Kuhn was born in São Paulo, Brazil, in 1969, of German descent.  In 1989, Kuhn moved to the US and received her US Citizenship. Kuhn earned her BA from The Ohio State University, before furthering her studies at the San Francisco Art Institute. http://www.life-framer.com/ She is currently an independent scholar at The Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles.  

In the gallery:

From Evidence monograph (Steidl, 2007):
Mona Kuhn “Beyond” 
Mona Kuhn “Blue Caravan”
Mona Kuhn “Captured”
Mona Kuhn “Reflecting”

From Private monograph (Steidl, 2014):
Mona Kuhn “Chanon”
Mona Kuhn “Mesa”
Mona Kuhn “Mirage"
Mona Kuhn “Three rays"

All works courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, NYC


Mona Kuhn is best known for her large-scale, dream-like photographs of the human form. Her work often reference classical themes with a light and insightful touch. Kuhn’s approach to her photography is unusual in that she usually develops close relationships with her subjects, resulting in images of remarkable naturalness and intimacy, and creating the effect of people naked but comfortable in their own skin. She has recently been the judge of The Human Body theme for Life Framer. Here she is in conversation with Salvatore Vitale.

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SV – Salvatore Vitale
MK – Mona Kuhn


SV –  The Human Body is the main topic of your photography. What does it represents for you?

MK – I like to think about photography as a way to create a visual poetry. I started my creative vocabulary with charcoal painting, much in the tradition of the German artist Käthe Kollwitz.  She captured humanity in an unprecedented way, looking at her work to me was the same as looking into someone’s soul. From her work I learned about the importance of human relationships.  From charcoal, I quickly gravitated to black-and-white photography, as it allowed me to express myself faster, but I always kept in mind what has always been the most important aspect of my work: a timeless, suspended in time, relationship to ourselves.  That is why I photograph the people in the nude, free of status symbols, honest, shameless and free.  

SV – You creates strong relationships with your subjects, this is also evident in your photography. How do you select them? Is there a particular story you would like to share?

MK – My best work has been collaborations. One of the great friendships coming from those collaboartions has been the priviledge to work with Jacintha.  We have been working together for over 10 years.  We first collaborated during the “Evidence” series, when she was 14 years old.  When she turned 15, she came to NY to see some of her large scale images exhibited at Charles Cowles in Chelsea.  It was fantastic.  It is a privilege for me to work with someone I know so well and share a kindred spirit. 

SV – You were born and grew up in São Paulo, Brazil but you have German origins. Your work seems to mix perfectly the German accuracy with the Brazilian vivacity and instinct. How did your roots influenced your artistic career?

MK – I think about life as an accumulation of experiences.  I like to think that I am German during the week, and Brazilian on the weekends.  My background is culturally intertwined, these two sides do co-exhist, and I would also like to add to it the American side, as I have lived in the US for over 20 years, and the French side, as I have worked in France for more than 15 years as well.  It is an accumulation of experiences that certainly add depth to our understanding of the world we live in.

SV – You moved to Los Angeles then, what did you bring you there?

MK – I moved to LA after living 12 years in San Francisco. I was ready for a change of pace, but wanted to stay in California, so LA was the next best option.

SV – Your work goes often along with the word “dreamy”. Poses and expressions of your subjects, the use of a particular depth of field as well as the settings where everything is played suggest to enter in a particular dimension where dream and reality collide to create a powerful imaginary.

MK – Yes, I like to create a visual world that possibly exists just in our thoughts. I like to escape realism whenever possible. In the upcoming series, my visual narrative shifted from the nude expressed in the physical body to the abstracted expressions of the body.  The desert light and glass architecture presented the perfect platform for a certain mix of California hedonism and surreal desert hallucination.  It was a perfect setting to create magic!

SV – This shows particularly in Private, where the combination between the human body and the desert generates questions on the nature and fragility of human beings in contrast with the purity of the forms. How did you approach what is beautiful but at the same time extremely disturbing about the desert?  

MK –  Private is an introspective series of images, in which a set of metaphors slowly reveal themselves to us as the work unfolds. I was interested in exploring visually the fundamental nature of being and the world that encompasses it. This series was all photographed in the Mojave desert, a minimalist and perfect platform to express human vulnerability, divine beauty, golden light, within an extreme yet minimal setting. For me, the desert has two strong metaphors: it is a place we go to get tested, and a place where we encounter the universe above and within. It challenges us to think, and evokes strong emotions.

SV – You are also working as a curator. In this context you launched The Billboard Creative in Los Angeles, a project which uses the city as an exhibition space following the long history with the billboards form in the city started by Ed Ruscha. You state “I want to stop traffic with art”. How did the idea was born and how it is developing?

MK – It all started when Adam Santelli, founder of The Billboard Creative (TBC) invited me to curate the 2nd Billboard exhibition to be displayed in main intersections in Los Angeles. Adam’s idea was to have an artist curate other artist’s works. FROM artist TO artist and FOR artist’s way of thinking.  I am excited to be involved as a curator and artist, because I believe we need more artists, more painters, more creatives to add beauty back into our daily lives.  It was a real pleasure to see the artworks displayed large into billboards where 100,000 to 200,000 pass by every day. The community not only recognised the efforts but also did not hesitate in applauding it.  I had the feeling that the community in LA came closer together during that time. The 3rd billboard exhibition is coming up this year.  TBC starts accepting submissions by September.  Check it out: www.thebillboardcreative.com


Website

www.monakuhn.com