In his photographs, Arno Rafael Minkkinen dexterously integrates his body into the natural landscape, creating visceral, poetic images that often appear to defy reality. For the past fifty years, Minkkinen has dedicated himself to the exploration of this continuous vision. Working alone, he photographs his nude body in the outdoors, contorting his sinewy limbs to gracefully and powerfully echo the forms and compositions of the natural elements that he has incorporated himself into. These images seamlessly blend self-portraiture and landscape in a reminder that humans are a part of the natural world, and that mind and body are crucially interconnected, as are humanity and nature.
Despite ever-advancing possibilities for enhancement offered by technology, Minkkinen resolutely chooses not to use digital manipulation in his work, relying solely on the beauty of nature and his own physical endurance. He cleverly choreographs each scene, turning his leg into a tree branch or his back into a glistening river rock, thus creating a visual puzzle in which his body becomes one with his muse. Minkkinen states, “Instead of giving expression to the world’s outer appearances and perplexities, I have wished to explore the inner world of our fears, hopes, and desires in an attempt to make communion with the one world we inhabit.”
Born in Helsinki, Finland, Minkkinen immigrated with his family to the United States at the age of 6, and grew up in Brooklyn. After receiving a BA in English Literature from Wagner College in 1967, he worked as a copywriter, which led him to discover a passion for photography. He began making images using his body as his subject matter in the early 1970s, and went on to study with Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind while earning his MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design, where he graduated in 1974.
Minkkinen is a professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, a member of the Society of Photographic Education National Board, and a lecturer at the Aalto University School of Art, Design and Architecture in Helsinki. He was the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in 2015, the Lucie Award for Achievement in Fine Art in 2013, and was a finalist for the 2008 Prix Pictet, in addition to receiving the 2006 Finnish State Art Prize in Photography. In 2017, Minkkinen was knighted by the Finnish government with the Pro Finlandia Order of the Lion medal. His work has been the subject of eight solo monographs, and has been exhibited internationally with over 100 solo shows and nearly 200 group exhibitions in galleries and museums worldwide. A 300-page monograph commemorating his five decades long career, featuring essays by Vicki Goldberg and Keith Davis, was published in 2019 and was awarded the German Photo Book of the Year Prize. Minkkinen’s work is in the permanent collections of the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; High Museum, Atlanta; Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris; Kiasma-Contemporary Art Museum, Helsinki; Museo Nazionale Alinari della Fotografia, Florence; and the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.