The German-Brazilian photographer’s new monograph, Private,
set in the harsh landscape of the American Southwest, was inspired
by her curiosity about the vast deserts surrounding her adopted home
of Los Angeles, where she is an independent scholar at The Getty
“I was guided by these sand colorations… and then the similarities
that has to skin coloration,” Kuhn explains. Beginning in 2011 and
over the course of the next two-and-a-half years, she took numerous
trips into the Mojave desert, crossing into Arizona and even spending
some time on a Navajo Indian reservation. Kuhn stayed with friends
and subjects, but also camped in the desert, putting her film in a
cooler to protect it from the heat.
Kuhn went into the wilderness with ideas about abstracting the
human form, in all its vulnerability, against the implacable harshness
of this land, and letting her senses guide her from there.
Dun colored slopes of sand dunes, barren save for an occasional
patch of scrubgrass. The pale swell of a woman’s breasts, thumb hooked
in her brassiere, a tattoo of a black widow spider adorning the same
hand. The wrinkled white sheets of an unmade bed approximate an
image, on the opposite page, of shifting desert sands that sit in the
shadow of a promontory. The mirage of a naked woman seen through a
window as she turns away, the reflection of a palm tree superimposed
over her and sunlight refracted through it all. A “sand waterfall” spilling
over the terraced edges of worn cliffs, a tan-colored veil plunging to the
canyon floor. These are some of the images we see in Private.
Kuhn, fascinated by art at a young age, was initially drawn to
OPPOSI TE: “Chanon,” 2013. ABOVE: “Three Rays,” 2013.
photography by the medium’s immediacy. She guesses she has been
shooting nudes since the early 1990s. Realizing that clothing dated
her photographs, Kuhn “started simplifying things,” she says. “The
nudes came as a way of going back to a more basic humanity and
becoming a little more intemporal.”
Kuhn’s process is highly intuitive, focused on putting herself in a
position to best react to what she encounters without overthinking
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