Mona Kuhn has been producing beautifully observed collections of nudes in natural settings for some years now. There is something gentle, unthreatening and respectful about the way she captures her subjects. The familiarity and trust that genuinely emanates from each frame. The angles from which the bodies and portraits are framed. A level of modesty and protection that makes you believe each individual is always participating on their own terms, and happy to do so.
All artists will claim this degree of complicity, however Kuhn is one of those where it just doesn't seem to need to be questioned in the first place, making her one of the finest exponents in this field.
The majority of her published work thus far has taken a fairly familiar format. A balance of nudes and landscapes. Each captured in a different location. There is a continuity also in the way she prints and presents each body of work, which once again reinforces that sense of connectedness. The monochrome of her early work. The earthy tones of the Private series, the greens that ran through Native and the rich reds that leant an air of opulence to the Bordeaux series.
It therefore comes a pleasant surprise that her latest book is some what of a departure. It is another beautifully designed creation from publishers Stanley Barker who are producing some of the most consistently stimulating, and wonderful photo books around at the moment.
An object of delicacy and purity, Bushes and Succulents is the sort of book that quietly demands attention before it is even opened. Pristine white boards inset with an image of a flower no text....no title.... it entices you closer, it's ambiguity daring you to explore further.
And so we are invited to Mona Kuhn's love letter to not just femininity but to the very essence of what it means to be a woman.
As a man there is no way that I could accurately attempt to verbalise this, so in Kuhn's own words
“The frame reminded me of early childhood, at age eight or so, when I would jump in the shower with my mother. It resonates an adoration and child-like curiosity for what it is to be a woman. My intention is not to objectify the body, but to celebrate the female body and its essence.”
The use of a flower to represent womanhood is not a new one, but the juxtaposition of images of flora, with those of the female form (all cropped to draw attention to the middle of the woman's body) leaves the viewer in no doubt as to what Kuhn is trying to communicate with this collection of images.
As with all of Kuhn's books the pictures, once again have a unifying "look". In the case of Bushes and Succulents the technique employed is solarisation, and it is used beautifully. In fact with a subtly that means you almost forget that it is part of the process in the first place.
The effect is twofold. Firstly, lending an almost hyper real aspect to the flowers, which are printed in colour, allowing them to emanate a glow that celebrates nature, and lends definition to their gentle outlines and contours. Then alternatively, the images of the women themselves which are all in monochrome. The reverse or negative effect of the solarisation much more apparent and striking, their femininity balanced by the steely nature of the tones employed.
These images a reminder of both where we come from to whom we turn to in times of need. The women in our lives, our wives and mothers.
True strength and grace in a single frame.
It is always refreshing to see an artist present their audience with a portfolio that adds a new dimension to their work, and with Bushes and Succulents, Kuhn has done just this. She has given us a unique and celebratory collection, and ultimately one that could (and should) only have been produced by a woman.