Category Archives: Exhibitions

Seuls Le Temps et La Glace Sont Maîtres (Only Time and Ice are Masters)

Seuls Le Temps et La Glace Sont Maîtres (Only Time and Ice are Masters) is an exhibition of about 10 large scale colour prints by Bruno and Dorota Sénéchal demonstrating the effect of climate change on our global ice environment on show at the Musée-Château d’Annecy, France.


My response to the exhibition is twofold:

  • Location and Setting:
    The large scale prints in two rooms of an old château certainly make an impressive setting and you have the room to stand back and review the magnificence of the patterns in the ice from a distance.  There is fascinating detail in the ice.  They have captured designs that we would not normally see from stray ice face fractions of icebergs and glaciers, and translucent frozen water fragments make us lose all concept of size and dimension. I like the way that tiny detail has been exploded out into a very large almost mono-chromatically format.  Not the ‘usual’ glacier or ice pictures you tend to see when touching this topic.

WP_20160217_010 WP_20160217_011

  • Purpose:
    The purpose of the exhibition is to make us to make us aware of the beauty and fragility of nature and therefore though some global partnership to fight against climate change in order to preserve the balance of the Earth.  I think it is well done via the large format prints but does not tell us anything new.  We have been aware of the effects of global warming/climate change for a couple of decades now.  Yes it is a reinforcement message but I did not walk away with the feeling that there has been a stepped change in circumstances.  It was an expertly executed sobering reminder but in terms of message other than the quality of images nothing new.



From 4th December 2015 to 29th February  2016, Musée-Château d’Annecy   Place du château 74000 Annecy, France

Visited 19th February 2016


Point of View

‘Point of View’ is a major photographic print exhibition at the Musée de L’Elysée, Lausanne, Switzerland retrospectively featuring the work of the Swiss Magnum photographer Werner Bischof to mark the centenary of his birth. Over 200 mainly black and white prints are on display. Included are also some unpublished works. The exhibition concentrates on his photojournalistic work in Europe (1945-1950), Asia (1951-1952), and North and South America (1953-1954). Bischof met an untimely end at the age of 38 when his car fell off a cliff on a mountain road in the Andes, and all three passengers were killed.

While I would not normally write a ‘biography’ of a photographer as part of my response to an exhibition visit I think in the case of Werner Bischof this has to be an exception in that his life and experiences determined the content of his images.

Bischof originally trained, studied and worked as an advertising, fashion and portrait photographer in Switzerland. While working for the Zürich based magazine Du the editor encouraged his latent photojournalism skills. Although Switzerland remained neutral during the Second World War Bischof was conscripted as a soldier and was deeply affected by his witness of the desperate conditions, poverty and despair he saw from the Swiss border.

After the war finished, and based on his experiences, Bischof set off on a number of trips around Europe to record the ravages and effect war had on the ordinary people. During this time his work established him as one of the foremost photojournalists of his day. His pictures tended to have the theme of isolation, alienation, trauma, and struggle. They were not sensationalist but recorded things as they were but with a strong sense of composition to emphasis the point.

His body of work ´Europe being Rebuilt´ demonstrated him as a socially conscious photographer was soon recognised and became a member of the original Magnum Photos team. From then started travelling extensively for LIFE magazine.

For the rest of his remaining short life in his work he continued to somehow find the beauty of nature and humanity in the most desperate of conditions such as famine in India or poverty in Asia. While he recorded those at the social margins of life his images did not strip them of their sense of dignity for sensationalist reporting.

As the body of work on display was extensive I highlight the following three differing images for my viewing response:

Taken in 1948 this picture show the total destruction of Warsaw and the state of the place three years after the war. We cannot but help feel for the citizens who are dwarfed by the scale of the destruction. We know not where the people walk to or why, but we know that somehow they continue their lives in the shadow of the destruction. In fact there is little in this picture, essentially people and rubble. However it is the way that from his distant standpoint Bischof combines the two. Also from that distance the subjects are faceless and almost ghostlike being that just walk the street.
Interesting that we now see this picture as a historical record. We cannot believe how things were then. Yet that was a reality. Therefore a contemporary viewer of the time may well have had a differing view that we see and feel today in that bomb damage was more mundane as it was more common place. Therefore this image serves both as part of a photojournalistic and historical statement. (5th image)

