New York Photo Review
Volume 3 Issue 23 June 20 to July 3, 2012

The Body in Question
Arno Rafael Minkkinen
Performing for the Camera: Forty Years of Self Portraits
Awake for Autopsy by Arno Rafael Minkkinen. Source:
Arno Rafael Minkkinen, "Bear Tree”

This spring the New York photography scene is host to two narcissists of brilliance. The ubiquitous Cindy Sherman, of course, and Arno Rafael Minkkinen.

A photographer who came up through the workshop/ Rhode Island School of Design route, Minnkkinen studied with Harry Callahan, whose clean and elegant black and white work his somewhat resembles, and John Benson, among others. A retrospective of work from the last 40 years is now at Barry Friedman Gallery, giving us a broad look at his odd and idiosyncratic vision.

Possessing a narrow focus and peculiarly Nordic flavor, his imagery turns on the ingenious ways he integrates his body into landscapes that are as, or more, important, than the body itself. Whereas Sherman focuses primarily on her face, Minkkeinen’s imagery is almost always faceless. The paleontologist of the medium, he is a collector of bones and fossils, only they are his bones and he is the fossil. Combining a contortionist’s ability to twist and turn with a punishing asceticism, he takes his boney white body with its sloping shoulders and concave chest, its long legs and sad genitals, and sets it not against nature, but into it –– a thing half buried in the ice and discovered by accident, a bone whitened by winter, or an odd extrusion thrown up from the lake’s depths during a storm, like a relic surfacing after millennia of darkness.

 by Arno Rafael Minkkinen. Source:
Arno Rafael Minkkinen

In his sad Nordic poems, the body is drained of personhood, less a corpse than a skeleton whose white bones have long been polished by the elements. Like Georgia O’Keefe or Frederick Sommer, he belongs to a tradition that celebrates the remnants of life in the aftermath of death. This is a very late Romantic vision, out of Tennyson or Rossetti perhaps, a bit morbid and tinged with necrophilia. His frequent use of mirror imagery, in particular, reinforces the Celtic Twilight feeling of faerie land and early Yeats. While his quirky poses are modern, the underlying feeling of his entire oeuvre is decidedly fin de siècle.

In general the use of a natural rather than an urban setting succeeds best in this work. Though the urban pictures are clever, their pallid surrealism is tame next to the archaic poetic power the rural ones sometimes evoke. In images such as ”Bear Tree” his work leaps past contrivance to land squarely in a terrain of deadly white otherness.

At its best his imagery grows out of the landscape: a metaphor that has taken root like Daphne turning into a tree. At its worse it is full of misguided affectation. That always seems to the case with artists who reach for more than the surface; they have to take that leap. When they fail, they fall flat on their face; but when they succeed, how wonderful it is.

Arno Rafael Minkkinen
Performing for the Camera: Forty Years of Self Portraits

Barry Friedman
515 W 26th St.
Chelsea         Map

212 239 8600

Monday, April 23 to
Friday, June 29, 2012
Hours: Tues-Sun, 10 to 6