Nigel Barker: man in a suitcase
Yan interviews Nigel
Barker, photographer and Americas Next Top
From issue 14 of
LUCIRE often says with some
pride that it promoted, on its online news pages, Americas
Next Top Model before anyone suspected it would be a hit. We
took a chance on Tyra Banks, the first New Zealand-owned magazine
to do so. And as we watch the series, we note that the show always
has one gentleman, whom we can genuinely describe using that word,
rather than the usually sarcastic way in which it is heard delivered
in the United States Congress.
That gentleman is Nigel Barker, photographer,
contracted originally to do a single episode, shooting the finalists
of Americas Next Top Model. We see the beautiful (Banks),
stereotypical (Janice Dickinson), and atypical (any one of a plethora
of guest judges), but Barker has surfaced above them, without trying.
Its not just the British accent, but it
may be to do with a sense of humility. Women and gay men alike speak
of the ex-models attractiveness at this office, showing that
understated wins adoration. And E! Entertainment has saw fit to
do a True Hollywood Story on Barker and the Top Model
crewalways a sign youve made it.
People hate it, love it, pretend not to
watch it, and find themselves watching every episode on VH1
during their frequent marathon Top Model weekends.
Who am I to judge? The viewers obviously like it!
Barker began modelling in the late 1980s and
early 1990s as a teenager heading into his early 20s. [I]
didnt spend more than three weeks in one location for a whole
decade, he recalled. He might not have been a secret agent,
but he was essentially a Man in a Suitcase, thoroughly
enjoying the jet-set lifestyle!
But the routine became tiresome. Unlike the
wealthy who are the subject of the Hellos and OKs
of this world, Barkers travel was done at the whim of agencies,
deciding where you are going, when and for how long.
Barker said, I desperately felt the need to put down roots
and have a home.
He doesnt regret the time, and how could one? I had
a lot of fun as a male model
the girls, the travel, the money
the girls, the travel, the moneysorry, I just said
Well, you see, that was also the problem. I needed and wanted
a job. A career, something I could build on and feel proud of. And
quite frankly, 10 years of modelling for a guy is more than enough
His friends were, at the time, finishing college and university,
and beginning to make more than me and, more importantly,
they had a future.
The fictional Derek Zoolander may have a school to spend his post-modelling
days, but Barker needed a trade. And what better than one which
was also a hobby?
There must be an entrepreneurial streak in Barker for he turned
his one hobby into an industry. Lucky for me, I was surrounded
by lots of folk that wanted their picture taken. And there you have
it. I started getting very serious about portraiture and I had a
plethora of beautiful people to hone my skills. Not to mention I
had been photographed by many of the best and lets just say
I kept a watchful eye over what was taking place.
In 1998, Barker put down roots and chose Manhattan, with the only
place large enough and cheap enough was in the Meat
Packing District, an area he describes as fetid.
Being English, Barker is the master of euphemisms: The space
we took had previously been a place of ill repute. We did
not probe him on how ill. But on the ground floor, there remained
a fully functioning meat market.
Nevertheless: I had 3,000 ft² with skylights and my own
little slice of the Big Apple.
America was his choice because he was crazy in love and followed
my heart to New York. It turned out to be the perfect fit for me,
too: New Yorkers were more open to his change in career. After
conquering New York, the world has become a little easier
to crack, said Barker.
The travel slowed momentarily, but as his photographic
career gained momentum, it was Man in a Suitcase time again.
However, now its first class, 95 per cent of the time,
and, most importantly, its on his whim, not a model agents.
With his brother working in Hong Kong, Barker
has had the opportunity to visit there due to the success of Americas
Next Top Model. My taste for birds nest, sharks
fin soup and abalone is definitely growing!
This jet-set lifestyle has not resulted in a favourite place
for Barker. As cliché as it sounds, it is never the
place that does it for me, but whom I am with, though he admits
to a penchant for French Polynesia, which he describes as the
most beautiful island paradise on earth.
You could drop your camera and take a
good picture! he exclaimed. Not that he would. Not when among
those cameras is a Hasselblad H1, one of the favourites of this
magazinethe digital one costs over $20,000, and thats
without the lens. Its like buying a Maybach with no engine.
However, Barker does not come across as a man
who indulges in excessive toys. He may have an H1, but They
are tools and hopefully never the cause of a good shot.
He accepts digital photography is here to stay, but
computers have yet to match the elegance of celluloid. But
when shooting commercially, [digital] makes sense, so we try whatever
is out there and new to stay ahead of the curve.
This cameras as tools approach does mean that Barker
has worn the same watch, a Rolex, since he was 12, a gift from Col
Gaddafi of Libya.
As we overcame the shock of the origins of the Rolex, he explained:
My father had put together a deal where Libyan sewage workers
came to the uk to learn how to treat sewage.
them with such a dirty job, what better than a few Rolexes and rugs?
It was pretty fly walking around at my boarding school showing off
my Rolex Oyster aged 12.
Now 34, he continues to wear the same, and they
dont break and never go out of style.
A father of a one-year-old, Barker said that
coming home has never been sweeter.
As we concluded the interview, on a Sunday when
he was kept more than busy with family commitments, Barker promised
that Lucire would be kept abreast of any announcements. We
felt bad we took him away from his quality time, knowing that sooner
or later, it would be Man in a Suitcase time again.
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Main photograph: Barker in action on a location shoot. Top:
Nigel Barker. Above: With his wife, Cristen.
People hate it, love it, pretend not to watch
it, and ﬁnd themselves watching every episode on VH1 during
their frequent marathon Top Model weekends.
I to judge?