Straight Shooter

Fashion’s Jack-of-All-Trades Nigel Barker Talks Fame, Family and the Addictive World of Reality TV

 

For more than 20 years, photographer, reality TV host and author Nigel Barker has played it straight in the whimsical world of fashion (ask anyone in the industry: it’s no easy task). And there’s no arguing that the fashion pro’s down-to-earth mentality and tell-it-like-it-is approach have served him well. What began as an “on a whim” dip into the fashion world as a model in the late ’80s has led to countless career highlights, including photography gigs with international publications such as Nume?ro Russia, GQ and Interview starring top models—among them Coco Rocha and Naomi Campbell—in addition to his now 13-year foray into reality TV’s dramatic highs and lows.

And Barker’s ever evolving career isn’t about to slow down now. Fresh off an impressive 18-season run as a judge and photographer on Tyra Bank’s “America’s Next Top Model,” Barker is channeling his expertise for several ventures that include hosting yet another hit show, Oxygen’s “The Face” (also starring Naomi Campbell), and releasing a new book, “Models of Influence,” which will bring the fashion maestro to St. Louis on March 11 for an event with Left Bank Books.

The book, Barker’s second, highlights 50 of recent history’s most influential models in a visual synopsis that examines their impact on the world of pop culture. The effect is a stunning retrospective that allows Barker to provide his no-nonsense take on several of his passions: modeling, photography and writing. Which begs the question: Is there anything he can't do?

 

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Photo by Nigel Barker

ALIVE: Your newest book, “Models of Influence,” was released last month. Can you tell ALIVE a little bit about the book and why you decided to create this visual representation of modeling?
NB: The concept of writing is another creative process that I love. Four years ago, I wrote my first book, “Beauty Equation,” and I wanted to do something very different. This [new] book talks about 50 of the most extraordinary women who’ve worked in the fashion business as models who not only defined an era but shaped generations. The book takes us through time, from the 1940s to now, and highlights 50 of the women who were the primary influences during that era and the first to accomplish various things‰ÛÓsuch as Naomi Sims, who was the first black woman to appear on the cover of a magazine.

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Kate Upton by Max Vadukul & Sebastian Faena

ALIVE: You have two children, Jack and Jasmine. How do balance being a father and managing a very busy career?
NB: I try my hardest. I try to involve them in everything I do. My wife runs my studio, so she’s very involved in my career. I always come home in between trips as much as I can. When I have days off, I try to take and pick them up from school and spend as much time with them as possible. I feel that a lot of it is about compartmentalizing. When I’m working, I’m working really hard, and when I’m playing with my kids, I’m completely focused on what they’re doing.

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Jerry Hall by Stan Shaffer, from “Models of Influence”

ALIVE: The book contains some beautiful, iconic images. What were your criteria for selecting the photographs?
NB:
It was very tough. I worked with a wonderful photo editor from Allure magazine. She and I pulled through archives, Getty Images and personally called photographers from Peter Lindbergh to Mario Testino. All in all, there’s an incredible list of photographers’ work in the book. We wanted to find pictures that spoke of the transitional moment where they transcended fashion and became pop culture icons. There are also a lot of pictures in the book that were never published before, which is really fun.

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Kate Upton by Max Vadukul & Sebastian Faena

ALIVE: You have two children, Jack and Jasmine. How do balance being a father and managing a very busy career?
NB: I try my hardest. I try to involve them in everything I do. My wife runs my studio, so she’s very involved in my career. I always come home in between trips as much as I can. When I have days off, I try to take and pick them up from school and spend as much time with them as possible. I feel that a lot of it is about compartmentalizing. When I’m working, I’m working really hard, and when I’m playing with my kids, I’m completely focused on what they’re doing.

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Jean Shrimpton by David Bailey

ALIVE: You’ve obviously researched a lot of these modeling eras and you’ve personally experienced a few of them as well. Do you have a favorite?
NB: Selfishly, I think it’s probably my own. That late ’80s, early ’90s period where we transitioned from supermodels all the way to “heroin chic” was such an explosive moment in fashion. High fashion was in high demand in a way that it had never been before. Models were in music videos, fashion photographers were shooting the music videos, everything was super sexy. It was a very electric time. Then, there was a drastic change with the world’s recession. All of the models were completely flat-chested and super skinny. Although it wasn’t good for health reasons, it did speak a lot to the authenticity and rawness that the world was asking for at the time.

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Christie Brinkley by Mike Reinhardt

ALIVE: Is there a piece of advice that you’ve received during your career that has really stuck with you?
NB: I think the most important thing that came from my grandmother was that you have to be your own judge. You have to know when you’ve got it right. You can’t rely on other people to tell you that you’ve done a good job. As a photographer and as an artist, when you take a picture and you think you’ve got it, you have to know you’ve got it. Ultimately, you have to like it‰ÛÓotherwise no one else will.

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Helena Christenson by Mikael Jansson

ALIVE: You’re dabbling in a lot of things in addition to your book. Is there something you’re most looking forward to in 2015?
NB: I’m working on a few new TV program ideas that I’m really excited about. I can’t say too much about them other than they’re very interesting formats that are in development. Hopefully if things work out, you’ll see a new show in 2015 or early 2016.

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