of Chicago graduate.

Over an eight-year period, Alonzo and volunteers from the West Town Community Art Center painted murals along a mile-long stretch of Hubbard Street, from Des Plaines to Ogden, until their funding ran out in 1979.

I first noticed the murals out my Metra train window while I was looking to produce a project influenced by Wabi-sabi, and how it translates to an urban environment outside of Japan. They provided an ideal way to explore how time and decay have affected these artworks.



The originals would have been vibrant and colourful, time, paint overs, weather and construction have taken their toll on the work.

Most people will not see the murals because they are in an obscure place, where most people wouldn’t ordinarily have a chance to view them. I want to raise awareness of this still-vibrant, if fading, original community project, and to introduce some of my work locally.

After producing some shots in monochrome, I decided to reshoot the set in colour to have a better record of the original work.

You see the full set of pictures here

New Mexico Earthship


Earthships are a design by Michael Reynolds, founder of Earthship Biotecture and the Earthship Academy.
  • The main concepts are:
    The need for a furnace and air-conditioning can is eliminated by using thermal mass.
  • The house is designed to capture and manage the use of water by using a grey water system.
  • The house generates all the electricity it uses and stores power in batteries to provide a continuous supply
  • The house processes all sewage and waste.
    The houses usually face south with large glass panes angled to be normal to the mid-day sun during the winter solstice. This configuration lets in a maximum amount of sun during the winter to heat the house (and thermal mass) and a minimum amount of sun during the summer months where the direct sunlight is both reflected off the window and does not enter deep inside the house.
  • Large, heavy “skylights” are another feature that helps to control the temperature in the Earthship, together with a system of metal pipes that bring allow cool external air to flow throughout the home. The goal is to maintain the home at 70 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Essentially this means the house can be completely off the grid while providing a comfortable modern lifestyle for the inhabitants. Earthships have been built and are successful in many countries and throughout the USA, despite greatly varying climates.
Unlike houses with just insulation, Earthships have a much lower carbon footprint since they do not consume power generated with fossil fuels, nor do they need water supply or sewage processing (or associated processing and chemicals).
In general, a sizable part of an earth ship is devoted to growing food; there are many plants at the front of the house where they get good access to sunlight and can be productive all year. Also, the plant roots are used to filter used water into grey water that can be used to flush toilets.

Michael Reynolds designs make use of easily available waste materials:

  • Used tires are packed with dirt to form the back berm of the house, these packed tires offer significant thermal mass and help maintain the temperature in the buildings. The builder usually covers the tires with earth and plants to the rear. At the front, they are plastered over using Adobe or other materials.
  • Old bottles are used as a decorative way to reduce the amount of cement needed for walls, the same with old Aluminum Cans.
Functionally, the Earthships live almost like conventional homes. Kitchens feature oven-ranges that cook using propane; low-energy-use refrigerators, including freezers capable of making and keeping ice; stainless double-sinks.
Microwave ovens and dishwashers consume a large amount of power, so many Earthships do not use them.
Bathrooms look and feel just like traditional WCs except for the double faucets – one for consumption and one for all other uses.
Storage and charging of electric cars are built into the design of garages.
Near Taos, New Mexico, the Earthship community currently consists of about 77 owners of the 158 total homes planned for here. Much like a homeowners’ association, each owner pays “HOA” dues – in this case, about $150 per year; which is used for maintaining and ploughing the roads.