If there is any work that has blown me away in recent times they are the works of Mona Kuhn. An extremely talented, German-origin, Los Angeles based contemporary artist, Kuhn is renowned for her impressive large scale photographs of the human body. In her own words her works are her reflections on the eternal question of who we are and what is our purpose in the ever going struggle of the human mind and its longing for a higher spiritual connectivity. When you look at her work for the first time, you are simply awe-struck with her unusual yet extremely aesthetic approach to her imagery. Unlike other artists, she has a different approach for shooting people. She only works with people she has known for a long time, is either friends with or has a deep sense of connectivity with, which in turn produces images where the subject is so comfortable in front of her that a unique intimacy can be seen in each one of images. Her unique ways of visualisation and the strategies that she applies to make an image, are responsible for an outstanding outcome as a result of a combination of various carefully thought of ideas. Her deep sense of connectivity with nature inspires her to establish the same within her images by combining the two – the human form and nature – into one translucent and sublime result.
Her series, She disappeared into Complete Silence, are made in the Californian desert, in a glasshouse on the edge of the Joshua Tree National Park. The combination of the nature around, softly creeping into the glasshouse, reflections falling on the body form and the lines abstracted in the beautiful golden light produce a result that is magnificent to say the least – completely balancing the inside with the outside, in fact merging the two together so seamlessly that the result produced seems like a mirage. The form of the human body does not stand out uncomfortably but becomes a part of one whole. She has also used foil in this series in order to break the rigidity of lines and to create abstractions and distortion. The whole series seems to be an illusion – almost magical in its appearance. Her choice of colours was inspired by the golden light in the desert itself – gold, sand and black are interspersed to give this series a an other worldly appearance.
Her choosing the desert and the elements of glass and foil combined with the soft tonalities of sand and golden colours, is her quest to explore the existence and connection of the human body with nature. The desert signifies mortality because of its harsh environment at the same time, also endurance of the human spirit; it signifies renewal for her as well. A vast landscape of nothingness seemed like a magical place for her to paint her canvas as she desired to explore her existential thinking more. None of these images were post processed and were made and created within the camera, which for me is extremely significant as I firmly believe that in my practice of wildlife photography surely. The results are sensual yet not overtly sexual, mysterious, disorienting, but absolutely phenomenal in every sense. She believes strongly in intuition and follows her inner voice when she hears it.
Her latest series, Bushes and Succulents, is yet another series of works that is almost fragile to look at, with such delicate interpretation of the female body and its connection to nature. What is admirable in her work is that despite the subject of nudity, it does not make the viewer uncomfortable – it in fact draws you in – the intimacy of the photograph can be seen and experienced by the viewer. Her soft focus of the succulents with the inverted semi-abstract female form creates a brilliant juxtaposition of elements of nature.
“I am a fine art photographer curious about elements of representation. I like to cherish the body as a source of inspiration, as a platform for metaphors, for intimacy and complexities of human nature, hoping to use the visual impact of provoking the viewer’s imagination to encourage thoughts beyond what is revealed. “(Kuhn, 2014)
In the series ‘Private,’ created in 2013 in the desert of California, one can see her preference of the desert, the light and the human form, which was beautifully translated into photographs by including textures, colour tonalities and softness in every frame. Her photographs below exude a sense of mystery, enticing the viewer into the frame, yet not disclosing in its entirety. At the same time, it is not ambiguous where you cannot understand the artist’s message – it’s a heady mixture of a piqued curiosity at the same time offering answers to the quintessential philosophical question of who we are. The images appear to stand still – they seem timeless – as if captured and suspended into nothingness. The series has been shot on film and has a soft visual poetry to it, depicting intimate and personal glances into nature as well as human body.
Her earlier series ‘Native’ has explored the secret environments of the forest, the ever changing elements of it and its fragility intermixed with the human element. According to her, the fact that she works with people known to her gives her the advantage of the expression of comfortability in front of the camera and sometimes an element of a surprise expression that can only come with a deep sense of connection. She felt that happened in this series where everything just came together like a gift of serendipity. Although in this series she did work with a young boy, whom she did not know earlier and met in the forest by chance, which the young boys used as their playground. The elements of the forest create a sense of mystery and the human form neutralises it. The shadow or reflections created in some of the images in this series, like the ‘Musical Chairs’ below seem to reflect the shadows of the past – they appear simple yet seem to have so much narrative in each one of them.
The following series, ‘Vintage’, have been made at a remote French nudist colony, where Kuhn in an attempt to go beyond the studio, rented a beach house, where people could come and visit. As she grew comfortable with them and they with her, the following series of work was produced. The series is extremely striking, with the comfort of the people in the photographs reflected in each work. She says that since there was so much nudity around, everyone was extremely comfortable in their own skin, completely neutralising the sexuality and hence the heightened level of comfort in front of the camera as well, resulting in intimate portraits where her selective focusing techniques and abstract views allow the viewer to enter their world but not completely. It sparks one’s imagination combined with the correct level of mystery and ambiguity.
“I throw myself in a situation and see if i can land on my feet.”(Kuhn, 2000)
Key points and learnings from Kuhn’s works-
- Soft & selective focusing technique.
- Precise use of colours.
- Dream like curiosity in the way she represents complex relationships between the human body.
- Sublime, translucent & magical.
- Sand, gold and black tonalities.
- Mysterious & ambiguous yet inviting.
- Blend of nature with the human form.
- Usage of light as an element in itself.
- Fragile & delicate.
- Deep connection with the subject to invoke comfort and unusual intimacy in her work.
- Semi abstract – encourage thoughts behind what is revealed.