Fichter was initially inspired to make art by his older sister Jeannette, who trained as an abstract expressionist painter. He studied painting, printmaking, and photography at the University of Florida (1959–63), where the teachings of photographer Jerry Uelsmann were especially formative for the artist. Uelsmann encouraged young photographers to seek creative freedom through darkroom experimentation, challenging the medium’s relationship to reality by staging and manipulating images. Fichter received further education in alternative and historical processes under Henry Holmes Smith while pursuing his MFA at the University of Indiana (1963–66.) His master’s thesis, “Notes from a Biological and Psychological Garden,” outlined an artistic approach grounded in the physical world but expressive of deep feeling.
A southern gothic sensibility pervades many of Fichter’s early photographs. Cars whizz by a chain gang; figures raise their arms as if taking flight; and shadowy dogs roam the water’s edge. Using prolonged exposures and solarization—a darkroom technique that reverses the tones in a print creating a halo effect—Fichter causes recognizable imagery to blur, resulting in a dizzying or dream-like vision of reality. These formal choices reveal psychological and spiritual dimensions underlying an individual’s perception.