Mona KuhnClaire Obscure (2001)

I do not have an entirely positive opinion of Kuhn.

Viewing this image re-contextualizes my thoughts about her work a great deal, however.

The first major difference is clearly the question of monochrome verses polychrome.

This image predates the earliest image in my previous post on Kuhn by a year. There’s the same intense intimacy and the creative deployment of depth of field  marking the later work.

Conversely, it lacks the profound sense exemplified in the later work of being anchored to a particular place and time–this is after all just a nude woman, darkness and light.

I think I’m supposed to appreciate the increased complexity and variation of the later work. Though honestly, I skew in an entirely different direction.

To me: Kuhn’s later work demonstrates an innate and unnerving sense of the interplay between colors. But there’s an almost galling lack of consistency.  For example, consider the more painterly affect of this versus the were she a painter she’d be using cadmium pigments and then leaving the finished canvas in the sun for a couple months to give it that sort of summer, sun-kissed beach bleached effect that accentuates her insanely shallow depth of field and underscores the conceptual interpenetration of her process with her material (French naturalist communities).

I reminds me of the topic du jour when I was pursuing my MFA: the role of color in fine art photography. The purists will argue that the purpose of color in fine art photography is to demonstrate something about the nature of color and lens based visual representation. In fairness: that’s already been done to perfection–see William Eggleston.

Others maintain color is just another form. Yet, the objection I always had to this is suggesting that the same–and I’m hesitant to invoke such a word here but since I can’t think of a more operable one, I’m going ahead: rules govern monochromatic work as polychromatic work.

I’m not confident enough with the clarity of my thoughts on the subject to push forward with that line of analysis at present. But, what does occur to me is that given Kuhn’s conceptual underpinnings her interest in the optics of intimacy and using naturalist communities as a sort of ersatz synecdoche, I feel the color–although contemplatively orchestrated–actually works against the stated aims of the work. With the exception of the aforementioned more painterly image, I feel like most of Kuhn’s work would actually function better with the ‘abstraction’ offered by black and white.

Mona Kuhn – [↖] Untitled from Evidence series (200X); [↗] George by the Door from Evidence series (2002); [←] Libellule from Evidence series (2006); [+] Untitled from Native series (200X); [→] Untitled from Venezia series (20XX); [↓] Jacintha from Evidence series (2006)

I cannot in good conscience endorse Kuhn’s work wholesale. I fucking love the photos above–this one is great, too; but, hearing her defend her work is rather off putting.

She’s big into nudes due to their ‘timelessness’ and the human body as a ‘residence’. She’s quick to point out that she’s also interested in totality and, as such, sexuality being an element of physical embodiment–which is problematic for it’s failure to include the experiences of folks with an asexual reality–it is clearly a facet of her work.

She’s walking the same high wire as another photographer with whom her work shares overlap (a focus on nudes, specifically within French naturalist communities), namely: Jock Sturges.

I find her work much less disingenuous and of a higher quality but it still vexes me that she dodges accusations of sexual overtones in her imagery because while I totally think Sturges is a perv who goes to great lengths to insist he’s not a perv–and to be clear here, I’m reclaiming ‘perv’ in a non-value judgement-y, re-appropriative, sex-positive way–Kuhn images function due to a sexual tension. (I’m referring specifically to Jacintha [above] but I think there’s a voyeuristic heavy-handedness motivating the concealing/revealing of nudity, i.e. her depth of field–which clever–is also a wee bit salacious in the way it invites squinting leers.)

What always ends up nudging me away from these concerns is how powerfully the photos communicate a palpable sense of intimacy. I’ve always maintained that narrativity and how we determine what is and is not narrative holds up a mirror to questions of the function of eroticism. Increasingly, I am beginning to think that it’s a trinity: narrative, intimacy, eroticism.