Looking Back

Mona Kuhn

January 2, 2016



Theodore Miller © Courtesy Staley-Wise Gallery and Lee Miller Archives, England, 2015

We asked Mona Kuhn to tell us about a picture that meant something to her, and why. Kuhn is a photographer and the curator of the second public art show of The Billboard Creative, artworks that were on billboards throughout Los Angeles in December.


While I was visiting the Getty Museum in 2003 to see Surrealist Muse: Lee Miller, Roland Penrose, and Man Ray, a stereoscopic photograph on display caught my attention. I was curious and went in for a closer look. It felt intimate, but nothing prepared me for what I saw. When I looked at the contact print through the viewer, the two images combined created a three-dimensional effect. It was an apparition of the great photographer and muse Lee Miller, posing calmly in front of her father’s lens. This tender moment, in which Miller was both muse and daughter, was brought back to life. I could almost run my hand around the contours of her delicate body and feel the warmth of a living being – a projection of beauty at its best, free and without shame.

To me, this intimate moment is evidence of a precious yet vulnerable seed of beauty and aspiration. But Lee Miller’s beauty did not rest at the surface of her skin. Her profound beauty stemmed from her discernment and personal sense of urgency. Between 1939 and 1945, Miller left behind her role as muse and took her camera, along with her courage, to the front lines in Europe. During those years, she came face to face with the total depletion of her own ideals. Her photographs of lifeless bodies in the Dachau concentration camp shocked the world.

Miller approached the world with curiosity and intelligence, with an urge to counter ignorance. To me, this photograph is a symbol of how grace is upheld in a civilized society. As an artist, I strive to work where beauty and human dignity are united, restored, and renewed.