when most people think of Nigel they might not think of him being
multi-dimensional. but what dm assistant editor jasmine rhey Peterson captured
was plenty of depth behind and in front of the lens.
Minutes Behind The Lens
No stranger to an interview; former America’s Next
Top Model judge and now host of Oxygen’s upcoming model
competition, The Face, Nigel Barker is one of the most well-spoken,
grounded and focused people I’ve had the fortune of speaking with – add in
the British accent and Nigel gives you a dash of James Bond intrigue.
A person’s true essence can take some time to reveal itself, but that’s
not the case with Nigel. In every word he speaks, his passion for
each detail of his life blossoms with such effortless beauty. I am
humbled to have had the opportunity to share 26 minutes with this truly
“awe”some person. After quick pleasantries, we got right into the good
Nigel Barker’s mother, a former Miss Sri Lanka, played an essential role
in forming his respect for the modeling profession as he grew up.
Struggling to survive in Sri Lanka, his mother worked as a model in order
to bring his family to a better life in England, where Nigel was born.
In England, she continued to model as well as sing and act. “It was
beautiful to watch her, in a very humble and modest way, use modeling and
the entertainment industry to raise a family,” Nigel emphasizes, “…use it
as a means to and end.” It’s a joy to hear him speak about her with such
love and true respect, and in his endearing British accent, call her
As a child, Nigel’s mother entered him in a model search television show
called, The Clothes Show in which he went on to become a finalist
which then helped launch his 10-year modeling career.
His mother’s influence on his career is apparent and his appreciation for
her even more evident. Nigel and his mother are currently in the process
of creating a Sri Lankan cookbook – this man does it all!
As young model himself observing the industry changing – ...“models were shrinking and
a 6’4” well-built male model was not selling”
- but being the adaptable
type he is, he was not afraid of this inevitable change. He loved the
fashion industry so much that he refocused himself and found a new role
behind the lens.
With an advanced knowledge and history of the business Nigel transitioned
himself from model to photographer and journeyed to Paris, Milan and
finally his resting spot of New York City, where he set up his own studio
in the Meatpacking District of Manhattan –
Nigel’s studio and his work rose quickly to acclaimed fame. His
photographs have an essence many have never seen before in high fashion.
Having shot with all the big names in the industry – including Naomi
Campbell, when she was first starting out – he knows what it takes to get a
great shot. He told me, “I’d be out of a job if I shared the secret to
knowing when to shoot,” but he let me in on a little. The subject must be
authentic in order to get it. Even when the subject is not, Nigel
expresses he must create the perfect moment by setting his subject at
ease. “Frankly, you could hate me and I could still get a good picture of
you.” You must, “Shoot with your heart,” he explains, “you have to have
chemistry, an absolute connection with your subject and somehow find the
beauty in it and get excited about it, it gets me going everyday.” For
Nigel it is temporarily falling in love with his subjects – man, woman,
animal, even landscapes. I don’t know anyone or anything that would mind
being subjected to his love - temporary or not!
He finished explaining with, “Try to look for that bit of magic that makes
every one of us special individuals and unique and its that individuality,
not the similarity, that makes us beautiful.” He knows how to evoke
emotion and it’s very clear in his shots!
From modeling to photography, from 35 millimeter to digital, nothing seems
to deter this optimistic creative being from having his hand in the
fashion industry. Nigel loves the competition that digital photography
brings to the element. He certainly claimed his spot in modern
photography last November in his photo book 8 Hours – Taylor Swift.
Three different looks, with three different cameras by Sony and a full day
of shooting created three different stories for the readers/viewers; a
progression of looks and growth from Taylor, an incredible eye
for the shot and an undeniable marketing campaign for Sony.
When looking through the book and each series of shots, one might assume
Taylor is playing different characters in different movies – from sultry
to glam to pensive to rocker-chic. But what Nigel did was remarkable,
capturing the very different sides of one person. Celebrities often have
to stick to variations of one look or attitude to be memorable or
catchy to viewers, but in this book many will see a transformation of
Taylor from innocent teen to edgy woman, a woman who has some experience
under her belt. The black and white photos really bring out Taylor’s
features and, in my opinion, make her more relatable to the masses. This
book suits her musical evolution too as her latest single I Knew You
Were Trouble expresses quite a bit of pain and anger brought about by
her dating experiences. Go Taylor! And go Nigel for this beautiful
expression of the acceptance of change.
