Christian Coigny

‘Christian Coigny’ is a self-titled photographic exhibition at the Musée Historique de Lausanne, Switzerland that showcases the work of the Swiss photographer Christian Coigny.  The core of the exhibition was about 70 retrospective black and white prints of his personal artwork projects.  Two other rooms with mixed media displays showcased Coigny’s professional commercial work for high end luxury companies such as Chopard, Hermès and Krug.


The visit to this exhibition was timely in that it coincided with Exercise 4.4 (Ex nihlo) which starts to examine the various qualities of light. Coigny’s images rely heavily on his lighting and therefore my intent was to look at the images from this perspective and to use as a learning exercise. It was looking less at intent but more on technique.

Coigny’s personal work centres around still life, portraits and nudes although occasionally landscapes. Common to all of these images is that he uses lighting to create the mood.  From very low key subtle studio lit still life images to his very high key outdoor portraits Coigny is always aware of and has complete control over the lighting.  When you look deeper it is not lighting for lighting sake but my feeling is that he is fascinated with form and does everything with that lighting to accentuate the form in the subject.

The other thing upon observation is that many of the images on first glance seem complicated but when you analyse they are quite simple.  There are very few elements contained within.  Through the use of his lighting he builds up the image to draw more out the light so the light itself becomes part of the subject.  Coigny says of himself about light “I love the soft light that envelops everything” and add that he considerers himself “a sensory photographer, not intellectual” [1].  What I understand from that is he is more concerned with the physical substance of the subject rather than any meaning behind.  Almost photography at its purest form of recording what is there. A purest perhaps and why all his personal images are represented in black and white and confirmed in a press review of the exhibition that stated “The black and white prints have the strength to accentuate the delicate” [2].

What I am not sure about is how he thinks about light in that does he have the overall concept in mind first and build up the light to reflect this.  Or in fact does he start with the light and in understanding what it can offer and then build his image from there.  I would suspect the answer is a combination of both and is second nature but to someone like me on the learning curve it is a good pointer to know.

Also Coigny calls himself a self-taught photographer and admits he has learnt the hard way by his mistakes.  It is always good to hear statements like this when you look at work such as this in that it does not happen overnight.

It could be argued that Coigny’s personal work is perhaps a little clichéd because seems to focus on light and form rather than message and intent.  It is almost seems at times that it is beyond photography and is recreating art.  In other words the camera is just used as the recording device.  I would not subscribe to this but would rather look at the picture for what it is which is a beautifully created and lit scene.  To that end I have selected three images just to look in a little more detail that I could see that give me pointers for Exercise 4.4

Image 1: Lighting Analysis

Coigny 01

Nature mort (2003) © Christian Coigny. Reproduced with kind permission of Christian Coigny

Besides a very simple composition that gives great visual balance and weight of objects the lighting here for me emphasises both the texture of the objects and the spacing in between.  Looking at the shadows I would assume there is an overhead light that is just offset from the table that creates the main shadows that can be seen under the plates.  However it must be placed at an angle so as the lighting does not too flat and that also the light has not leached over the front of the table cloth.  I would also suggest there is either a light or reflector at the front so as to give texture within the freshly ironed folds of the cloth.

The lighting is overcoming three differing surface types: the hard reflectiveness of the ceramic plates, the softness yet crispness of the table cloth, and the dried organic matter of the leaves.  Therefore the lighting has to cope with both the geometric man made shapes as well as the free form natural shape of the leaves. A diffuser could have been used on the light from above but looking at the reflection on the plates I would suspect not as perhaps Coigny wanted to exaggerate the harshness of the ceramics.

Image 2: Lighting Analysis

Coigny 02

Ombre et bol (1993) © Christian Coigny. Reproduced with kind permission of Christian Coigny

With this image the visual dynamics have been enhanced by the choice of a much more low key approach to the lighting compared to the previous image.  There is clearly one main light to the top right of the vase.  I would suggest it is quite near as it is giving a harsh shadow on the bowl.  What I cannot quite figure out is the shadow falling on the wall.  Originally I thought it was just the back wall however on close inspection it could be a wall placed at an angle to the table.  It could be we are looking at the table square on but it has been placed at a strange angle to the wall.

Here the harder lighting emphasises the form of the bowl and creates a shadow around the edges similar to that of the moon.  While the bowl appears smooth this does bring out the texture that is apparent on the bowl.

Image 3: Lighting Analysis

Coigny 03

Pudeur (1993) © Christian Coigny. Reproduced with kind permission of Christian Coigny

For this image I would suggest the light set up is probably less complex than it first appears. I would assume the main light is front left and quite low and reasonably near to get depth in the shadows. To the right will either be a secondary source or reflector just to kill off the harshness out of the shadows.  A light is the facing the background to give a depth between the subject and the background so as she does not become an outline.  This can be seen in the distinction between the right arm shadow and the background.

Careful use of depth of field further separates the distance between the subject and the background. The lighting also takes us through the full tonal range of blacks in the hair where detail can be seen through to the whites of the cover again retaining the weave of the cloth. If I were to describe the light in artistic terms I would say it creates a harmony of curves, flowing lines that emphasises the form of the model, but also highlights the contours to create a very realistic stylish picture.

It works well because of a combination of the lighting and a simplicity of composition in that there is very little clutter and distractions for the light to shadows to get ‘caught’ under.


Overall I very much enjoyed the exhibition and has definitely acted as a catalyst for idea.  I bought the rather lavish exhibition catalogue as a future reference point.

The exhibition runs from 6th March to 28th June 2015 and is at the Musée Historique de Lausanne, Place de la Cathédrale 4, Lausanne, Switzerland

Visited 24th June 2015



[1] Besençon, Jean-Blaise (2015) Christian Coigny: «Je suis un photographe sensoriel, pas intellectuel», L’illustré [Online] [Last accessed 27 June 2015]

[2] Sarah (2015) Christian Coigny magistral au Musée historique, Lausanne Bondy Blog [Online] [Last accessed 27 June 2015]



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