Q&A: Nigel Barker Discusses Selfies, Supermodels & His Latest Photo Collection
Selfie reigns supreme this week after Oxford Dictionary named it the word of the year. However, Nigel Barker had a different word in mind when he presented his latest photo collection to a packed house last night at the Art.com pop-up shop: accessibility.
Barker, the noted fashion photographer turned reality TV star, partnered with Art.com to dig through his archives and ultimately make his work accessible to the public at reasonable rates.
The end result is an impressive collection that goes beyond the fashion industry and takes viewers to the Arctic, Haiti, Morocco, New York City, and beyond.
SF Weekly caught up Barker and discussed the art of selfies, the do's and dont's of holiday photos, supermodels (Tyra! Naomi! Janice!), and his collaboration with Art.com.
What was your inspiration and selection process for this collection?
The big inspiration for me after 20 years of taking pictures is you finally gather an archive of imagery. People know me for fashion. They know me for advertising and that world from America's Next Top Model and The Face. But a big part of my passion is the real world itself.
I wanted to finally have my art available for people on mass. I didn't want it to be so exclusive that one or two prints sold at a private gallery in Chelsea. I've done that. Finally I thought to myself I need a proper vehicle that I could park the archives where people would them justice. Art.com is the right place because they just do such a beautiful job printing. I love the way they handle art and the way they think about art.
We're told you're an expert on selfies. What is the best advice for taking the best selfies?
I have done many a tip on the selfie. In fact I wrote a whole book named Beauty Equation which asks people to take selfies of themselves throughout. It's a selfie challenge book that we did three years ago. I think the importance and the very use of them are actually very interesting. There's almost an element of selfies that is like photo therapy. People look upon themselves in a picture and then they critique themselves without knowing so and that's what's happening on mass on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
For me the most important thing to do in a selfie is to have an opinion and to say something with the picture. Don't just take a picture of yourself like 'here I am.' It's what are you thinking? Are you happy? Are you angry? Do you like it? Do you not like it? Think an emotion and apply it to your eyes. Make it about you. It's called a selfie. It's not called a location-ie. As much as it's about the place you're in, it's more about how you are feeling and if you radiate that the picture comes alive. The selfies that get tagged the most and get the most likes are the ones where the person's personality is just pouring out. Make sure you are first front and center in that picture. That's my main tip.
So then what are the guidelines for taking an effective selfie?
First of all, let's just get straight with the camera. If you're taking it with a cell phone, remember where your lens is. A lot of people don't realize and then they look at the picture and their eyes are off somewhere. You have to lower the lens so when you actually look straight into the lens you can see it. Sometimes you can turn the picture around so you can see yourself in it but that's not really a great idea because then you're actually looking at yourself and your eyes are not off into camera. You're away from camera. I don't necessarily recommend turning it around so you can see yourelf. Just figure it out, look at the lens and see where it is. It doesn't matter if you crop your head off a little bit or the sides a little bit because again it's about your eyes. Your eyes will be in camera if you're looking at lens.
Don't hold the camera too high. People hold the camera really high up. What that does is make you have a really big head and a tiny little body. You want to hold the camera a little bit below your face right where your neck is. That way everything is in proportion and you look normal. Make sure when you're shooting in the light you got an even light for yourself. If it's much brighter behind you than it is in front of you, the picture is going to get really dark. All of these things kind of matter from a technical standpoint otherwise you might have a great expression in your eyes but the picture is gonna look like hell. Get all of these technical aspects right, look for that spot in the shade, dark behind you, get the camera at neck area, look to camera lens, shoot that shot with an opinion in your mind and boom -- you'll have a great selfie.
I'm much more about the emotion that a photograph provokes out of you and less about how technically brilliant it is. I think that's the point about selfies. Everyone gets pencil as a kid but it doesn't make them all authors or painters or drawers or anything else. It gives everyone the ability to draw and to write and to have a go and so you should. But there's an element where I think teaching people how to hold that pencil the best is a good idea and it's the same thing with a camera. Now everyone's using it so why not learn how to use it and hold it properly. For me, I'm totally happy to give people tips and advice on the best way to do it. I don't feel threatened or challenged. I feel like 'hey, why not?' The more people enjoy the medium, the more they'll get an interest in it.
What are your tips for taking the best holiday family photos?
I think when it comes to holiday photos spontaneity is very important. I think all the time people try to do these family shots that can become very staged and they look really flat and kind of dull. I think it's a great idea to have everyone if possible do some sort of silly stuff like get together in a group and then jump. Or get together in a group and then someone will tickle somebody else. It's that moment where some action is happening; some movement. Set your camera on some sort of mode that will capture multiple pictures. It's not about every picture looking perfect. It's about that moment where you've got authenticity. The most classic shots that last a lifetime are the ones where you're believable and you totally buy into. It's honest.
Where you having fun? Were you enjoying yourself? Did that person like that present? Did they not? It's about taking pictures when people don't see you. It's capturing those quiet special moments as well as those big moments. Have fun with it and turn the flash off as much as possible 'cause it ruins the mood most of the time.
You've worked with some of the world's most iconic supermodels. I'll name a few and I want you to say the first word that comes to mind.
Paulina Porizkova: Smile
Coco Rocha: Pose
Karolina Kurkova: Singing
Tyra Banks: Smize
Janice Dickinson: Janice is someone who a million words come to mind. I worked with her for years and I love her to death. I want to say so many good things about her. Let me think of something that really epitomizes Janice. Everything.
Naomi Campbell: Extraordinary
What can we expect on season two of The Face?
We've shot season two. We've got Anne V. and Lydia Hearst joining me and Naomi Campbell. Season two will premiere in early 2014. Season one went super well. Critics loved it. First seasons aren't any easy thing to do. Season two meant that everyone wanted to be a part of it. We actually had to turn a lot of people down and say come back on season three. We're gonna be at the forefront of the new launch of Oxygen. It's really a special time for us. We're already talking about season three.
Finally, what's the difference between the photography in this collection versus fashion photography?
These models don't talk back.