Arno Rafael Minkkinen and Existentialism--a brief philosophical interpretation
When I first started to take photography seriously around twos years ago I was also, to an extent, getting more interested in philosophy. (Still, I have no right to call myself an expert of philosophical thought, and all the content in this presentation should be consumed critically, especially by those who may be experts, and specifically experts on existential thought.) I started to read some of the material written by thinkers like Kafka, Sartre, and Camus. This lead me to read the book of essays by Albert Camus called The myth of Sisyphus and other essays. It has taken around a year for me to actually start to grasp the point of the book, which I will try to summarize briefly: Camus makes the point that essentially we are born into an “absurd”--wildly unreasonable, illogical, or inappropriate--world with no inherent meaning, and though we are distracted from the absurdity throughout our life, we often hit points where we truly realize it--by the pain of an unfair loss, a heart-break, or even when staring at the intricate design in our four dollar latte-- and we have only three choices we can make during these moments of absurdity: to live with “hope”, to live in the absurd, or to die--to continue to elude the absurdity with hopeful illusions of meaning, to face the absurdity head on, or to commit suicide. Camus makes the point that if we decide to commit suicide we are making a meaning out of the fact that there is no meaning: life has no meaning so this means that we shouldn’t live life at all. He makes the point that some would commit suicide even if there was inherent meaning, and that we use life's lack of meaning as merely a justification or a cover-up to a much more subjective and convoluted desire to take our own lives. He also argues that we shouldn't follow any blind faith and try to pin meaning on things, because this will limit us from living in our full potential. Camus tell us that we should always try to live life in the midst of the absurd, and by doing so--even if on the edge of despair--it will enable us to live life more intensely, have more freedom, and love ourselves and others with a greater capacity. He says that all of our lives are like the life of Sisyphus, who is forced to continue to push a boulder up a mountain only to have it roll down each time he reaches the top. He says that one could imagine Sisyphus happy because he has the capability, like us, to find pleasure and happiness in his daily experience, thus perpetuating the desire to live. The ultimate sin, according to Camus, is to hope for something better outside of the realities of life. This restricts the self, and the self--and our individual daily experience--is all that we have. Like Sisyphus hoping that someday he might reach the top of the mountain and be able to stop, when in reality this won't happen. He must learn to enjoy the experience of pushing the rock. So, how does Arno Rafael Minkkinen’s work play on these existential ideas I just presented you, and why does this inspire me as an artist?
In the majority of Minkkinen’s work there is a theme of nudity. Not only do I think that this theme of nudity is a way to represent a vulnerability to nature and death, but I also believe it is to show the absurdity of the human condition. To help bring the viewer into a world lacking any illusory meaning or hope, and to tell a story of pure human experience, and the pains and pleasure that make it up. The scenes that Minkkinen photographs depict that of a man coming to terms with the mortality and carnality of our existence, and fully embracing the fear and loss that life often represents--facing the absurdity. Each picture is similar to that of the picture of Sisyphus pushing the rock up the mountain. Just as Sisyphus has to continue to identify with his experience and it’s absurdity, Minkkinen uses his body to identify with the absurdity of nature and the mortality and vacuousness that is primary in the human condition. These individual and almost surreal experiences which make up Minkkinen’s work depict the human body--and soul--with it’s large and complex range of sensations and emotions attempting to merge with nature and it’s absurdity, thus living intensely with passion and freedom. When we trick ourselves into thinking that we, as humans, are somehow outside or protected from the absurdity of nature then we restrict our freedom and make unrealistic decisions. Only when we can identify with the suffering can we truly be liberated. This, I believe, is what Minkkinen work attempts to present to the viewer: A perpetual cycle of absurd moments, and the living with and identifying with them as a human in an attempt to become more free.
Arno’s photographic themes not only fall under that of body, portraiture, and landscape photography; but also is tied together with a thin but strong string of existential thought. All of which I am drawn to. I would like to comment that this presentation is merely an interpretation of his work, and I am in not stating that this is simply what his work represent. Even if there are elements of existentialism in his work--which I can’t really prove-- I believe that his work is much more complex and personal than my former interpretation.