Starry Street Photos of Chicago Captured Using an Off-Camera Flash


Japanese photographer Satoki Nagata moved to Chicago in 1992 to document the city and its people. His background is in neuroscience (he has a PhD in the field), but his passion is creating intimate documentary photography projects in his city.

During a recent winter, Nagata decided to try his hand at using a flash for street photography at night. Instead of mounting his flash to his camera, however, he decided to use it off camera. Combined with the light rain and falling snow, the flash turned many of his photographs into abstract and surreal images that almost look as though he overlaid photographs of stars.

The resulting series is titled “Lights in Chicago.” Nagata tells us,

In my most recent work I see the light and shadow produced by flash is the pure form of reality of people living in the city. Inside the bright light line, the significance of existence of the person appears. The image is abstract and surrealistic but also full of life and personality. Transparent layerings are created by flash with slow shutter speed and no reflection is involved in these images.

He stumbled upon the “look” seen in these images by placing his flash behind his subjects and using a slower shutter speed. Although the photos may look like double exposures, reflections, or Photoshop jobs, they’re actually ordinary single exposures.

“I like the simplicity of this technique,” Nagata says.









You can find more of Nagata’s work over onhis website.

Lights in Chicago by Satoki Nagata (via Colossal)

Image credits: Photographs by Satoki Nagata and used with permission

  • siva

    Some of these photos are interesting. Would have liked to see some shots in colour though.

  • Christian DeBaun

    Lovely work!

  • Richard

    Fantastic work and a great idea to put the flash behind them. Makes street work quite tough but he’s pulled it off very well.

  • Ian Lindo

    These look wonderful! I’d like to replicate this look some day.

  • harumph

    Cool, but boy oh boy, do I hate artist’s statements.

    “[…]the light and shadow produced by flash is the pure form of reality of
    people living in the city. Inside the bright light line, the
    significance of existence of the person appears.”

    Come on, man, that’s just nonsense.

  • Joey Duncan

    Why? you are looking at somebody else’s work, not yours. That statement is irrelevant. He chose to have them in BW, not color.

  • lograffi

    the flash light is like my heart and my eyes… mmmmm …. pew pew pew laser gun!

  • piergi

    i really like to see those in kodakrome… btw velvia ftw

  • Benjamin Chase

    Fantastic work, and B/W is the perfect medium for this, IMHO. Wonderful!

  • Burnin Biomass

    While I might not agree with Siva (I love the B&W), If he thinks he would like to see them in color, its a fair statement.

    Its like saying you cannot criticize part of a movie (or say you would like to have seen “this” happen) because you didn’t make the movie.

  • Michael Bartosek

    I figure I’ll never be an artist because 90% of the time I read the statements and go…”huh?”. The shots are pretty wonderful and certainly inpsiring, kudos on the images, really quite amazing.

  • john arkright

    Mr Zhang, “Combined with the light rain and falling slow”, you meant “snow” instead of “slow” right. ;)

  • contribuorM

    Right LMAO

  • Russ Campbell

    Complaining about artist’s statements IS my artist’s statement.

  • lidocaineus

    It’s presumptuous of you to generalize all artists’ statements like this.

    Grammar nitpick: “artists'” if you’re referring to everyone in general, “the artist’s” if you’re referring to his in particular.

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  • harumph

    Corrected just so you’ll sleep a little better. But I stand by my generalization. I hate artists’ statements. That’s neither presumptuous nor inaccurate. It’s simply a statement of fact. I hate them. Including the ones that I’ve written.

  • harumph

    I think I’m going to cut and paste this the next time a gallery owner forces me to write an artist statement.

  • Jenaeth

    Is it really? #1 could you communicate on that level in a language that wasn’t your native languare? #2 if you feel it’s “nonsense,” why not ask him and try to actually understand what he’s saying? Boy do I hate glib, prententious blog comments.

  • Enriqueta Brasini

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  • lidocaineus

    Wow. If you’ve written artist statements that you hate, I’d be extremely wary of your pieces. Artist statements can be simple, straightforward, with a hint of open endedness for the people viewing the art; these are the most effective and I’ve seen plenty of these.

    If you can’t communicate a few words on your own pieces effectively, why should I even begin to consider your art, which is trying to say way more in a much more difficult manner?

  • harumph

    You’re really trying to argue with me about whether or not I hate artist statements? That’s like trying to tell me that I really do like brussel sprouts, and I’m being insulting and presumptuous to say that I hate them.

  • harumph

    You’re missing the point. I don’t need the artist to explain these photos to me. I like them. I like looking at them. I don’t need the artist to try and explain their meaning. A stream of art-school-freshman gibberish adds nothing to that experience.

