Ambient artificial light 3 (Shintaro and Zachmann)

In the previous postings of this series, I have looked at the effect of ambient artificial light in lighting the scene. By contrast, Sato Shintaro’s ‘Night Lights’ series is all about the light source itself. This is a set of images made in Tokyo and Osaka between 1997 and 1999, showing the clutter of advertising illuminations and deliberately excluding people.

Although the course notes tell us that these are ‘blue hour’ images, the skies are uniformly black and it is the artificial sources that illuminate everything. From the level of detail, these appear to be large-format film images (Shintaro tells us that ‘Tokyo Twilight Zone’ was shot on large-format film and these appear similar). The images are crisp and vibrant and capture the look, if not the bustle, of these cities at night.

Shintaro’s ‘blue hour’ images are in his ‘Tokyo Twilight Zone’ set (2002-2008). These are all taken from Tokyo fire escapes, giving horizontal views over the city, but usually from back-street locations (where the fire escapes are) rather than tourist spots.

Use of the ‘blue hour’ preserves some colour in the sky and sufficient light to show some detail in unlit areas, but our attention is taken by the artificial light elements. Unlike ‘Night Lights’  these are not advertising features but working lights such as the streetlights , the railway floodlights and the office window lights in the image above. In this set, we get a sense of how the city ‘ticks’

Patrick Zachmann is a Magnum photographer who has been photographing in China since 1982, and in colour at night since 2001. His ‘China Nights’ images (Magnum 2014) cover everything lit up at night, from construction sites to nightclubs.

CHINA. Guangdong. Town of Humen. 2005. Massage parlor.

CHINA. Guangdong. Town of Humen. 2005. Massage parlor.

Zachmann’s  images concern the integration of people and artificial light. Migrant construction workers and sex workers feature large, and there is no romanticisation. These images are different from his normal documentary style, much more impressionistic, but most give a feeling that there is abuse or coercion somewhere in the background. The treatment is good, some of the lighting is beautiful, but it is not an easy set to view.


Magnum (2104) China Nights 2005 – Patrick Zachmann [online] at: [search string omitted for clarity]

Shintaro, S.(s.d.) Night Lights [online] at:

Shintaro, S. (s.d.) Tokyo Twilight Zone [online] at:



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