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40 Years as an elf – The photography of Arno Rafael Minkkinen

Posted in Things We Love

Arno Minkkinen
Grand Canyon, Arizona

Friends and readers alike are a constant source of inspiration and suggestions, for which sofagirl and I are immensely grateful. Even what doesn’t make the final cut on the blog often generates other ideas or, during the research progress, a crumb trail to other possibilities.

When Silvia sent me a link to some photographs by Arno Rafael Minkkinen I was intrigued for two reasons: the black and whites were beautiful intertwined nudes that aimed to merge two bodies into one and I love photography as an art form, especially now when every Tom, Dick and Harry are fashioning themselves into photographers and Instagram the results. I especially love photography untouched by Photoshop and/or filters. 

Arno Rafael Mikkinen today
Arno Rafael Mikkinen today

I started researching Mr. Minkkinen and, the more I dug, the more I became enamored with a project that has spanned 40 years and is still going: Arno Rafael Minkkinen, who is Finnish/American, has taken self portraits, in the nude, in settings as varied as forests, streams and even dangling from a cliff. Looking at them in a continuum it’s hard to believe it’s the same person – his body mingling with nature appears ageless – and that there is no other photographer but the model himself.

Mr. Minkkinen has gone to great risks for some of the shots, risks that persuaded him not to ask anyone else but himself to pose. The results are timeless, breathtaking and possess a quality of calm that showcases both the ability and the trust the photographer place in his shots.

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“There is no age to the picture when it’s just the landscape and the body – they could be reality from 1305 because of the nudity”.

Nauvo, Finland
Nauvo, Finland

For professional or amateur photographers alike, interested in this type of photography, Mr. Minkkinen has compiled 12 precious rules in the essay “How to work the way I work”. Here are some snippets I particularly liked:


Artists who believe they control everything control what they know. Artists who allow outside forces to intervene are like canoes going down rapids. The rocks are there. If you fight them, you fly off the bow. If you allow the current to take you, you can pass through swimmingly. It is a rare gift at every bend.

introImage_7-10Here is a group of images taken in Finland over four decades. The math is simple: 1973 + 12 years = 1985 + 13 years = 1998 + 11 years = 2009. Or, I was 28 in 1973, 64 in 2009: same guy, same body—different birch trees, different bodies of water.


I borrowed the waste paper container from the men’s room at the advertising agency back in 1972. I painted it black and hauled it 200 miles to Connecticut. I put the camera on the tripod, advanced the film, set the timer, got in the thing and waded out into the water, extension bulb in hand. Swiveling around to face the camera I squeezed and waited for the shutter. It fired. That’s when the question arose. How do I get out of this thing?

Val D'Orcia, Italy  Self portrait with Christina
Val D’Orcia, Italy
Self portrait with Christina

And what about those nudes Silvia sent us to begin with? I invite you to explore Arno Rafael Minkkinen’s site and see for yourself.











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