The light and forms of Joshua Tree National Park inspire a turn toward abstraction for the famed photographer
Acclaimed for her intimate nudes, Mona Kuhn takes a new direction into abstraction in her latest series. Photographed at a golden modernist structure on the edge of Joshua Tree National Park, architectural lines, light reflections and a single figure have been carefully balanced against the backdrop of the Californian desert.
The human figure in these images--Kuhn’s friend and collaborator Jacintha--emerges like a surrealist mirage, fragmented and indistinct, at times submerged in shadows or overexposed. The building’s facades of glass and mirrors serve as optical planes, an extension of the artist’s camera and lens. Light is split into refracting colors, desert vegetation grows sideways, inside is outside and outside in. Kuhn pushes a certain disorienting effect by introducing metallic foils as an additional surface, at times producing purely abstract results. The work marks Kuhn’s increasing use of techniques that appear to merge the figure, abstraction and landscape into one.
Mona Kuhn (born 1969) is best known for her large-scale, dreamlike photographs of the human form. Her pictures often reference classical themes with a light and insightful touch. Kuhn’s approach to her work is distinguished by the close relationships she develops with her subjects, resulting in images of remarkable naturalness and intimacy. Born in São Paulo, Brazil, Kuhn lives and works in Los Angeles.
For her fifth book with Steidl, Mona Kuhn has entered the heart of the American desert and returned with a sequence of pictures that is seductive, enigmatic and a little unsettling. Private proposes a world in which concrete reality and the imaginary are one. Plants and animals on the edge of survival, sun-drenched landscapes and wind-sculpted earth are intercut with a series of nudes that push Kuhn's renowned sensitivity to human form into unexpected directions. The result is a book somewhere between the poetry of T.S. Eliot, the cinema of Robert Altman and a lucid dream.
In a remote landscape near Bordeaux, Mona Kuhn owns a little house: simple, bare and even without electricity. Kuhn travels here each year to entertain family and friends as they drop by. Bordeaux Series contains portraits of these people dear to Kuhn made over the last four years, as well as landscape photographs. Kuhn photographs her subjects in the same room with a red fabric backdrop and a chair, so that the nudity of each sitter is the only indication of his or her idiosyncrasies. A sequel to Kuhn's Native (2009), Bordeaux Series is a sensual exploration of the contemporary nude.
Published by Steidl. Short Story Frederic Tuten. Text by Gordon Baldwin.
Critics have observed that Mona Kuhn's subjects seem "nude but not naked…. Completely relaxed before the camera, they give the impression that nothing could clothe them better than their own skin." Kuhn, who photographs in the naturist or nudist community, often in domestic interiors, weaves together gestures from the traditional iconography of nude studies with the comfortable body language of her subjects, creating a visual patois at once classical and contemporary. And beneath the mellow surfaces of her photographs lies an explosive energy: the artist's controlled play with the power of sensuality. Tension and uneasiness coexist with all that sunlight and soft flesh. The subjects and their gestures are suggestive but ultimately ambiguous. Tenuously held planes of focus provoke the imagination. Kuhn works very close to her subjects, often with a depth of field of only a few inches. Real world and image world seem to blend together as her figures unite the reality of human complexity with the blissful essence of nature. With only sparse reference to physical surroundings, they appear to float in an idyllic picture space, part of a dreamlike narrative just beyond the viewer's comprehension. These exceptional photographs exist in a space created by the artist and subject alone--the viewer is given a single fascinating glimpse, suspended in time, and then an enduring sense of the resilience and vulnerability of the human body.
“Seeking the innermost self in her photographs, Kuhn achieves a mood of intimacy by photographing up close models she knows well. Her photographs are a product of lasting relationships built on mutual affection. In a sense, the images are based on the memory of shared experiences.” -- Julie Nelson
The people in Mona Kuhn's photographs are nude but not naked. Completely relaxed before the camera, they give the impression that nothing could clothe them better than their own skin. With a unique style, Kuhn's intimate photographs of both young and old are sensual compositions of skin and wrinkles, light and shadow, gestures and gazes. She creates taughtly composed images and balance sharply rendered portraits against blurred backgrounds to lure the eye and provoke the imagination.