Victim of Hiroshima
The beauty of this photograph (if beauty is the right word to escribe such a horrific incident) is that the image works both well as a photojournalistic statement and also that as an excellent piece of photo craft.
We are left in no doubt as to the point of the picture. We see the suffering of the individual and we also see the destruction of the total infrastructure around him. We do not have to see the face to understand what this person has endured. What is noticeable is the absence of any middle ground in the picture. This maybe the fact that there actually was not any (as it was all destroyed) or more than likely Bischof framed the shot so to emphasise the foreground. Interesting to note that the building in the background today has become the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.
From a technique perspective it is an excellently crafted study in form and composition. The natural lighting conditions with harsh shadows showing the relief of the scars and the almost artistic pose reflect Bischof’s advertising skill yet they are used here to demonstrate suffering rather than consumerism.

Famine in Bihar
In some respect today we are used to pictures of famine. They are still distressing but they are not ‘new’ to us. I would argue that those images we see today are aimed more to mobilise people to do something about famine (donate money, clothes, political action etc) rather than as Bischof did that is just record the fact of what is happening. He felt the need to communicate events and problems but remained as a detached observer rather than as a changer. Yet his images were powerful enough to cause reaction and extra support for the region. In this pitiful picture from 1951 Bischof has chosen an unusual angle that highlights the plight of the mother and her child. The low angle captures the mother looking outward to someone passing rather than her attention captured by Bischof. He as a photographer cannot offer her anything, yet perhaps that passing person can. The child with stomach swelled by hunger does not understand and looks is if it is mimicking the mother in holding a hand out for food. The strong white background ensures the focus is purely on the subjects and nothing to distract us from this point. Yet the picture is expertly balanced and we can see that Bischof does not lose his sense of composition even in the most extreme situations

A much bigger theme occurred to me here is that since Bischof’s time is that of the decline and almost death of the photojournalistic profession. How would have Bischof fared today in a time of shoestring budgets for anything else but a headline story and the “omnipresent citizen journalists equipped with smart phones and a broadband connection” [1].

It is a theme that is much worthy of a greater debate and this exhibition review is not the right place however in respect of Bischof’s place in photojournalistic hall of fame as Hostetler notes
In the 1960s, as video journalism replaced the role of picture magazines, the Fund for Concerned Photography was established to preserve and recognize the contributions of photographers whose social dedication and acute humanity changed people’s understanding of their own and foreign cultures. Bischof’s achievements were duly recognized, as he was one of the first photographers whose work the Fund collected.” [2]

Point of View is at Musée de L’Elysée, Lausanne, Switzerland, 27 January – 01 May 2016

Visited 16 February 2016

[1] Muirhead, Nic (2014) Is Photojournalism Dying? The Listening Post, Aljazeera [Available Online] [Last accessed 5 Mar 2016]

[2]Lisa Hostetler, Lisa (nd) Werner Bischof, International Centre of Photography [Available Online] [Last accessed 5 Mar 2016]

Swiss Press Photo 15

Swiss Press Photo 15 is an exhibition of work by award winning Swiss press photographers taken in 2014.  The photographs have been divided into six categories – News, Daily Life, Swiss Stories, People, Sports and World.  In all there must have been about 100 images on display with most being colour.  This is the first exhibition I have attended where the images have been printed onto some form of material, hung in a darkened environment and then backlit to display the image.  The result was a cross between a computer display and a cinema screen.  For me it added to the viewing experience.


For me this exhibition was all about the importance of context.  Without understand the subject matter or the background story it would have been difficult to appreciate many of the images.  Yes they were all technically very good but without the context the viewer would have a sense of wanting.  Clearly by the nature of the exhibition we know that each of the images relates to some journalistic event, and therefore they would have either been published in a newspaper, journal or on-line and they are of sufficient quality/importance to have won an award.

Take for instance the picture of a football match by Reto Oeschger (see link below).  Clearly we see it is of goal mouth action and something has happened.  The more astute will see the teams are Switzerland and Argentina but that is all we can determine.  What we find out from the text that accompanies the picture is that this is indeed a match between Switzerland and Argentina at World Cup in Brazil in 2014.  Switzerland are 1:0 down and only need a draw to stay in the competition.  This photo captures the point where in the last few minutes the Swiss player Dzmaili heads the ball, which hits the post.   The Swiss lose the game and are out the competition.