Nigel Barker’s Beauty Equation:
Revealing a Better and More Beautiful You,
released in 2010 is another of his books but with a very different
mission. This book's mission is to teach us how to be
beautiful from the inside. Five foot nine and a beautiful face can
sometimes be quite boring and not beautiful, Nigel explained to me.
“Passion, motivation, energy, compassion, spontaneity, freedom and
confidence are what make a supermodel.” This book encourages people to
look within themselves to realize that’s where the true beauty lies and to
unleash it in order to have the, “... ability to be beautiful more than you
could ever imagine.”
Being at ease with oneself is the most freeing feeling in the world.
Knowing you’re beautiful without being forceful about it is has to be one
of the most attractive ways to be. Just speaking with Nigel about
beauty, with his 20 plus years of experience, is like talking to a beauty
god. His wisdom flows deeper than the surface of the beauty industry
and that is most likely the reason he has had so much success in this
industry for so long. Nigel
expresses, “If you’re a freak, be a freak, if you’re a Goth, be a Goth, if
you’re a punk, be a punk,” beauty in these styles comes from an inner
place that allows one’s essence to shine through even the most
unconventional beauties. Though these thoughts are not foreign to
me, having the confirmation of Nigel’s words brought me an assurance that
they are indeed true. The task now is getting more on board to this
style of thinking;
that beauty is not just one stream or thought.
The beauty he emanated during this interview was enough to drive me crazy
– that I could not wait to write this feature.
What more can a model, photographer, author do? Plenty - how about
several documentaries. “I'm very lucky to have the opportunity to use my
storytelling as a photographer, as an image maker on levels to showcase
serious issues around the world.” He’s been able to showcase issues from
seal hunting to HIV awareness, each sparking a passion to educate and bring
new light to growing issues that still have not been address adequately. With
hopes that his documentaries will help create a wider exposure and
hopefully a change.
In 2008, as Sir Paul McCartney and Heather Mills were stepping down as the
spokespersons for the Humane Society, Nigel was asked to photograph the
wild seals in the Canadian Arctic. The Humane Society wanted to address
the largest annual commercial hunt of seals in the world. With Nigel’s
help the Society hoped to showcase the seals’ beauty and to speak against
of the heartless hunt just for their fur.
remembers being 8-years-old and marching in the streets of London with his
parents against seal hunting and was appalled that the same issue was
still being talked about over 20 years later. Instead of just
photographing the seals, he wanted to make a documentary to showcase their
beauty and to speak against them being so heartlessly hunted for their
fur. The Canadian government and fishing industry continues to
support the hunt under false pretenses while they have been trying to tone
down any negative media coverage and global pressure against the hunt.
Even going as far as trying to enforce a "no filming or documenting the
Nigel brought a crew and his equipment, including medium format cameras,
strobes and power packs to the Canadian Arctic, to shoot the
hunt. Although he did witness some of the horrors of the hunt, his images
were to be used to document the beauty of these animals, not the cruelty
and greed of man.
His pictures of the baby seals, which are legally hunted at 12-days-old,
are fascinating. His mission is to show their precious eyes that are
to be adored and their fur not to be adorned on humans. “They look
fantastic in their own fur and we look good in our own skin, let’s keep it
that way – now that’s a fashion statement worth making,” he expresses with
He just doesn’t stop with seals; he embarked on other projects
that have become dear to his heart. Haiti: Hunger and Hope and
Dreams Are Not Forgotten are two documentaries on Haiti, the
latter of which won the Film Heals Award at the Manhattan Film Festival
last year. Nigel fell in love with the people of Haiti and summarizes the
documentaries by stating, “The land is destroyed, but the people are not.”
With Generation Free he documents the struggle with HIV/AIDS in
Tanzania. Nigel recalls meeting healthy looking families that were HIV+
as well as an HIV+ couple who has an HIV- child. He wanted to tell a
positive story about the successes in fighting HIV as well as document all
the work that is still needed. So passionate about this issue, Nigel gave
me the numbers. In America alone, the number of pediatric AIDS cases has
dropped 93% in the last decade – there are less than 160 babies born with
HIV each year compared to two thousand babies born HIV+ in
Sub-Saharan African every single day.
The enthusiasm in his voice when he speaks on these subjects and the zeal
with which he does his work to bring light to them is an outstanding
statement to his character. “I get very passionate about whatever I do – I
feel very lucky – I love life.”
Nigel’s first feature film is in the works this year about human rights
activist David Mixner. So look out for it in the next year!
I asked Nigel how he stays so even-tempered and levelheaded with so much
going on in his life. His secret, “I’m not frightened by difference, I’m
not frightened by things I haven’t seen before or haven’t heard before. I
like to try my hand at anything and if I fail, I fail and what’s the worst
that can happen other than it didn’t work. If u don’t give it a chance,
you’ll never know and I wanna make sure the life I lead was all I needed.”
