Throughout his nearly fifty-year career, Arno Rafael Minkkinen has created beautiful photographs of the highest order. In every one of these elegiac pictures, the artist himself is featured, most often in elemental natural settings. This richly varied body of work is the result of a solitary, disciplined process that is singular among photographic artists. Human Nature is a delightful and inspiring exhibition of seventy original black and white silver prints spanning the whole of Minkkinen’s career, capped in 2013 with the winning of the prestigious Lucie Award for his achievements in fine art photography. Just recently Minkkinen was named a 2015 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow.
While Minkkinen’s photographs are indeed beautiful, they are also frequently fantastical, mysterious, humorous and haunting. The artist’s approach has a degree of kinship with such genres as self-portraiture, performance art, the male nude, and landscape photography. However, its originality lies in it being a highly idiosyncratic synthesis of these genres – indeed, something that defies easy classification. Minkkinen has been able to draw upon his deep knowledge of photography’s history in crafting this wholly original approach.
So convincing are the artist’s images that one can be forgiven for assuming that they have been composed using some form of post-production manipulation, but they are all in fact ‘straight’ photographs. In essence, the artist performs for the camera; the end result is what the lens sees. No digital retouching or reordering of any kind is involved.
The title of the exhibition, Human Nature, is meant as a double entendre: as a meditation on the essence of the human condition, and a synthesis of the human being and his natural environment. SAGA: The Journey of Arno Rafael Minkkinen, Thirty-Five Years of Photographs is a beautiful book that presents his work in relation to the themes of the Kalevala, a great mythic adventure tale and the national epic of Finland, Minkkinen’s homeland. Where SAGA ingeniously sorts Minkkinen’s work into various themes, Human Nature presents it in chronological order in relation to the greater historical landscape tradition in art.