The question is then raised of how much is this a good photograph in its own right or does its weight rely 100% on the context.  In this case the timing and positioning of the shot is judged well but I would argue the image relies 85% on context.  In taking the context and the image as a total it does not matter.  The image and the context are mere parts which add together to give us the viewer the total understanding.

There are times when without external context or information we are not aware can, just by looking at the picture, we are led to the wrong conclusion.  Take for example the image by Jean Revillard (see link below).  We see a young lady cowering and frightened behind a large metal door.  All around there looks destruction – the fallen rock and the burnt floor.  From what we see clearly it is a scene of conflict, fear and hopelessness– Syria perhaps.

Yet the reality could not be further from our deduction.  “People with electro-hypersensitivity purportedly experience physical symptoms when exposed to electromagnetic fields. In order to get rid of any excess charge, they earth themselves. To recuperate they withdraw to places far from the electromagnetic fields caused by WiFi networks, aerials and transformers, such as the wilderness of the French departments of Drôme or Hautes-Alpes”.[1] How would we ever know that?

Therefore with this image it is interesting that it works at two levels (1) in which we can draw a conclusion (albeit incorrect) because it is a very strong stand alone image (compared to that of the football match picture) (2) by given context it completely changes our understanding and in this case would have aroused our curiosity in that we would want to know more thus would read the text of the whole story if we had seen it in the original printed journal form.

Context is a complicated subject an one I hope is explored further in other modules.

Overall I enjoyed the exhibition, the quality of the images, the way it was laid out and learnt much from the context of each photograph of series of photographs.

The exhibition runs from 6th Nov 2015 to 31st Jan 2016 and is at Le Musée National Suisse (MNS), Château de Prangins, Prangins, Switzerland

Visited 17th Jan 2015


[1] Revillard, Jean (2015) Ondes – Au pays des éléctrosensensibles, Hebdo, in Swiss Press Awards [Online] [Last Accessed 10 February 2016]

Jorge Lewinski: Portraits of Artists

Jorge Lewinski: Portraits of Artists is a small exhibition I accidentally came across when I was attending Hammersmith Hospital in London.  It is organised by the Imperial College Healthcare Charity from their art collection and displays 25 black and white portraits by Jorge Lewinski.  Lewinski specialised in taking portraits of artists in their studio settings where he felt he could get a better connection with the sitter because of their familiar working environment.

To me this was a surprising location for such a display.  In fact it was further along the corridor from the exhibition covered previously Medicine During The First World War.  My thoughts on the placement of the exhibition are covered in that review.  However I did struggle to see the connection between this set of pictures and the hospital environment other than the works are owned by the Imperial College Healthcare Charity and the wall space was a good place for the pictures.  I have asked the Trust for more details relating to this but at the time of writing have not received and reply.

I must admit that I was not familiar with Lewinski or his work so in some way the range of his subjects and the originality of the portraits did surprise me.

From post viewing investigations I discovered Lewinski’s canon was much broader than just the curator’s selection of the wider known artists for display such as David Hockney, Barbara Hepworth, Francis Bacon, Eileen Agar, Anthony Car, and Antony Gormley.  I assume these were selected more that people would recognise what they were looking at rather than the detailed aesthetics of the image.

From my observations at the exhibition I see that the images seem to demonstrate Lewinski’s exploration of each artist’s private world. None are ‘straight’ portraits.  Yes they capture the expression, personality, and mood of the artist but in fact I would argue that in many cases they go much deeper than that and are a holistic record of a subject in their working environment.  Their creations and art are just as important to the picture as is the personality of the artist.

Lewinski came to photography late in his career initially via an amateur route.  It was the early 1960’s and he set about to record the artistic community.  His timing was perfect as the artistic word was about to explode as part of the Sixties revolution.  At that time before artists were concerned with their own image rights and publicity Lewinski visited galleries to meet the artists to arrange photographic sessions.  To some degree I think this innocence and easiness in which the sessions were arranged is reflected through in the willingness of the subjects regarding Lewinski’s at times unorthodox portraits.

