Artificial Light: Photographers – Sato Shintaro

All images from with kind permission from Shintaro.

12th July 2021

Neon lights, shimmering neon lights and at the fall of night this city’s made of light’sang electro-pop pioneers Kraftwerk. Japanese photographer Sato Shintaro uses the ‘blue hour’, the period of time between dusk and night, to depict a Tokyo made of light. His series Night Lights demonstrates that  night photography doesn’t have to be dark. In fact it’s a good idea to keep exposures quite high to avoid reducing your night shots to isolated pools of light within a black frame. 

OCA EYV 2014:85

Looking through Shintaro’s website has been quite a pleasure. All of his series have been shot at night which enhances the artificial lights that he captures within his images, creating powerful two dimensional planes with an abundance of visual information.

Shintaro explains that the same lights at different times of the day and night are not visually the same. Night time produces a far more varied colour range in its sky as well as the signboards which become vivid and far more intense. (2009)

Each series works on the theme of lights at night but they are all so very different in visual content. Within the images we are met with lines, shapes, form and colour which give a sense of three-dimensions.

The compositions within each of Shintaro’s series are from different viewpoints. Looking at the following three series, ‘Night Lights’, ‘Tokyo Twilight Zone’ and ‘The Origin of Tokyo’ we can note that,

  • ‘Night Lights’ – different viewpoints, with leading lines leading the viewers eyes through the rhythm of the focus elements. ‘Take a brightly-lit busy street bustling with people and remove the people: the purpose of the lighting is lost and only the glow remains – providing a glimpse of the streets we know well from a less familiar perspective…’ (Shintaro, S. s.d.)
  • ‘Tokyo Twilight Zone’ – from around the 10th floor on a fire escape, viewers eye looks out horizontally at the city (Shintaro, S. s.d.)
  • ‘The Origin of Tokyo’ – high viewpoint, panoramic images

Night Lights (1997-1999)

In an interview with Japan Exposures (2009), Shintaro discusses ‘Night Lights’.

I took the photos in adult entertainment districts in Osaka and Tokyo — kind of red light districts. When I first saw these densely populated areas, I thought that I had to take pictures there. I was fascinated with this kind of area, and so I took pictures, especially of all these signboards. I like densely formatted photos, like those of William Klein, or Osamu Kanemura. Maybe these shops set out their signboards just for their practical need, and not for the beauty of them. But from my vantage point, these signboards created some beautiful rhythms and shapes. I think this unconscious or unintentional beauty is interesting.

Shintaro, S. (2009)

Another aspect, and an important one for me, is that the content of the ‘Night Lights’ images are filled with text, or in this case bold Japanese characters. The equally vibrant and picturesque markings are just as dynamic as the focus elements of light, colour, lines, shapes and forms that over lap one another within Shintaro’s compositions. They are a contrast to the colours, and break up the challenging visual formations present and draw our eyes around the picture plane just as much as the colour forms do.

Shintaro’s urban ‘Night Lights’ series shows no human presence other than inanimate objects such as bicycles. In the interview with Japan Exposures (2009), Shintaro explains that he did not want people in his shots because the viewers to his work see the people and are distracted from the rhythms of the focus elements in his images.

To obtain people free images, Shintaro would have to cover up his lens so that people would not appear in the frame, “… So to make a 30 seconds exposure, I have to be shooting in this place for about 30 minutes…” Shintaro, S. (2009)

Sato Shintaro’s images in ‘Night Life’ are composed of a wealth of visual information. The light, colours, lines, text, shapes and forms construct an energetic experience and they often remind me of paintings which I like to look over to see the different aspects in play. For me, being introduced to the work of Sato Shinataro as been such a positive and inspiring thing which has informed my next practical exercise connected with the topic of artificial lights.


Fig 1. Shintaro, S. (1997-1999) Kabukicho, Tokyo Kabukicho, Tokyo (Photograph) (Accessed 23.07.2021)

Fig. 2 Shintaro. S (1997-1999) Kamata, Tokyo Dogenzaka, Tokyo (Photograph) (Accessed 23.07.2021)

Fig. 3 Shintaro, S. (1997-1999) Nishi- Kamata, Tokyo (Photograph) (Accessed 23.07.2021)

Fig. 4 Shintaro, S. (1997-1999) Asagaya-Minami, Tokyo (Photograph) (Accessed 23.07.2021)



Shintaro, S. (2009) Interview with Shintaro Sato. At: (Accessed 16.07.2021)

Shintaro, S. (s.d.) Sato Shintaro: Archive. At: (Accessed 17.07.2021)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s