    Whether English is his native language or not is entirely beside the point, because that word salad that I quoted above communicates absolutely nothing. It’s literally meaningless. I mean, I guess you could argue that there’s some sort of abstract poetry in there or something, but if the intent of the statement is to illuminate and enrich the work, then it failed.

    And my comment was “pretentious”? No, you’re confused. My comment was the opposite of pretentious. It’s what I’m railing against. Pretentious is when you misuse words like “pretentious” just because you think they sound good.

  • lidocaineus

    Yes. Generalizations are the realm of the ignorant. Now if you said that you don’t like vague artist statements that make broad statements without any actual meaning, that’d be totally valid. Saying you hate all artist statements isn’t comparable to brussel sprouts, as sprouts all have a basic, similar underlying taste no matter how you prepare them. It’s more akin to you saying “I hate books,” or “I hate art criticism.” It makes no sense because the coverage is so broad and varied.

  • Burnin Biomass


  • Burnin Biomass

    There is a group of people who think any artist statement is unnecessary and dont like them. They think that the art should speak for itself, and if you have to explain your art, it failed.

    It’s is a valid point of view, and its no reason to be implying someone is ignorant in thinking such.

  • lidocaineus

    I’d respond by supporting that view; believing artist statements are unnecessary and giving a reason is perfectly valid, though I don’t agree with it simply because artist statements can be so varied: one of my favorite artist statements simply said “Black and white patterns are fascinating.”

    However that’s not what he said. He said he hated all artist statements. If i said i hate all Inuits and leave it at that, would that make any more sense?

  • Burnin Biomass

    If you dislike the idea of an artist statement, I think you can say you dislike them (or hate) because of the idea that you need them or that they are in any way necessary. I think you can hate them (or to be precise, the idea of them) while acknowledging that some might be written well. Or as it looks in this case, hating artists statements and how they are written.

  • harumph

    Well, it is interesting that, “Black and white patterns are fascinating,” is one of your favorites, because it really gets to the core of why I consider artist statements to be an utterly useless addition to any body of work. Even having not seen the work in question, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that statement couldn’t possibly contribute anything at all. If another viewer standing next to me in the gallery said that out loud, I would think, “Yeah, no sh*t, Sherlock, we get it.” Unless it’s just meant as an ironic joke about the pointlessness of artist statement, and then it’s still just reinforcing my point.

    Your Inuit metaphor makes no sense at all. Your entire argument here seems to be based on idea that my comment, “I hate artists’ statements,” was translated in your brain to read, “I hate each and every artist statement ever written, because I’ve read every single one of them and they are all terrible.”

    So I’ll just end this by quoting you: “[B]elieving artist statements are unnecessary and giving a reason is perfectly valid…”

  • lidocaineus

    My Inuit metaphor is entirely apt, because it’s just as terse as your statement, and just as vague. Do I hate every Inuit? Do I have the idea of Inuits? Do I hate what Inuits represent? Do I hate one Inuits, but haven’t iterated which ones? Who knows, because my statement was unclear and unsupported.

    What you posted was lazy. It took until this last response for you to actually validate your statement, as you explained why you didn’t like the particular artist’s statement I liked (and to extension, explained why you don’t like artist statements in general). I still think it’s entirely misguided, but as Evelyn Beatrice Hall famously stated, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

  • lidocaineus

    I completely agree with you. Just as I do not like all books for specific reasons, I do not like all artists’ statements also for specific reasons. I also acknowledge you can dislike the idea of artists’ statements. But if you’re going to make large, blanket statements like that, they need to be explained or qualified with reasons or examples, otherwise you really don’t come off as knowing what you’re talking about.

  • GokhanCukurova

    well said..

  • GokhanCukurova

    I have the honor of knowing this photographer personally. Wonderful human being, very good photographer.

  • siva

    Since posting my penny’s worth, this article has produced some very interesting comments and I have enjoyed reading each opinion whether I agree with it or not.

  • Satoki Nagata

    Some of images works in color, but I have a work flow for B&W which took few years to establish. I might try it in color in future.

  • Satoki Nagata

    Thanks for comments about Artist Statements. It is always challenging me to write it. My background was science. English in science and art is very different. I asked to check to native friend but I know the original sentence should be clear otherwise it is difficult to get good results.

  • Michael Zhang

    Thanks John!

  • Antonio Carrasco

    These photos are just great. Very creative

  • siva

    Thank you Satoki. I look forward to seeing more of your work.

  • poohlou

    I like the radiance, mystery, texture, contrast and transparency in these images. Thanks for sharing.