Arno Rafael Minkkinen is a Finnish American photographer. He was born in Helsinki in 1945 and emigrated to the United States in 1951. Graduating from Wagner College in 1967 with a BA in English Literature, he began taking self-portraits four years later while working as an advertising copywriter. Minolta, Peugeot, and J&B Scotch were among his key clients. One headline he wrote guided him to consider photography seriously: “What happens inside your mind can happen inside a camera.” In the summer of 1971 Minkkinen enrolled at Apeiron Photographic Workshops in Millerton, NY to study with John Benson. It’s where Minkkinen decided to let the camera be the photographer while he became the subject. His studies advanced later with Ken Heyman, George Tice, and Ralph Hattersley as he continued hammering out headlines on Madison Avenue. In 1972 Minkkinen entered Rhode Island School of Design to study with Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind, earning an MFA degree in photography in 1974.
Over the past four decades Minkkinen has been engaged as a teacher, curator, and writer while continuing to devote his photographic energies exclusively to the self-portrait: unmanipulated images of the nude human figure in both natural and urban settings. Finland, Norway, Sweden, France, Italy, China, and the American West have been his favorite hunting grounds. But it is on Fosters Pond in Massachusetts, on the shores of which Minkkinen’s Finnish-inspired home sits, that some of his best-known works have been made. Minkkinen’s subject matter has also included many self-portraits with women as well as a more intimate series of works with his wife, Sandra, and an extended 18-year portrait of their beloved son, Daniel. Begun just weeks after Daniel was born in 1979 and well into Dan’s later teenage years, the father-and-son series remains unknown, awaiting a time when putting the work together in published form feels right.
Published and exhibited worldwide, Minkkinen’s work can be found in the collections of the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover; the Museum of Fine Arts Boston; the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design; the Center for Creative Photography in Arizona; the Museum of Fine Arts Houston; the High Museum in Atlanta; the Yale University Art Gallery; the Museum of Modern Art in New York; the Centre Pompidou, the Musée d’Art Moderne, and the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris; the Musée de l’Élysée in Lausanne; Kiasma, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Finnish Museum of Photography in Helsinki; and the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, among many others.
Seven monographs on his work have been published: Frostbite (1978), Waterline (1994, winner of the 25th Rencontres d’Arles Book Prize), Body Land (1999), SAGA: The Journey of Arno Rafael Minkkinen, 35 Years of Photographs (2005), Homework: The Finnish Photographs (2008), Swimming in the Air (2009), and Balanced Equation (2010).
Over one hundred solo exhibitions and nearly two hundred group shows have been seen around the world. Highlights include the 1995 exhibition titled Waterline that toured through Finland, Sweden, Belgium, France, Italy, and Switzerland. Ten years later, SAGA: The Journey of Arno Rafael Minkkinen, organized by the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography (FEP), premiered at the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, MA, and traveled to Romania, Slovakia, Finland, Italy, China, and Canada. This past summer, the International Rencontres d’Arles in France exhibited Optic Nerve at the Parc des Ateliers. The 75-print chronological survey spanned forty-three years of work and will tour Europe in advance of an American tour to be organized by FEP.
Currently Nancy Donahue Professor of Art at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, where he has taught since 1987, Minkkinen previously served as lecturer and later professor (in the mid-70s, mid-80s, and early 90s) at the University of Art & Design Helsinki where he retains the position of docent today. Now called Aalto University of Art, Design and Architecture, the school is also known in photographic circles as the Helsinki School. Earlier in Minkkinen’s teaching career (1977 to 1981), he was Assistant Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he served as curator for the exhibition New American Nudes and edited the accompanying catalog. Other teaching affiliations have included the Philadelphia College of Art (now University of the Arts), the Lahti Institute of Design in Finland, and the École d’Arts Appliqués in Vevey, Switzerland, from which many former students are among the new leading generation of contemporary photographers.
Minkkinen was also part of Maine Media College’s visiting MFA graduate faculty. Summer teaching venues in America include the Friends of Photography in Carmel, Maine Photographic Workshops, Santa Fe Workshops, Anderson Ranch, and Penland. In Europe he has taught at numerous workshops in Finland, Norway, Latvia, Greece, and at the Toscana Photographic Workshops in Italy and the Rencontres d’Arles in southern France. Since joining UMass Lowell, Minkkinen has shepherded his American students to numerous European destinations, working collaboratively with schools in various countries in a program called Spirit Level.
As a curator, Minkkinen was chosen by the city of Nice on the French Riviera to create the first extensive presentation of Finnish photography in Europe in 1991. Camera International produced the catalog issue to commemorate Finnice, the historic 28-exhibition venue that helped make Finland an important part of European photography. In 1993, Minkkinen was invited to curate a major exhibition for the Retretti Art Center in Punkaharju, Finland, to accompany a Marc Chagall show there. Elegant Intimacy, as the resulting exhibition and catalog was titled, was devoted to the family photographs of Sally Mann and Jacques-Henri Lartigue together with works from Harry Callahan, Emmet Gowin, Claude Batho, Yves Tremorin, Roman Vishniac, and Alfred Stieglitz. In 1995, the Finnish filmmaker Kimmo Koskela produced Still Not There, a 55-minute documentary on Minkkinen’s life and artistic production for Finnish television that was Finland’s entry the following year for the Emmy Awards.
Elected to a second four-year term as national board member of the Society of Photographic Education, Minkkinen is chair of the publications committee and its journal Exposure. He has been awarded a regional National Endowment for the Arts fellowship as well as two Massachusetts Arts Council grants. In Finland, he was conferred the First Class Order of the Lion Medal by the Finnish government in 1992 and awarded the Finnish State Art Prize in Photography in 2006.