Interview with Satoki Nagata (Night Street Photography)

Satoki Nagata has multiple types of work, environmental, documentary & street photography. Here's an interview with him and a few questions about his night street photography.

Satoki, please tell us about a bit about yourself
I am a Japanese photographer who has been living in downtown Chicago since 1992. In the eighteen years I’ve lived here, the city has not just changed; it has changed me. My goal as an artist is to find and show the various connections that form the reality in which the city and its people exist.
I have learned from Zen Buddhism that our existence is composed of various relationships. This notion has inspired me to use photography to create relationships with the world to find myself.
The camera is a powerful tool that allows me not just to approach the subject, but to capture the relationships as well as create a new relationship between myself and my subjects.I am always trying to create intimate bonds with my subjects while photographing, and I believe that this is the only way to show their reality and their relationship to the world.
For me making photographs is equal to making relationships with the world. Through these images, I hope you will discover the subtle but substantial links captured in my photographs and feel a connection to the world I document.

What inspired you to become a photographer?
I needed to do something creative with my life. I first chose to be a scientist. My work satisfied me about 10 years following the 10 that I spent in academia, but I soon realized its limitations. I needed a new platform that could support my creative ambition, challenge my mind, and focus my energy.


I happened to realize that photography, which I have enjoyed since high school, is one of the contemporary art forms and an amiable option. I had been enjoy taking photographs since I moved to Chicago from Japan and I decided to do it seriously.
First I did street photography then started exploring aspects of documentary as well. The process of finding and developing my own visual voice has been challenging and exciting. Then I left science and rerouted all of my passion to photography.


What purpose does it serve for you?
Photography is about vision. Capturing my vision of the world is challenging and the process satiates my desire to create. Apart from practice, the images captured create an involved narrative.
What Genre’ of photography are you most comfortable working in?
I am mainly making environmental portraits, documentary and street photography. I enjoy making images that depict the emotional lives of people.


Can you describe a few of your trigger mechanisms that make you want to stop and shoot?
I always think of what, why, and how my photographs will communicate as images. They are back in my head. I am ready to have emotional connections with subjects and when I see or feel something special, I take photos. I do not take a lot of photos in general, but if I see something I take many and try to reveal my interior ideal.
Why use flash in Street Photography? Don't you find it intrusive?
Chicago’s winter is dark and long. I want to make images containing people’s lives in Chicago during winter, to show everyday subtle moments of people on its streets. I discovered how best to portray these feelings was through a visual aesthetic created by the use of off-camera flash.
What is most important for me is that the image conveys a person’s feelings living in the city very well. I think photography itself is an intrusive media so the answer is yes it is intrusive (regardless of using flash or not). In practical situations, using flash is not much more intrusive than making regular close portraits of people on streets.
What is your process? (Do you setup a flash trap?, etc)
Not exactly, flash is on a stand and triggered by a transmitter on the camera. When I use flash on the street, there are many parameters that need to be considered. Basic parameters are, as you know, aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and flash power.
Each needs to be adjusted for ambient light, which is related to background, and subject as well. Distance between flash and subject, subject and camera, are also important factors. Sometimes I use multiple flashes in a single image so one is fired through transmitter and the others must be fired manually.
Depending on the background, I sometimes use a monopod to stabilize the camera. This makes it sound like I don’t move much in setting a “trap”, but actually I often change the position of flash and quickly move myself as subjects come toward me. Sometimes, I just pass by the person, setup, and wait.
For those who are not too much into flash:  The photographer essentially controls two parts of the image, the part that is not hit by the flash or ambient light & the part that is hit by the flash. The photographer can mix and match the two to lighten or darken one area. The Ghastly effect is achieved when the flash freezes the subject on the sensor but there's not enough time for the subject to be completely recorded. What camera are you working with currently and why?
I use the Leica M8, M9, and M240. Their rangefinders are small; making manual focusing quick and accurate.

Are you self taught, educated or a little bit of both?
I did not get a formal education in photography. However, I had a mentor who is a photojournalist and learned photography from him for 4 years before I became full time. It was an excellent. Without my mentor, Damaso Reyes, I would not have developed my distinct vision of photography.
Where in the world are you located?
Chicago, IL, US
Any closing comments?
I greatly appreciate being featured here. The latest information about my projects will be posted on my website and Facebook page so please check if you are interested. I am working on an exciting record project right now with French music composer Laurent Levesque.
[highlight] Satoki Nagata [/highlight]

Photograph by D Nestorovic
Photograph by D Nestorovic

For more of Satoki's work please check out his website and Facebook page. Satoki will be featured in an upcoming issue of Inspired Eye.


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4 thoughts on “Interview with Satoki Nagata (Night Street Photography)”

  1. So are (most of) these photographs staged/posed? Even if not, it seems awfully elaborate to bring stands and flash(es) into the street. The effect with a flash behind the subject is striking, even if (imho, sorry) it becomes less interesting after a few images. Still, it is better than the bizarre images of Bruce Golden which leave nothing to the imagination and distort human beings into weird, freakish creatures.

    As for the article, I would have preferred a bit more on how Nagata developed his vision, to use an over-used word, to arrive at this style.

  2. Pingback: INSPIRED EYE | 10 creativity tips for your street photography

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