We met fashion photographer and “America’s Next Top Model” judge Nigel Barker while he was on a fashion shoot in Manhattan recently.
Do the judges ever argue about the models?
Never argue. As you can see I’m not opinionated at all. I agree with everybody. We argue all the time. We not brought together or paid to get along. We’re asked for our own opinions. Although that said, we not paid to argue either.
What is your favorite part of photography?
Working with people. I find joy in all elements of being creative whether it’s filmmaking, photography or if it’s just creating anything. Photography is great because it’s instant. It is about capturing the moment of that person. It’s not just about dressing you up and making you look pretty. It’s about capturing you and who are you and that’s an element of psychology . . . and that’s what drives me.
What is the criteria for being a judge?
Having an opinion and sticking to it. There are always differences of opinions. Even if it’s a Supreme Court judge, they not always agree. One will say one thing and four will say another. You’re quite serious about your opinion, if you aren’t, then someone will sway you. I just don’t criticize young girls for the sake of it. I try to be constructive, what can you take away from this. Don’t just say, no, dreadful, my goodness, horrible, what are you thinking. You know what’s the next thing? You know what I think that dress is a little short. Have you tried something longer that might work? This time of day I wouldn’t wear that. That would be saying you don’t like it, and suggesting something that might work. Don’t forget it’s just my opinion. It doesn’t mean I’m right.
What college did you go to?
I never went to college. I went to college of life. By the way, I’m still studying, still learning. I hope to improve in my performance, my job, my life. You never stop learning. The day I think I know it all, I’ll give up. Hopefully never.
Would you recommend people to become models?
It’s a fickle business and it’s a very tough business. Being the prettiest girl doesn’t make you the most successful model. Lots of people are judging you, giving you critiques that you don’t you may not be able to deal with, not be able to change. Someone might say, “Goodness you’re short, what are you going to do about it?” “Oh, I don’t like your hair. It’s too straight, get a perm.” There are things that could be hard on you. And you’re dealing with these things at a very young age, it’s very tough. You don’t realize how tough it is and at the same time I would say get an education first and foremost. Certainly a high school education because that will be a great thing for you to fall back on.
What made you change careers from being a model to a photographer?
I started modeling in the ’80s. In the ’80s the whole modeling business, they called them the glamourzonians. Sort of the Cindy Crawfords, the Kristy Turlingtons, the Tyra Banks, the Naomi Campbells of this world. They were very tall, and the girls were buxom, curvaceous was the look. And the guys were tall and big and muscular. I was in that era. Then came the ’90s and they say top model and fashion things change from season to season, era to era. And then came something horrible called grunge. Grunge was this whole very skinny emaciated look . . . I looked at myself and thought it’s not me. So I shifted into photography.
What do you look for in a model?
I look for someone who’s interesting. You think why does that model have to be inspirational, she’s pretty -- but that’s great. There are many people who fit that mode. In order to get booked again, people who want you to come back you need to become amused, to be inspirational. They want people who see the great things around you. Same way if you’re an actress.
Do you taking pictures of things other than models?
I do, but it’s the people I find interesting. It’s not the landscapes, although I see gorgeous landscapes and I see things all around me all the time. I try to be aware of my surroundings as possible so I can have fun and appreciate them, not let the world go by and realize one day, oh my goodness, I missed out on a lot. People go through life not realizing how beautiful it is just outside their world. That the grass is always greener on the other side. I’m very lucky to be who I am, where I am. Yeah, I enjoy doing all kinds of things, the moon, the sunset, an animate object, but at the same time what really fascinates me are people.
What was your biggest inspiration?
My biggest inspiration in life or general. I would say I look for inspiration everywhere. I don’t necessarily have one person that is my inspiration, but I look at people like Mother Theresa, I look at people like Gandhi, Winston Churchill, people who led their lives with a reasonable purpose and didn’t just talk about things, but actually got things done. For me I think that’s the most important thing. I’ve got two children of my own and it’s one thing for me to say Jack, Jasmine, this is how you should do it. You should think about doing this. I hope to lead my life in a way that they would look at say, I would like to do what dad does, or I think dad made a difference. Those are the sort of things that if I could actually teach them to do thing by my actions is the most important. With Gandhi one of the things I love about him and I don’t know if you know about me, I’m an Angelo Indian, my mother’s from Sri Lanka, so Gandhi has an even more significant role in my life of our history. When he became Prime Minister of India, the first thing he did, his very first job he overtook as the prime minister of one of the most populous countries in the world was to go and clean the toilets. And he did it on purpose to tell people that every job, how lowly it might seem, is important. I always thought that was the most remarkable and extremely important thing to do. We can’t all be world leaders and the person who cleans the toilets is just as important as the Prime Minister.
What are your favorite hobbies?
I always enjoyed photography, I also like taking pictures and movies. I’m very lucky, photography is a hobby for most people. I have a profession that’s a hobby. Sadly to say, in my free time I take pictures. I take pictures all the time. But my other hobbies are being with my family. It’s what I do when I have any time at all, being a dad and spending as much time one-on-one, whether it’s building Lego with my 4 year old, having a tea party with my 1-1/2 year daughter. Sipping milk or water out of a cup pretending it’s hot tea. It’s priceless.