What is a Fine Art Portrait?

 Chicago fine art portrait photographer Katharine Hannah gives creative education

If you've ever scrolled through Instagram looking for inspiration from photographers then you've probably seen the phrase Fine Art Portraiture or Fine Art Photographer and wondered what that meant. As with most creative ideas, the definition of a fine art portrait is vague and kinda depends on who you're talking to because it's not one thing or another, and it has a lot to do with subjective ideas of art. See how vague of an answer even that was? ;)

So, What Makes a Fine Art Portrait?

In short? A fine art portraiture is a few things combined to create a perfect, beautiful storm of concept, knowledge of your history, and creativity. It's a well thought out and preplanned location, outfit, style, and theme, combined with reactionary responses when you're actually photographing. What I love about being a fine art portrait photographer is that I can take the knowledge that I've accumulated over the years through personal growth with my camera in the woods, education from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and experience creating scenes for images, to give clients a fine art portrait of themselves. 

"A fine art portrait is a perfect storm."

My definition comes from a personal history of growing up with a camera and taking pictures of myself, trying to come up with concepts and stories told through just one image, and constantly trying to find new ways to be creative and express myself through my own portrait. I taught myself photography, literally while I was alone in the woods with my camera on a daily basis, using props, lyrics, ideas, and TONS of teen angst, I found ways to use portraiture to express feelings. But I'm also someone who went to fine art school, and I'm definitely a little if not a lot biased in thinking that education in art history plays a big role into what makes a fine art portrait.

Because from learning about the history of portrait photography, of painting, of drawing, and the histories of artistry around the world, it's important to me to be able to be able to reflect on and speak to the history of art when I'm creating a fine art portrait. Without knowing your history, you can be in a conversation you didn't even know existed, which is why I feel that gaining knowledge into fine art lets me create more freely without the fear of stepping on toes or saying something I don't believe in on accident - and to be honest, I absolutely used to step on toes. When I was younger and first starting out, I'd create self portraits that looked a lot like Francesca Woodman's without even knowing of her existence and in affect was appropriation of sorts. 

What I can tell you is this; no matter what, someone will disagree with your definition of fine art portraiture, so you shouldn't let their disapproval make the decision for you. Come up with your own subjective opinion of what it should be, because if that's not fine art, then I don't know what is. :)


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Katharine Hannah

Chicago, IL

Katharine’s work has graced the walls of institutions such as The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, The Harold Washington Library of Chicago, and local galleries such as Dreambox Gallery, Siragus Gallery and Blick Art Materials. She has also been featured on websites such as the Huffington Post, Phlearn, Fstoppers, Tigress Magazine for Girls, Bitchtopia, and Golden Boy Press.

In addition to photography, Katharine has been a mentor and educator in the arts since 2013. She has worked with students in various organizations and projects over the last two years, including Hive Chicago’s PROjectUS initiative and Digital Youth Network’s Digital Diva’s and Chicago City of Learning programs.