One afternoon on Skype with New York Top Photographer Nigel Barker

Nigel Barker and I first met over 8 years ago in Los Angeles at a lunch meeting. Back then, I was quite impressed by his poise, his sweet demeanour but also what he seemed to stand for. He didn’t come across as just a top NY fashion photographer and a judge on one of the top TV shows of that time, America’s Next Top Model. I was impressed by the values he shared but also his strong family ties. And of course, it didn’t hurt that he wasn’t bad looking 🙂

Eight years later, I got to sit with him again, but this time separated by an ocean and a computer screen! The joys and miracle of technology! He was in his New York kitchen and I was at my desk in Zurich but it felt like we were in the same room. I decided to do things a little differently this time and rather than transcribe our conversation in writing only, I will share with you some of the clips that I filmed. This way, you will get a feeling for who he is much better. Needless to say it’s not commercial quality but it’s genuine and authentic. And you get to see me tucked away in the lower part of the screen! 

Before we delve into our conversation, I would like to mention some of the projects that keep him very busy these days!

He is getting ready for the casting process of the second season of his hit show Top PhotographerHe also has a furniture collection line with Art Van in the Midwest – the second largest furniture retailer in the US.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! He is the brand spokesperson for the Marriott hotels, specifically their AC Hotel collection. This year, he joined Menswear line Flag and Anthem and Prai Beauty as their Artistic and Creative Director.

Now let’s meet Nigel Barker and pick his brain. Make sure to watch the clips!

Beauty is …

Beauty is personality. Beauty is independence, individuality, uniqueness. It’s imperfection.

What makes a person beautiful?

The ability to allow yourself to be spontaneous which is magical. It’s very difficult to be spontaneous. Most of us feel judged, we time ourselves, we restrict ourselves, we guard ourselves, we put barriers up during conversations. When you meet someone who’s really interesting and exciting, that spontaneity is truly magical because it catches you off guard, takes you by surprise. Spontaneity ultimately is freedom, freedom to be yourself, to do what you want when you want and not think about it. That’s something that only children have so when you see it in an adult, it’s really something special. 

Do you have any regrets?

You have regrets, I have regrets. Regrets that you did things you shouldn’t have done, or things you could have done. But ultimately I try to live my life without regrets. It’s not human to have no regrets- to say so would almost sound conceded. There are always times that you could have done better.

Does anything scare you?

Lots of things scare me! I have all the usual phobias that most people have. I don’t like small spaces, heights, but I deal with it. I try to work on managing and working through my fears. But the things that scare me most is to make sure my children are safe and are raised to become smart, sensible, loving adults. 

How do you feel about aging?

What moves you?

Everything moves me! I wake up every morning, look out the window and try to soak up everything that is happening – different smells, the wind, birds, cars… I try to look for beauty in all. Even in the dirty, the tough there is beauty. To me, often times, the tougher and dirtier the place, the more exciting and beautiful it is. Don’t get me wrong I feel blessed to live where I do and get to see all the beautiful places I get to go to. But it’s almost more exciting when you go to a tough and broken down city like Detroit. You see people work hard, seeking to make a difference by re-building their town. When you see people persevere and try to change their life, that to me is when I get really inspired. 

Has Social Media impacted modeling and how models are being perceived?  

Do you like where it’s all going?

I’m not here to like or not to like. You can’t go around making opinions about everything on this planet. I don’t have time for it. I’m kind of involved in everything, at all times. I see problems with all aspects of everything but I also see benefits. I choose to act rather than deny, to accept rather than to refuse. To be part of it and not stand aside. 

How is the younger Nigel Barker different from the Nigel Barker today?

Who said I’m not young anymore? 🙂 

I’m very different. As a young man, like most young men, you feel like you know a certain amount with certain subjects in your life and you think you can take it all on.

The older I get the more I realise how little I know, and the more I realise how much there is to learn. At the same time there is a certain quiet that is in me now. I feel more balanced and grounded. Certain things don’t scare me anymore. There are certain things that happen in life, like the passing of my father and sister recently, that make me realise that I have to enjoy everything while being aware of how terminal things can be. When you are with people you love and care about, you have to really enjoy those moments, soak them up and always leave on good terms. Mean what you say and think about what you say. These are the things that I tried to adjust as I got older.

What do you think a world without imagination would be like?

No world at all! I live for imagination. I live for dreams. I love a good fantasy. Imagination is what’s magical. Just to sit and look at the sunset, the ocean, the horizon is very exciting. I always imagine that I can do anything if I put my mind to it. This thinking has brought me to be a photographer, a TV personality, a furniture designer, a brand Ambassador. There is nothing that I cannot do, I just have to find the time to do it.

Do you have icons?

Have you ever failed?

I fail all the time, every day! Failure is half the fun! If you fail, you know when you succeed.      

The many things that have happened in my life were because of mistakes I made. Something that was supposed to be a failure turned into an opportunity and led me into another direction and showed me a different opportunity or way. Failure has a negative connotation but it really is something that doesn’t work. It doesn’t mean that it’s a problem but rather that you have to find another way. Sometimes we have a fake success where we think something is fantastic because it worked but it doesn’t mean that if it had failed and you had tried it again it wouldn’t have worked better.

What word of advice would you give the younger generation or those who dream of following your footstep?

The most important thing is “You’ve got to find your own way.” The number one thing I get asked from people is to look at their work and give them a critic on what they’ve done. We live in a world where an entire generation is growing up wanting and desiring to be liked, to be followed. We all want thumbs up on our picture, we want someone to press the like or heart button, and the more people like your picture, in theory the better the picture, or the more followers you have the more popular you must be, the more interesting you must be. I think ultimately to be a true success you have to not care or need any of that. The only person who truly needs to appreciate what you’re doing is You and that’s a very tough thing to do. If you look at any great artist in history, whether it’s Van Gogh, Monet or Manet, they didn’t stop what they were doing and asking a bunch of people “do you like my painting? Should I finish now or should I change it and make the background a different color?” They would just finish their painting and put it up for sale. No questions asked!

Obviously it’s tough and in Van Gogh’s case he didn’t sell anything until after his death. He died broke but today he’s considered one of the biggest artists in history. To be a true artist and be truly creative you’ve got to love what you do and first and foremost please yourself. And that’s where compassion comes back again. I believe that compassion, the acceptance of who you are, what you are, the mission you’re on, your vision and what you think is beautiful, have to ring true to you first. Obviously there are different paradigms when you become a creative commercial photographer and work for clients. But the truth is that they book you for your signature style and what you put on it. All the greatest artists out there, whether it be commercial fashion photographers or fine artists, have their own signature style which makes them unique and pushes them to the top. They know what they want, know what they like, no matter whether the opinion is shared or not. They don’t care about pleasing everyone – and that’s a hard thing to learn. 

How about brands that only hire influencers based on their number of followers and likes?

The true artists are still the ones with an opinion, a point of view and don’t care about what other people think. As a result, they get liked. For example the Kardashians, who are a great example of people who are universally liked and hated at the same time. They get on the cover of Vogue but then get slammed by half the fashion community outraged by the fact that they’re on the cover of Vogue. These are people who do their own thing, don’t care about what others think. They take absurd pictures and at the same time do beautiful things. They live their life but do it publicly. There are lots of people who can’t stand them and lots who worship them. But that polarising nature of who they are is the earmark of brilliance at the same time. There have been very few artists in history who have had a similar flare to them. The polarisation is when you get a reaction, good or bad. I always tell people, try to find your individuality, which can only come from within you (the only place where you can find it). Not an easy thing to do!


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