Chicago in Flash Street Photography

outline of man against shop window

Photographing a place that has appeared in pictures thousands or even millions of times in a completely different ‘light’ is a challenging task. They say it’s even tougher when you’re not a local. It takes a native to know his/her own city, the little nooks and cranies that tourists often miss unless they have someone to show them around.

Photographer Satoki Nagata is behind these beautiful photos of The Windy City. After graduating with a Ph.D. in neuroscience at the Nagoya University in Japan, Nagata decided to move to the United States in 1992 to pursue photography more seriously.

After living in Chicago for quite some time, he began taking pictures of the city and the people of Chicago. This was done with much zeal, despite him not receiving any form of formal education in photography. Nagata enjoyed making close documentaries in the city, shooting his subjects with his SLR camera in the streets of Chicago. The Japanese photo enthusiast has been documenting not models or celebrities, but regular people going about their daily lives ever since.

outline of woman through window

Burning with passion, he felt like making more use of his camera by trying out short-term projects and then later exploring more complicated ones. His first one took two years and was focused on the inhabitants near the Red Line station of Chicago—the part tourists don’t usually see: the poverty-stricken and drug-addicted. The project introduced him to his next one, which he called Cabrini-Green: Frances Cabrini Rowhouses as the people he photographed came from the old row houses.

In his recent series of abstract-looking work named Lights in Chicago, Nagata experimented on his usual street photography with some off-camera flash placed behind the subject rather than in front, and shot using a slow shutter speed simultaneously. It’s usually difficult to shoot during circumstances of rain and snowfall but Nagata pulled it off well, resulting in what may appear to be double exposures. The series featured photographs that seemed to have layers of stars and specks of stardust and galaxies, adding a dreamlike quality to the images.

outline of man in snowy street environment

Nagata draws inspiration from Zen Buddhism. He believes that he can use photography as a means of creating and discovering links that bridge together an environment and its people. In this case, his hometown of 18 years, Chicago.

After viewing the Lights in Chicago series, one might feel a certain connection with the city, even if he/she has not even visited the place before. This is Satoki Nagata’s goal: to help people realize the understated connections between a reality, a person and a world.

person huddled under umbrella walking in snow

Though Nagata was previously an outsider looking in, he has definitely seen Chicago for what it truly is. Check out the series on his website.

Patricia Ramos

Patricia Ramos

I am a freelance photographer who is no stranger to smudged lenses, long hours in front of the computer, heavy camera bags (and the back aches that ensued) and missing lens caps. If you know what I'm talking about, you probably have as much love and passion for photography as I do.