Nigel Barker – View from the Top
BY STEPHANIE CAJUCOM
For twenty years one name has become synonymous with the fashion industry; Nigel Barker. His irreparable and irreplaceable talents have stretched from modeling in front of the camera to burgeoning behind the lens, multiple lenses in fact. From photography to filmmaking to philanthropy to television, this creative force has forged innovative paths in the fields of fashion and beauty, manifesting a new realm of elegant entertainment.
Growing up in London, Barker’s plans to study medicine took a drastic turn due to his mother’s detour. Former Miss Sri Lanka, his mother saw radiating model potential in her son and enrolled him in a televised model search, which he of course won. With charm, stature, and impeccable bone structure his career catapulted and after ten years he ascended from the forefront of the lens to behind the scenes. With astute sensibility and a discerning eye sharpened after years of being the subject he captures emotion and imagination in inimitable moments for industry titans including GQ, Interview, Lexus, Ford and Sony.
A proven pusher of self, Barker lends his immense talents far beyond his very own StudioNB, in NYC’s infamously stylish Meatpacking District. He’s claimed television fame as a 17- season judge on the renowned ‘America’s Next Top Model’ and now Oxygen Network’s ‘The Face’. He’s created award-winning documentaries (Dreams Are Not Forgotten), a hit VH1 show titled ‘The Shot’ and even a successful book, ‘Nigel Barker’s Beauty Equation’. Naturally, he is also a highly coveted spokesperson for mega brands like Microsoft, Sony, Crest White Strips and Nine West. Above all, he is a proud father and philanthropist.
To say Nigel Barker does it all is an understatement. He’s not only giving the world an elevated look at fashion and beauty, he’s changing our view and we’re looking forward to the next twenty years of sightseeing.
Have you always enjoyed watching and interpreting the world around you?
Who doesn't? That's what we do as a people, I just do it through photography and film. I guess as much as I like watching and interpreting, more often than not I am provoking and creating the image. I don't usually have the luxury of waiting for something to happen but rather I try to create an environment conducive for my subject to be spontaneous through the use of music and strong narrative that I often times direct to my subjects to help them fully commit to the fantasy we are breathing life into.
What made you start photography?
I started shooting when I was 12 years old with a Kodak Brownie I bought with my saved up pocket money. I learned how to print B&W prints in the dark room when I was 14 and had a camera all through High school. However it was always just a hobby and another creative outlet for me alongside fashion design, weaving, pattern cutting and dress making. It was after I had a lucky break and became a model that I fully realized the opportunities of working in fashion as a photographer. Now of course there are university degrees in photography, when I was a kid there were just apprenticeships.
After successfully modeling for 6 years in the late 80s and early 90s the business went from the Amazonian look to the Heroin Chic androgynous look and at 6'4" I wasn't cut out to be a waif! But I didn't want to throw away my years of life training as a model and quickly transitioned from one side of the camera to the other.
How would you describe your artistic style?
I consider myself a portrait photographer who shoots fashion. In other words what interests me most is my relationship with the subject and my aim is always to make you interested in the mood and feeling of a shot and thus fascinated with everything about it including the fashion.
Is there a creative process before a story, and if so describe it to us?
Absolutely, depending on the job or the shoot we always brainstorm and research concepts and story lines even storyboarding editorials out in advance. These ideas come from the designer's creative for their collections when we are shooting their campaigns, to ideas based on movies that are coming out for editorial shoots and more often than not it's the general zeitgeist that influences what we want to portray and the mood and feeling we hope to capture.
-- Interview by Anna Maria Sandegren
In your images you go beyond what the eyes see, and you capture the soul of your object, whats the hardest moment in this process?
You always want to capture the essence of the person or the soul as you put it regardless of whether you are shooting a man, woman animal or inanimate object - in which case you need to breath life into it. The hard part is you often don't know the person or have time to get to know them. And when you do you may not like what you find but it's my job to find commonalities or at the very least provoke a situation that allows the subject to evoke an honest truth. It's those moments that become the most iconic, something I always strive for.
You have done so many different types of photography, editorial, fashion, portrait, advertising, documentary, fine art and travel photography, which is your favorite style?
I simply love to be creative and go with the flow of what I am shooting on any given assignment. I love the fact that I have the opportunity to be shooting a supermodel for an editorial one day, a super star for an advertisement the next, then a real person in the real world the next. But no matter what I look for the best in everyone and everything, of course sometimes it's a little cheeky or risque but other times it's heart warming and nostalgic but two days are never the same just like the setting sun can be glorious and then foreboding.
You work across the glob with so many philanthropic projects, and then you return to fashion, what is your secret to a balance those two very separate worlds?
My work in the glamourous world of fashion has given me a platform to discuss these important issues about poverty, disease and famine with an audience that least expects me to be discussing it. Which often results in them sitting up and paying attention. As a photographer if I can change hearts and minds with a film or photo then I feel I have achieved a lot. Sometimes it is difficult to be shooting in a slum in Haiti one week and then in a plush studio in New York the next but that is also the realty of life and helps ground me and drive me to fight for those less fortunate.
Do you consider yourself an artist, a story teller of history, or a medium of communication?
I have been called all three and worse! Truth be told I don't call myself anything, I just do what I do and feel very lucky to be doing it.
Describe your strengths and weaknesses as an artist and a creator?
I think your readers will be better suited to answer this question after they have seen my work for if I knew the answers to this question it would be time for me to retire.