An Interview with Mona Kuhn

Mona Kuhn has been exploring the human body and the figure in her bodies of work since the late 1990s. Her first monograph, Photographs, was debuted by Stiedl in 2004, followed by Evidence (2007), Native (2010), and Bordeaux Series (2011).

Tell me a bit about yourself. I was born and raised in Brazil and lived the first half of my life there.  Then, 20 years ago, I moved to the US.  In the last 15 years I have been spending my summers in France, where I own a place, which I like to think of as my atelier.  Steidl has published my works made in France in publications entitled Photographs, Evidence, as well as Bordeaux Series. I photograph mostly during the summer, when people feel comfortable and natural in the nude.  That leaves the rest of the year for me to concentrate on other aspects of the creative process, the exhibition schedules and, at times, commercial projects.

How did you become interested in photography? Where do you find your models? I began taking photographs at age 12 when my parents gave me a small Kodak camera for my birthday.  The first images were of my friends during the day. In a way, little has changed. I like to photograph people I have known for a while or good friends of friends of mine.  I find people through word of mouth, someone’s boyfriend, sister, or cousin. It feels more intimate, a bit like an extended family.

Jacintha2006"Jacintha, 2006"

Do you see a difference between naked and nude? For me, there is a huge difference between naked and nude. Someone feels naked when caught off guard, in a vulnerable situation. The nude to me is always clothed—clothed with art history references all around, almost in a way that it cannot escape it. The nude I am interested in presents an inner strength and confidence that keeps them from feeling “naked.” You can see that in my work, in the natural positions and in the confident eyes of the people I photograph.

What is your process and experience in planning and coming up with a new series? How does it start? I start my creative process by imagining colors. I don’t know why, but coloration comes to me first.  From there I tie in emotion, then location and lastly, the people. I might be working for six months on a project before I find the right person to photograph.  This preliminary phase gives me time to submerge, to really feel and bring out what I am trying to say, what I am trying to express. By the time I start photographing people, I already know what I want and the visual vocabulary is matured, so photographing people feels natural and in line with the overall emotion I am trying to convey.

I mostly photograph during the magic hours at sunrise and the last 2 hours before sunset. It is not just the lighting; I think we feel different during those moments, as if emotions could stand still for a few minutes.  It is beautiful to capture that feeling.

Mona is currently working with publisher, Gerhard Steidl to release her next book, which will consist of a series of nudes, portraits and landscapes all taken in the desert regions in Southern California and Arizona. The book release and exhibitions are schedules to release Spring 2014.

Click here to read the full interview in our new issue, Musée No.6 Nude + Naked + More

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