On this and his technique Read (2004) quoted in Hopkinson(2008) states “He said that he wasn’t looking for the soul of the artist. He wanted, however, to photograph the artist, not the person, so he always included the context of their work. Although he admired the classic portraits by Arnold Newman, he chose a 35mm camera, rather than a large format, as it allowed him to move around the studio, and talk about it as he worked. I think this interest and engagement accounts for the wonderful intimacy of his portraits”.[1]

The three pictures that caught my attention were:

Barbara Hepworth, 1968
A low key image in which you see very little of the subject. Hepworth is framed through one of her own bronze sculptures.  In fact Lewinski shows the only two parts of a sculptor that actually are important to create the work, that is the eyes and the hands.  Nothing else is shown; nothing else matters because the unseen body of the subject is depicted as the finished sculpture itself.  It is as the sculptor and sculpture meld into one.

Dame Barbara Hepworth, 1968, Jorge Lewinski, Reproduced with the kind permission of Bridgeman Images. © The Lewinski Archive at Chatsworth / Bridgeman Images.

Dame Barbara Hepworth, (1968), Jorge Lewinski, Reproduced with the kind permission of Bridgeman Images. © The Lewinski Archive at Chatsworth / Bridgeman Images.

David Hockney, 1963
An early study of Hockney just on the cusp of his rise to fame.  We see a young artist in a defiant stance.  This is accentuated from a low photographer’s point of view looking up to the subject.  Hockney detaches himself from both the photographer and us the audience by both looking out the shot and by wearing sunglasses.  Almost “this is my studio, my territory and my rules”.  Yet in the background there is the creative side of the artist.  We see his painting and the tools of his trade in the background and that for any defiance he may show he actually is all about creativity.

Davis Hockney (1963), Jorge Lewinski, Reproduced with the kind permission of Bridgeman Images. © The Lewinski Archive at Chatsworth / Bridgeman Images.

Antony Gormley, 1995
Probably my favourite in that we see very little of the artist.  He is shown in a near foetal position on his work bench mimicking his Pompeii-esque sculpture in an almost identical pose.  To me this is clever in that we see almost nothing of the features of Gormley.  We can’t read his thoughts, how he works, unless told we would not necessarily recognise him.  But the strength of the picture is that he has represented himself as his piece of art.  The sculptor and sculpture are in harmony.  One has created the other and they are linked.  It is his skill and his thoughts that have been transferred to this artwork.  Intentional or not, the lone blank figure in the background is almost representative of Gormley.  Ghostly white it as if life has gone and is transferred somewhere else in this case the work Gormley creates.

Antony Gormley (1995), Jorge Lewinski, Reproduced with the kind permission of Bridgeman Images. © The Lewinski Archive at Chatsworth / Bridgeman Images.

Finally Von Joel (2008) says in regards to Lewinski’s style that he “was proud to be an old-school photographer. He never owned a digital camera and claimed that one of the reasons he eventually abandoned photography was the advent of the digital age. He developed all his films and printed each image himself, claiming to be one of the great dark-room technicians of his generation (“unlike Cartier-Bresson, who never developed a film, never printed a print – but a great photographer”)”. [2]

Overall my response was very positive to his work and followed it up with extensive investigation into looking at this life and other work.  Also as mentioned in a previous post what was most surprising was to ‘discover’ the exhibition in the first place as that was not my primary purpose of attending the hospital.

Unsure of exhibition dates (this was not made known) but was visited 5th January 2016 at Hammersmith Hospital, Du Cane Rd, London


[1] Hopkinson, Amanda (2008) Jorge Lewinski, The Guardian [Online] [Last Accessed 12th Feb 2016]

[2] Von Joel, Mike (2008) Jorge Lewinski: Portrait Photographer who Captured a Generation of British Artists on Film, The Independent [Online] [Last Accessed 12th Feb 2016]

Medicine During The First World War: Inter Arma Caritas (Amidst the Arms, Love)

Medicine During The First World War: Inter Arma Caritas (Amidst the Arms, Love) is a small exhibition I accidentally came across when I was attending Hammersmith Hospital in London.  It is organised by the Imperial College Healthcare Charity from the art collection and displays about 30 black and white images of the men and women of the Royal Army Medical Corps tending wounded soldiers during the Great War.



Two things surprised me about this exhibition:

1. Location
I suppose taking a step back a hospital seems an obvious place to have an exhibition of medical based photographs.  However in this case the pictures were along a long corridor in one of the busy wings.  On the face of it a perfect place to observe the pictures with space and lighting.  Yet it was in a busy thoroughfare with trollies, orderlies, medical staff, visitors and patients all rushing by.  While I was there looking at the pictures not one other person stopped and looked.  This is not meant as a criticism of placement but shows the fact that people were more concerned about other priorities (as I should have been).  For me it raised the point that should exhibitions (in the most loose sense) be in specific exhibition spaces where what is on display can be appreciated by those who specifically want to view what is on display in a controlled environment, or are they perfectably acceptable to put them in a place where the content of the image is more akin to the location in this case medical based pictures in a hospital?

