Lens Work: Mona Kuhn, Evidence

10th March 2021

Another of the aesthetic codes of shallow depth of field is intimacy. In her Evidence series Mona Kuhn seeks to represent the unclothed body as ‘a natural essence of who we are’

OCA EYV (2014)

Mona Kuhn’s photography is characterized by large-scale photographs of the human body, which are often intimate and natural.  American photographer Mona Kuhn (1969-present) is known for her large-scale photos of the nude human form. Mona Kuhn’s photographs draw inspiration for her work both from classical art and the desire to examine — and sometimes transform — how society views the natural human body. 

Mona Kuhn Biography, Jackson Fine Art. (online) https://www.jacksonfineart.com/artists/mona-kuhn/

Mona Kuhn has been exploring the human figure in her work since the late 1990’s. Her series ‘Evidence’ is delicate and awash with beauty that attracts both the eye and soul. The simplicity and beauty is achieved by the visual softness of the image which is acquired by use of the techniques of shallow depth of field and use of colour. To accompany the strong aesthetic essence Kuhn has used dynamic leading lines, diagonal lines, triangles and the rule of thirds to balance the information within the picture plane. Looking at the human forms and the part they play in the composition of the images, they are connected to each other by use of compositional techniques such as shape, outline directions, mirroring and the use of light and shade. These images really are very complexed yet delicate and enchanting to the viewer’s eye.

I have sketched some of the images so that I could analyse the composition as well as the light, dark and mid-tones so that I could see how Kuhn has constructed the images.

Within the majority of Mona Kuhn’s ‘Evidence’ images, the figure in the foreground is in focus and acts as the initial focal point within the picture plane. It is this figure that the viewers eye begins their journey on and then they follow a well placed leading or diagonal line to the next figure. If the in focus focal point is not the human form, Kuhn uses objects such as plants, flowers and newspapers.

The people within the images either engage directly with the viewers eyes or look out of the picture plane, concentrating on something unknown to the viewer. Their gazes are emotion less, contemplating and entice the viewer to wonder about the hidden, What is their story? How are the figures related? What lays beyond the picture frame? What are they doing and why have we been, or not been, invited to look at them?

The neutral colours of flesh and building are broken by light and shadow areas, yellows of sunlight and artificial light at night, as well as reds and greens. This colour palette is subtle and gentle which adds to the concept of soft flesh, of bodies, people. I find the lighting exquisite as it highlights the body forms of the people or is used to add depth to the image by placing the darkest or the lightest element of negative space as the background which can be seen when we look past the human forms and into the buildings.

Kuhn’s ‘Evidence’ is skilfully shot and I am in awe of the images, they are intelligent, well composed and created with an amazing use of shallow depth of field, consideration of the human form in relationship to each other and the viewer as well as the instinctive use of light and shadow. I cannot praise this body of work enough, inspirational.


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