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Arno Rafael Minkkinen

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Arno Rafael Minkkinen ( is a Finnish American photographer and Emeritus Professor of Art at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and Docent at the Aalto University School of Art, Design, and Architecture in Helsinki. Already in 1969—years before the self-portrait genre evolved from Cindy Sherman and Francesca Woodman as it did in the mid-70s—Minkkinen began what would become a personal quest, dedicating over five decades to a single concept, that of the unmanipulated nude self-portrait in communion and counterpoint with nature outdoors and urban settings. Publications and solo and group exhibitions worldwide number in the hundreds. Minkkinen’s writings, teaching stints, academic and curatorial endeavors are extensive and international in scope as well. Workshops, in particular, have been held China, Brazil, Guatemala, Russia, Finland, Norway, Germany, Switzerland, France, Spain, and Italy not to mention in America in Florida, California, Maine, New Mexico, Colorado, and North Carolina. After obtaining a B.A. degree in English Literature from Wagner College, Minkkinen spent five years as a Madison Avenue copywriter working primarily on automobile, airline, and camera accounts. A headline he wrote for Minolta cameras—What happens inside your mind can happen inside a camera— 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.


LACP Interviews Arno Rafael Minkkinen

LACP asks Arno Rafael Minkkinen ten questions about their background, career in and beliefs about photography

Los Angeles Center of Photography: What kind of photographer are you?

Arno Rafael Minkkinen: I believe I am the kind of teacher who doesn’t teach from the work I do myself, but rather, I seek to be entirely open to new concepts and strategic possibilities in all genres of our beloved medium.

LACP: How long have you been shooting?

ARM: Since 1970, my practice has been a continuous endeavor; not a month or year missed in what may be one of the longest running, non-stop self-portrait bodies of work in the genre.

LACP: Where did you get your training?

ARM: Self-taught from the beginning. After scoring a copywriting job on the Minolta account at E.T. Howard Advertising on Madison Avenue in New York in January 1970, knowing little more than how to set shutter speed and lens aperture, I was introduced at Minolta headquarters about a month later as the agency expert on photography. It was David Vestal’s guidebook on photography that shored up my confidence. Later Ken Heyman’s evening course at his Lexington Avenue studio, George Tice at the New School, and Ralph Hattersley at the School of Visual Arts anchored my love for the transformative powers of the camera and the magic of the darkroom. The headline I had written for Minolta sealed the deal. There was no turning back. The camera was as good as welded to the tripod!

In the graduate program at Rhode Island School of Design, it was Harry Callahan who took me under his wing as professor and mentor. He saw in my work its potential and supported its expansion, not just through his teaching but through a warm and enduring friendship. Aaron Siskind encouraged the production of a first portfolio titled White Underpants. Later as an assistant professor at the Creative Photography Laboratory at MIT, we invited Robert Frank and Lee Friedlander to be visiting artists to help us initiate a Master of Science in Visual Studies program. It was Frank especially, who like Callahan, took to the work, becoming a friend and guiding spirit, not just during his visit, but beyond in later years as well.

LACP: When did you know you wanted to devote your life to photography?

ARM: The moment I opened the box with the Minolta SR-T 101 given to me on the first week on the job at the agency.

LACP: Did you ever come close to giving up?

ARM: Never.

LACP: Have you sacrificed anything by being a photographer?

ARM: Family life, in many ways, as all teachers do. Good movies and novels. Social life on the home front. Reclusiveness came with the territory for me, although travel to workshops and some 30 countries and 30 American States (where pictures have been made and exhibitions installed) meant being in touch with students and colleagues not just here in America but destinations around the world. Being a member of the Society for Photographic Education and on its board for eight years surely enlarged my social contacts as well.

LACP: What have you gained by being a photographer?

ARM: An immeasurable sense of wonder and hopefully wisdom about how photography and its history, which I also teach, can address the serious issues of our time like peace, climate change, equality, and compassion.

My new website begins with a list of what our medium has taught me:

Unlike film, nothing moves in a photograph

Unlike sculpture, a photograph is only as
thick as the paper it’s printed on

Unlike words, without light a photograph
is breathless to say anything

Unlike hearsay, a photograph always lives in
the present, provided nothing is manipulated

Unlike the known world, a photograph can
reveal a new reality we have never seen

LACP: What classes do you teach at LACP?


LACP: What do you love most about teaching?

ARM: Student work.

LACP: What advice would you give someone who is thinking about making a career in photography?

ARM: Pick up a camera.