I suppose it comes down to the intent of the curator or organiser.  I would suggest in what I saw the intent is to show what the Medical Corps did in the war via the medium of photography rather than be an exhibition of historical photographs.  Therefore the hospital is a fitting location and viewing them will be both informative and give pleasure to those who just happened to be passing by.

2. Subject Matter
Firstly what struck me was that these were not what I would call the stereotypical of Great War pictures, that is, those of the troops, trenches and battlefields.  These were behind the scenes pictures of putting right the effects of the war.  I am unsure as to how much these pictures would have been made visible to the public at the time.  There are mixed messages in that on one hand we see the troops receiving good care of their wounds but on the other hand they highlight the true horror of what war brings.

I would suggest that these are more record shots of what is going on rather than for general public consumption.  It recorded what was actually happening rather than any propaganda exercise.

In looking at the subject matter, on the face of it we see the troops being treated.  From this we get comfort in knowing that the troops are being looked after.  Clearly there were the extreme wounds and loss of limbs however the main purpose on the Medical Corps was to patch still battle capable troops up as fast as possible to get them back to the front to fight again not healthcare as an end in itself.  Get back  to the front and do your duty.  There is some irony in the fact that due to the success and advances in healthcare of the 1,100,000 men invalided home to Britain two thirds of them returned to duty to be wounded again or more than likely killed in action.  Only 7% actually died of their wounds. (Click for Source)

What also was striking about the images was the sharpness and clarity of the images.  Again we tend to think of photographs of the Great War as not as the best quality as photographers were working with equipment that was unsuitable for working in the trenches.  But these pictures were pin sharp and of a quality that really surprised me.  Therefore it is easy to conclude that each picture was set up or staged to make best use of the equipment (rather than for propaganda purposes).  As result we can see detail in the pictures of what we would normally not see.  Rings, buttons, and eye detail all bring the pictures to life to make and gives character in that we see the subjects as real people rather than an image recorded about 100 years ago..  In the image below we can see a wrist watch and creases in the starched nurse uniform.


Finally some of the content is surprising.  We tend to think of plastic or re-creative surgery for instance as a product of the World War II yet in the image below we see a patient having a reconstructive face mask painted so it blends in with the rest of his face.



Overall my response was that I enjoyed looking at the detail within the pictures and learning new things.  It did however open my eyes to the overall purpose of battlefield medicine.  Probably what was most surprising was to ‘discover’ the exhibition in the first place as that was not my primary purpose of attending the hospital.

Unsure of exhibition dates (this was not made known) but was visited 5th January 2016 at Hammersmith Hospital, Du Cane Rd, London

We All Came Out To Montreux

‘We All Came Out To Montreux’ is temporary photographic print exhibition at the 2015 Montreux Jazz Festival, Montreux, Switzerland featuring the work of Neal Preston, primarily known for his photographs of rock musicians. This exhibition displays an extract of his work of about 32 mainly black and white prints.


For me rock photography is a complex subject because has to work combining many elements for it to be successful.  Key are the subject, the context in which that subject is placed, and probably most important the element is the ‘unobtainable’.  For the viewer it is like having a backstage pass.  Somewhere we as a fan would never have the privilege of being.

Rock photography is taken for the here and now.  To document what is.  Yet what has happened and these photographs are excellent examples is they have now become historic social documents.  We now look at these images and see how things have changed, how the musicians have aged, some have died so we remember and reminisce. Yes it can be argued this is the same for portraits of others, which is true, yet I would argue that there is something special within our hearts about musician images.  With a film star they are seen on the screen and perhaps at film premiers but the reality is we actually see very little of them.  Even in a film by the nature of what they do they are not themselves.  However with musicians they are there to perform for us on stage, they make their music for us to buy, they feed from their fan base.  We feel closer to them. We all want to meet our idols and through rock photography we get that chance.

Even when subject and context are sorted the skill of the rock photographer, much like a sports photographer, is all about timing.  A second or so either way and the picture is lost especially so during a fast moving concert.  For me Preston’s pictures reflect what I want to see as a fan.

