Born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Mona Kuhn now lives and works as a photographer in Los Angeles. Known for her dreamlike nudes, Kuhn often forms close relationships with her subjects and the places she photographs. Her work is exhibited at museums and galleries internationally, and she has published five books of photography since 2004, her most recent entitled “Private.” Website. Edwynn Houk Gallery.
An LA-based photographer and an avid art collector, Paul currently works with his brother, artist Ed Ruscha, as an in-studio photographer and documentarian. His book “Paul Ruscha’s Full Moon” chronicles his compulsive collecting since childhood. Paul has also opened an art space called the El Gran Art Garage in Winslow, Arizona.
The head of German book publisher Steidl, based in Göttigen, Germany and known best for its photobooks.
Los Angeles-based artist and photographer (born 1937), important to the development of Pop Art. Ruscha is known best for his deadpan, stylized depictions of American culture, such as gas stations and Hollywood, and his paintings using ironic words and phrases. His photobooks catalogue places and objects, often from cars or highways.
In the spring of 2004, Gerhard Steidl, the German publisher came to LA to work with my brother Ed Ruscha on a book project documenting Hollywood Blvd. After a full day of shooting that street, we all went to Musso & Frank’s Grill, Hollywood’s oldest restaurant. Gerhard told me that we should allow an extra chair at our table as he was expecting to have the photographer of a new book he was publishing to come from San Francisco and join us. Gerhard is a multi-tasker who meets with many artists who are preparing to print their books with him in Steidlville – his publishing empire in Göttingen, Germany. He allots specific times to discuss ideas with the artists, usually during the production of his many other projects, so his timing is always short and precise, and one is lucky if given more than a few concentrated moments to clarify their presentations with him. I ordered my meal, and a bit later a beautiful woman appeared behind me. Gerhard stood up and they spoke German briefly as he embraced her, and I got up and hugged her, too, as it seemed like we’d known one-another for a long time. Gerhard repeated her name – Mona Kuhn – and she sat down next to me and from then until we finished dinner, we never stopped talking. She was a force of energy I hadn’t experienced in a long time, and I therefore welcomed our initial acquaintance, and said I truly hoped to see her again. Then we all bid a reluctant goodnight to her.
A few months later, I received an announcement with a note from her about her exhibition and book preview at her gallery in LA. I made an effort to attend and was quite impressed with her work. She was surrounded by gallery-hoppers and collectors when I saw her across the room, and she waved her recognition of me. We spoke for a few moments and agreed to get together when she returned from San Francisco, and she told me she was considering a move to LA. I was taken aback with the exhibition of her photography and with the book, Mona Kuhn, as well as with the artist herself. When she returned to LA, we saw each other often and spent many hours discussing the complicated world of commercial vs. art photography, as she was professionally familiar with both disciplines. When she moved to LA she also returned with her new husband, the composer Boris Salchow. We three began a close-knit exchange in the surrounding desert areas of LA and in the Arizona desert areas. Mona draws her inspiration from the textures and ambience of the locations which are backdrops to the people she so deftly frames, and her swoonful take on these elements adds to the mystery and beauty of her photography.
Paul Ruscha: I know that you were born and grew up in São Paulo, Brazil, to German parents. From what I have observed, you have a great tenacity to focus on your themes, which seems a Germanic trait to me, and yet you have the personal exuberance and pacing of an irresistible samba during Carnaval. Watching those two elements interact has been fascinating for me these past ten years, and I can see that they play a great part in presenting the art in your work, as well as illuminating you as a career-minded woman. How were you able to adjust your home life to your career?
Mona Kuhn: I never thought this way, but you are right. I find my balance in being mostly German during the week, and absolutely Brazilian on the weekends.
PR: How did you decide to come to the USA, and where did you first locate?
A photographer and promoter of modern art, Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) ran New York art galleries where he introduced many of the European avant-garde to US artists. Married to Georgia O’Keeffe, Stieglitz’s greatest legacy was making photography an accepted art form.
A legendary American photographer, Weston (1886 – 1958) focused on the places and people of the West, especially California. His style broke from popularized soft focus photography to the highly detailed image he is famous for.
A New York photographer and writer (1923-1971) known for her images of strange, marginal, or ugly people, in order to reveal the truth and harshness of flaws.
MK: I never thought it would be possible to follow my passion. My generation was the first to democratically elect a president in 1989, the year I graduated from high school. It was only when I came to study in the US and spent a large amount of time alone at the arts library that I discovered for the first time the gorgeous monographs of icons such as Stieglitz, Weston and Arbus. At that moment, I knew I had to pursue it.
“I find my balance in being mostly
German during the week, and
absolutely Brazilian on the weekends.”
— Mona Kuhn
PR: What brought you to your decision to live in San Francisco?
MK: I first came to study at the Ohio State University. They had just inaugurated the Wexner Center, and the space was jamming with artists and performers. From there, I moved to San Francisco mainly because of its topography. I missed seeing the ocean and the hills and a little voice inside of me was looking for trouble! So I started taking classes at the San Francisco Art Institute, and soon thereafter I gravitated to the Getty Research Institute here in Los Angeles, where I now live and have been an independent scholar there since 2005.
PR: Mona, how did you come to be interested in photography?
MK: Because most of our family lived in Europe, we would frequently visit. And my parents had this “wonderful” way of dropping me at museums for the day, so they could get other things done. So I grew up sitting at museum benches looking at art. When you stare at a work of art for quite some time, that piece starts living in your mind. I would walk around in trance imagining metaphors and creating my own fantasies. I took on drawing and charcoal, but it was the speed of photography that got me hooked. I like how fast photography can happen. The challenge lies on how to create your own visual vocabulary within that speed.