I have used my physical presence as a tool for visual discovery in natural and urban settings for, soon approaching, 50 years. While the term self-portrait obviously applies to my work (today’s “selfie” concept), my intent was not to reveal my inner self. Instead, I wanted my body to become a creative instrument for philosophical and metaphysical thought. By transferring the responsibility for making the picture to the camera, as I did in that very first deliberate try, standing before a mirror on a hillside in Millerton, New York in 1971, I came to understand that photography is at its most surreal when anchored to reality. What the lens saw became sacrosanct territory. There could be no manipulation of the image whatsoever once the shutter fired. Before that moment, of course, anything was possible.
Interweaving my body with nature—where the bulk of my work hovers today—became a way of preparing one's self, in the metaphorical sense, for the inevitable. But then, nature shouldn’t need to make such preparations for its demise. Our time is limited; nature must remain eternal.
I made a contract with myself about what I would not do. So, foremost, there would be no manipulation—whether in the camera or in the printing stages outside normal density and contrast controls—so that the image would correspond exactly with the reality before the lens. There would be no need for clothes in a timeless world. All the better to blend within the landscape wherein I would be but a part. Nor would I photograph someone else to take my place in the photographs. No reason to put anyone but myself in discomfort or in harm’s way. To preserve my signature in the work and not make it a collaborative process, the only eye with access to the viewfinder would be my own. Thus I would need no assistants but learn instead to embrace the freedom of working alone. Basically a solo traveler, the landscape, the light, and the lens would drive my love for photography and if luck held out, there would be no end in sight to what would be possible.
Upon obtaining a B.A. degree in English Literature from Wagner College, Minkkinen eventually became the Madison Avenue copywriter who wrote the influential headline for Minolta cameras (What happens inside your mind can happen inside a camera) that inspired him to study with Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind at Rhode Island School of Design where he received his MFA degree in photography in 1974.
Eight monographs have been published: Frostbite (Morgan & Morgan, 1978), Waterline (Aperture, Marval, and Otava, 1994, and Grand Prix du Livre at the 25th Recontres d’Arles), Body Land (Motta, Nathan, Smithsonian, 1997-99), SAGA: The Journey of Arno Rafael Minkkinen, Thirty-Five Years of Photographs (Chronicle Books, 2005), Homework: The Finnish Photographs, 1973 to 2008 (Like Publishing, Ltd, 2008), Swimming in the Air (Cavallo Point, 2008), Balanced Equation (Lodima Press, 2010), and Facing the Camera: 1970 to Tomorrow (Barbado Gallery, Lisbon, 2015).
Minkkinen’s works are held in over 75 prominent museum and institutional collections worldwide, such as the Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris and the Georges Pompidou Center in Paris, the Musée de l’Élysée in Lausanne, the Contemporary Art Museum Kiasma in Helsinki, the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography in Japan, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the High Museum in Atlanta, the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover, Massachusetts, and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City.
Twelve galleries represent Minkkinen’s work: Edwynn Houk Gallery in New York and Zurich, Robert Klein Gallery in Boston, Catherine Edelman in Chicago, Galerie Camera Obscura in Paris, Galerie Valerie Bach in Brussels, Photo & Contemporary in Torino, Willas Contemporary in Oslo, and SEE+ Gallery in Beijing. Additional representations include galleries in Köln, Lisbon, Luxembourg, and Moscow.
Minkkinen has been a recipient of numerous awards, among them a National Endowment for the Arts regional grant in 1991, the Order of the Lion First Class Medal of Knighthood from the Finnish Government in 1993, a Massachusetts Cultural Council Grant in 2005, the Finnish State Art Prize in Photography in 2006, the Lucie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Fine Art in 2013, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in 2015.