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Eden Revisited

by Mike von Joel

The images that Mona Kuhn presents in her latest book, Evidence, document the friendships developed by her numerous visits to a private community in France that promotes spiritual rejuvenation and encourages nudity as an expression of personal freedom.

EVIDENCE

Mona Kuhn
Hardback
Steidl
ISBN: 13: 978-3-86521-372-3

IT WAS FORMED after the Second War as an escape from the pressures and scars of post-war life. A third of the visitors are elderly.

Although all ages participated in the experience, for this particular visual essay Kuhn selected primarily young, twenty-somethings from the community, and formulated a day long project, paying special attention to the changing light values.

The members of the group spend much (though not all) of the time naked, and Kuhn selected these moments to construct the book. She likes the sense of innocence and lack of self consciousness of the young and especially values the attitude of the French. 'In France the body is an egalitarian unity', she has said, describing the cultural familiarity with nudity - and particularly the female breast.
In French society: 'the breast of a woman is seen as patriotic, almost nationalistic'.

With only a couple of exceptions - where the gentle, visual pace of the book is broken by two unexpected images - the pictures are of young people, still and contemplative. The images are not erotic, unless the reader adds a sexual overtone of their own, they are meditative. No individual is looking at another, introducing a certain dichotomy to the otherwise harmonious compositions. Kuhn often varies the focus to an almost abstract level but - as she points out herself - never so far that the figures are indecipherable: 'It is an interesting dialogue - it plays with the curiosity we have about each other'. As the light conditions change throughout the day, the sun tones on skin deepen and turn the nebulous into the monumental.

Mona Kuhn was born in São Paulo, Brazil, in 1969, of German descent. She earned her degree at Ohio State University and since 1998, she has been based in Los Angeles. Kuhn has lectured about her work at the Cincinnati Art Museum and Georgia Museum of Art. She is also a visiting artist at The Pasadena Arts Center. Kuhn's first monograph, Photographs, was published by Steidl in 2004.

Family and personal relation-ships are important to the artist and she spent much time integrating with the community to enable her presence as a camerawoman to become almost invisible. She wants to discover identity, the sense of self and the innate confidence of the young people who create this serene Garden of Eden each summertime. To try capture this 'Greek idyll' and let its guileless innocence permeate the photographs. Each picture has a story. The first break in the even pace of the book has an old man with a Biblical, flowing beard. This is Father Jacques (Mon Frere) a priest well into his seventies who Mona waited patiently for permission to shoot. He had been coming to the community since he was a small boy. The next pause in the book is a couple kissing (Kiss) the only time any of her subjects interact. In fact, this was a girl friend of Kuhn's who, having had a tough time with her partner, intended a reconciliation and invited the photographer to witness it as part of the 'documentary' of the day.

'I am interested in the body - how we were represented in the past. I am interested in how we will redefine ourselves. When I photograph the people that I know, I am also keeping a memento of who they are and the time we spend together', says Kuhn, 'and I wanted to move beyond the studio. I believe very much in bringing Life and Art together…'