It’s important to me that I share a bit of each of his projects because he is so passionate about them and in every detail there is
an image of who he is.
Nigel not only does professional shoots to be published in all the most
famous magazines, but he is also quite the Instagram photographer! I
noted a stream of pictures he posted of the same scene at different times
of day so I asked him about its significance. Of course this turned out
to be another testimony of how amazingly intricate the man really is. He
sought to show how often we take for granted what we see out the window
everyday because we think it’s always the same. These photos are of the
same scene in his backyard at his home in Alabama. This series of photos
beautifully displays how one scene can be so different at different times
and though we may think we know what something looks like, it’s important
not to take for granted the beauty in what seems to be so simple.
“The cloud changes, wind changes,
the time of day changes. It’s romantic at one moment with a pink sky in
the morning and the next moment it’s a thunderstorm coming in or a tornado
in the distance and then it’s a sunny day then there are clouds then puffy
clouds. All the little differences - we have to stop every now and then
and appreciate the simple things that are staring us in the face.” – Nigel
If you’re not familiar with any of the works highlighted thus far, then
you are surely to remember Nigel’s work as a judge on America’s Next
Top Model. He has nothing but positive words to describe working with
Tyra Banks on the show. “There she was
own vocabulary] at me every now and then and I would freeze in my seat as
this extraordinarily gorgeous woman would look at [me].”
Judging on America’s Next Top Model, Nigel has spent countless hours
of filming for the shows and even more preparing for them. With eighteen
seasons under his belt, he still has found time for a personal life. With
wife Crissy, the two have balanced fashion and their personal life for
over 12+ years. The two now have two beautiful children, Jack and Jasmine. When I heard his
daughter’s name was Jasmine, I, of course, felt an immediate connection.
The connection grew deeper when I found out how she got her name; “Stella”
or “Sadie” wasn’t going to cut it for big brother Jack. He came to his
father and said he wanted his little sister to be called “Jasmine.” – Why?
The answer was so touching – “Because you brought some jasmine home and
it smelled so beautiful, I’m sure my little sister will be beautiful just
like the smell of jasmine.” *Cue tears*
As journeys in life usually come full circle so, have Nigel’s at times;
maybe not in the exact same circumstances, but in chances and connections.
Ready for his next big challenge he, partnered up with
Oxygen to become the host of The Face. Once again he was
positioned to work with the famed super model Naomi Campbell in the upcoming modeling
competition series. The Face, features three hand-selected
teams led by supermodels Naomi Campbell, Coco Rocha and Karolina Kurkova
competes to find the new face of ULTA Beauty. Many know ULTA as
the largest beauty retailer that provides one-stop shopping for salon
products and services.
The models compete separately and as a team in real life modeling
campaigns for the likes of big name magazines with big name
photographers. Each coach has a different method of working with her
girls and each is at the top of their game. Naomi, as you can imagine, is
very fierce, Karolina is sweeter in her ways and Coco teaches her girls to
be theatrical and stay away from playing it safe.
I’m sure you’d never guess that there’s huge DRAMA in this show,
not only between the competitors, but the coaches! The Face allows
you to be a fly on the wall and see what really goes on behind the scenes
of the modeling and fashion industries. It’s not always pretty, attitudes
clash and dreams are crushed.
Nigel is the balanced and level-headed host. This could not be a more perfect fit
for his style, as he has been out in the world searching for
the face all his life. “The show is so passionate, so authentic and
believable,” he tells me. Much of the show reminds him of what got him so
passionate about the business when he first started. “It reminds me of
everything that was right about the business.”
A show that gives us a realistic look into the industry; high fashion
meets urban – which team gets the best shot in a group campaign
competition for W Magazine? What happens when Naomi and Karolina go
at it over the first elimination? Find out these breath
taking answers starting Tuesday, February 12 at 9/8c on
Nigel Barker was only a name to me 26 minutes before this interview, but
after hearing the fire in his voice as he breathed life into what I
researched about him, he has become a true icon and someone I look up to.
The genuineness of his character and beauty that radiates from inside him
is a true model for all who may have the fortune of being in his presence.
This man is amazing and I could not write enough what he truly means to
the fashion world or pop culture - Nigel is sending out positive messages with each
of his snaps, frames and subjects he decides to capture. But
most of all the man is a father, a husband and humanitarian; everything
else he has given us is truly a gift through his lens.