Photos by Nick Fancher

The Art of the Portrait

As a junior in high school in 1997, when I was deciding which path I wanted to go down—fine arts or photography—things were pretty simple. Did I want to express myself with a camera or a pencil? Inspired by masters like Annie Leibovitz and David LaChapelle, I opted for the camera. All I wanted to do was create beautiful images for a living. By signing up for a degree in fine art photography, little did I know what lay ahead for me.

My path to disenchantment with the art world started with my first art history course at OSU in 2000. The lecturer was verbally dissecting a Renaissance painting, talking about the hidden triangles in it that helped move the viewer’s eye through the piece.

I thought the teacher was full of shit, and I struggled to stay awake.

The nail in the proverbial coffin for me was when I took an advanced black-and-white photography course and was introduced to the world of conceptual photography. Photography was, in fact, not about the act of taking pictures. The camera was merely a vessel used to document the act of performance or art creation.

I love capturing a fleeting trait that I see in someone. I love transforming a subject into a character.

I was as confused as I was angry. We learned to defend our motive, during critiques. “It means whatever the viewer wants it to mean,” was uttered more than a few times. We learned to snicker at the fools who were taking the class simply as a means to prepare them for launching their senior portrait business.

Photos weren’t “pretty” or “cool.” They either succeeded at communicating a concept (preferably politically charged), or they failed. Complexity and obscurity were lauded.

When I finally graduated in 2005, I was ready to quit working in the service industry and launch my career as a fine art photographer. I would never shoot a wedding or a baby or a senior portrait. That was a job for the uneducated. For the amateur. The Sunday “painter.”  I quickly launched a website of my work and I waited. And waited… and picked up more shifts at Starbucks to cover my new student bills.

By the end of that year I had already shot two weddings and realized that they weren’t as bad as I had imagined. In fact, I enjoyed how much creative freedom the couples were giving me. They actually liked when I would bring my own ideas to the table and push the boundaries creatively. And since Columbus didn’t exactly have a slew of photography studios lining up to hire me, it was either more weddings or more frappuccinos.

It’s now been more than 10 years since I graduated OSU, and  eight since I launched my business, and only now am I at a place where I can have a healthy perspective on the whole education and business process that helped make me who I am today. I can look back at my fine art photography background and appreciate the historical and conceptual elements that I was taught. I feel as though they now give me a one up on photographers who were simply trained in the technical side of photography. But I also learned to not be so hard and fast with rules for myself. Yes, concept is important, but not any more important than creating something that exists just to be beautiful.

Which leads me to my latest project: it’s not of a political bent, nor undertaken through great conceptual complexity. I am creating 100 portraits in 100 days. The only rule is that I can’t work ahead. Everyday I shoot a new portrait, edit it, and post it. Occasionally there is a brief explanation accompanying the image. Every day, the project reminds me of why I got into photography in the first place. I love light. I love color. I love creating an environment or an atmosphere. I love capturing a fleeting trait that I see in someone. I love transforming a subject into a character. Sometimes there’s a concept motivating my actions. Most of the time, however, I am making it up as I go. I love it all.

Nick Fancher is a freelance photographer who has been working with (614)’s fashion team for the last two years, specializing in working quickly and on the go, and with minimal setup. His book, Studio Anywhere, can be purchased at and through You can see his work in person at his show Faces and Light, which runs through the end of September at Wild Goose Creative.