I would break rock photography down into three key subsections with Preston’s work comfortably and successfully straddling all three; namely:

1) The Portrait
This is where the subject is aware the picture is being taken and my well be formally posed and lit.  These may well be studio shots but many are done backstage.

Pete Townsend: A very well lit and close crop portrait that gives us the essence of Townsend.  On the face of it a straight portrait but the more you look into his eyes you see some tired, perhaps on or having been on substances, yet still gives the feel of the Townsend we know as fans. Again this is one of those pictures that today we look back on and see how the person has (or has not) changed.


Photograph © swissrolly. Original image © Neal Preston

Marvin Gaye: Here this portrait is also a historical document in that it is the last formal portrait before Gaye’s killing about a year later.  What is interesting here is the context in Gaye wanted to portray a vision of normality (which comes over well) for a man with big troubles at the time of huge back tax payments claims, heavy drug usage and paranoia.


Photograph © swissrolly. Original image © Neal Preston

2) The Off Guard Moment
This is what we want to see.  It is the unobtainable for us.  We see our stars for better or worse at a point in time.  It is not rehearsed it just happens.

Freddie Mercury: An interesting picture in that we now look at this with a sense of poignancy.  We now know the history that would eventually follow 13 years later and therefore I would argue we look at this image differently than when it was taken.  We look at it how Freddie was and how we remember him but in fact it was originally an off guard moment caught by Preston of someone getting ready for a concert.


Photograph © swissrolly. Original image © Neal Preston

Jimmy Page:  This sums up the rock and roll hedonistic lifestyle we expect of Led Zeppelin of swigging back the Jack Daniels.  Perhaps today in a far more media savvy controlled music environment we would never see this type of picture but this was taken at a time when it did not really matter.  The fans were the fans regardless.  Was this picture posed in that it was a sham to perpetuate the rock and roll myth? We will never know but it does amuse me somewhat there is a basket of not quite so rock and roll fresh fruit on the table.  Posed or not Preston captures that backstage moment.


Photograph © swissrolly. Original image © Neal Preston


3) On Stage – In Concert
These are the back stage pass pictures we want to see.  Up front and close to the stars.  We are on stage with them.  We are at the seats we cannot get or afford.  Preston says of his of stage work “Shooting live music is something photographers rarely do well.  I just discovered one day I was good at it because it feels natural to me” [1].  He also says “Access is the hard currency of my job. It is as essential as any camera of lens. Once you have access you must nurture it and treat it with utmost respect or you can kiss it […..] goodbye” [2].

Freddie Mercury at Wembley Stadium:  This picture sums up Preston’s philosophy that live shooting is “one part photography, one part love of music, one part a love of theatre and theactrical lighting, one part hero worship, one part timing and 95 parts instinct” [3].  With this picture I like the way one individual is isolated when in reality there are probably about 50,000 in the audience.


Photograph © swissrolly. Original image © Neal Preston

The Rolling Stones, Los Angles: Captures everything we have come to expect about the The Stones performing live. This is still rock and roll innocence. Today Preston admits that the whole process is far more controlled and he is one of the few photographers that has the freedom to take what he wants and how he acts.


Photograph © swissrolly. Original image © Neal Preston

In Conclusion
My only criticism is that it is a somewhat tenuous link to the Montreux festival.  Firstly in the write up accompanying the exhibition it states that all the artists in the photographs have all once played the Festival.  In reality not every artist shown has played at Montreux (but I do need to triple check this). Secondly it would have been great if the photographs displayed were actually taken at the Festival rather than elsewhere.  In reality these images are a subset from Preston’s book and previous exhibition In The Eye of the Rock and Roll Hurricane. However being a big sucker for all things rock photography, and all proceeds from book and prints sales going to charity, I can forgive both points (and yes I did buy the book).

The temporary exhibition runs from 3rd to 18th July 2015 at the Montreux Jazz Festival, Auditorium Stravinski, Grand Rue 95, Montreux, Switzerland.

Visited 13th July 2015

Copyright note explanation: A curious one here in that I was not given the right to use original image files however if I took the picture myself it would be perfectly acceptable.


[1] [2] [3] Preston, Neal (2015) In The Eye of the Rock and Roll Hurricane, UK, Reel Art Press

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]