Arno Rafael Minkkinen is a Finnish-American photographer who works in the United States. Published and exhibited worldwide, Minkkinen's work can be found in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts
, Boston and the Finnish Museum of Photography. Seven solo monographs on his work have been published: Frostbite
(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). The retrospective survey SAGA premiered at the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, MA, in 2005. The 120-print retrospective toured to Romania, Slovakia, Finland, Italy, China, and Canada. Minkkinen was made a Knight of the Order of the Lion of Finland of the first class by the Finnish government in 1992, and awarded the Finnish State Art Prize in Photography in 2006.
Minkkinen was born in Helsinki, Finland in 1945 and emigrated to the United States in 1951. He graduated from Wagner College with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and began taking self-portraits in 1971, while working as an advertising copywriter on Madison Avenue in New York. He later studied with Harry Callahan
and Aaron Siskind
at Rhode Island School of Design and earned his Master of Fine Arts 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 research and energies to the self-portrait. Minkkinen is a Professor of Art at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and also serves as lecturer at Aalto University of Art & Design Helsinki. Earlier in his teaching career, he served as Assistant Professor at M.I.T., Visiting Artist at Philadelphia College of Art (now University of the Arts (Philadelphia)), the École d'Arts Appliqués in Vevey, Switzerland, and as graduate faculty at Maine Media College in Rockport, Maine.
Since joining UMass Lowell in 1987, Minkkinen has taken students to Finland and Russia (1988), and Czechoslovakia (1989). In 1996, in a collaborative UMass Lowell/Lahti Institute of Design (Lahti, Finland) exchange program called Spirit Level, thirty Finnish, American, and Swiss students toured through Finland, Russia, and Eastern Europe for three weeks with Minkkinen and photo department head at Lahti, Timo Laaksonen. Among the students at the time was Mark Eshbaugh who later became an adjunct professor at UMass Lowell. Seven years after the first Spirit Level, together with Timo Laaksonen and Mark Eshbaugh a professor at Umass Lowell at that time, Tuscany in Italy (2003) and Oaxaca, Mexico (2007) were added to the program.  Later Minkinnen organized collaborations with Aalto University in Helsinki, Finland and the Foundation Studio Marangoni in Florence, Italy (2010) as well as the Bilder Nordic School of Photography in Oslo and the École Supérieure d'Arts & Medias de Caen/Cherbourg in France (2012) for an American Road Trip to the studio farmlands of American photographer Sally Mann. The first three workshops resulted in the publication of a book commemorating those first three experiences.
Minkkinen has taught workshops worldwide, particularly at the Maine Photographic Workshops (now Maine Media Workshops), Maine Media College (as part of the graduate faculty), the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University, Anderson Ranch in Colorado, Santa Fe Workshops in New Mexico, the Friends of Photography in Carmel, California, and in Europe at the Rencontres d'Arles
in Arles, France, the Toscana Photographic Workshops in Tuscany, Italy, as well as workshop programs in Finland, Norway, Luxembourg, and China. Minkkinen served a second four-year term as national board member of the Society of Photographic Education (2008 to 2016).
Since 2009, Minkkinen has developed a growing interest in feature filmmaking and screenwriting. In 2010, he received a first-round of support from the Finnish Film Foundation for a screenplay he had written and will be directing. It will be shot in Finnish Karelia and Finntown, Brooklyn. The demo preview of The Rain House
was screened at the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center in connection with the Dance Films Association's 41st Dance on Camera Festival (2013).
Finnish-American photographer Arno Rafael Minkkinen has been capturing self-portraits of his nude body in natural surroundings for the better part of five decades. More than just existing in these scenic locations, Minkkinen fully merges his limbs and torso like a chameleon, blurring the lines between where the world ends and his body begins.
The methods used to create these bold and uninhibited shots pre-date the use of Photoshop by decades, instead of relying on a simple 9-second shutter release that allows Minkkinen to quickly pose for each shot. He usually works completely alone, and won’t let anyone else look through his camera’s viewfinder, lest they instead be labeled ‘the photographer.’ What may appear as a simply composed photo with fortuitous timing, is often the result of Minkkinen taking dangerous risks as he submerges himself in strong currents, buries himself in ice, or balances precariously on the edge of a cliff.