In Focus: Through the Lens with Nigel Barker
Hey you guys. Welcome to Creative Live, thank you so much for joining us. I recognize a lot of faces here from the previous couple days here, we're at Photo Week 2017, give it up. (crowd cheers) Awesome. A lot of you folks standing at the back, welcome, it's your first time here at Creative Live, make yourself at home, we got beers before, but I know why you're here. I promise, I was just speaking to him backstage. You guys are in for an amazing treat, reminder, we've got thousands of people tuning in from all over the world so it's an international audience. We realize just not too long ago, we've got people from Sweden, from China, from Seattle, from San Francisco, from New York, from Dallas, all over the world. And you're all in for an amazing treat. Nigel Barker is a photographer, of course you know him as that, probably first and foremost, but he's so many other things. He has judged, I couldn't believe this, 18 seasons of America's Next Top Model. 18 seasons, I'm like, you look g...
reat for having judged 18 seasons. (audience laughs) And he made a joke about shaving his hair so we couldn't see the gray, I didn't say that out to you guys. Not only is he incredibly handsome, he's also the creator of Top Photographer, the show that you guys probably know that they released on YouTube. He is so many things, he's been an inspiration to us at Creative Live, to me personally, and it brings me great joy to have him on this stage tonight in front of you all, so please give him a huge, warm Creative Live welcome. Nigel Barker. (audience applauds)
Thank you. Thank you. Believe in yourself. Think outside the box. And commit 100%. Now, I don't know if you're all photographers. It doesn't matter. Much of what I do is about just being creative. Yes, I'm a photographer and I love photography, but I just love the creative buzz. I love making things, designing things, doing things, and being inspired. Now what I want you to do first before we get going is to literally visualize your favorite image, and if you are a photographer, an image that you've created yourself. Shut your eyes even and just think, how did you make that image, what went into it? What was the thought, the process? Why did you do it? Why does that picture define you? What is special about it? I'm asking you because... When we get booked for a job, there's a reason why they pick you versus the next guy. And it shouldn't just be because your rate is cheaper. It's because they want you. There's something very specific about the way you shoot, the way you handle yourself, the way you create and make an image come alive. Now, I've picked a picture that could even be slightly controversial. It's a bull and there's a matador, of course, it's one of the models from America's Next Top Model. One of my favorite shoots. And whether it's my favorite photograph or not, I don't know, cuz you kind of love all your babies, but it is a defining photo for me, and I'll tell you why. This is a composite photo, which, for those of you who not know all the terms about photography, we made this picture, we put it together. And I'm sorry for all you Top Model fans out there, this didn't actually happen like this. You may have thought it did, but it didn't. It's actually kind of a funny story. So, we shot the model obviously with a bull, you might have seen the bull running in, but to create this image, and I wanted to create and image like this, and all the images, the bull, really going for it. Full action, full moment. I just wasn't getting it. The bull wouldn't do it. And so I'm like, okay, I need the bull to charge me down. I'm getting in the bull ring, I think about it, I'm in Barcelona, there's a whole stadium, I've got three bull fighters, matadors, all around me to protect me and make sure the bull doesn't get me. I have my photo assistant in there with me, and what I'm doing is I'm taking a picture, the bull's charging down at the camera, right down the barrel of the lens, and my assistant was pulling the camera when the matador said we've gotta go, and we were running behind this huge wall, and the bull was plowing into the wall and thundering against this wall, and literally shaking everything and you're like, okay, I'm not dead, everything's okay. Looking at my camera, did I get the shot? (grunts) Not quite, (grunts) not quite. And you get a kind of a courage. Now the point here is that, you have to push to make the picture. You can't just say, okay it's this, this is good enough. It's not good enough until you get the picture. Now I'm not saying you should necessarily do what I did. Okay. Because I don't want a lot of lawsuits. But, I stuck there and I was like, okay, I'm getting my courage, I'm not dead, I'm still here. And the bull fighters, they were obviously anxious for me, and they said, "Okay, Mr. Barker, get up." And I stayed, and my assistant, it seemed like an eternity, this bull came down on me. My assistant finally grabbed my camera and ran for it. He didn't get me. He took my camera. (audience laughs) Anyway, I was like (gasps), "The bull," and I turned around and the bull ran up behind me, ripped my shirt, cut my back, and plowed into the wall, and the bull fighters kept charging in and got the bull away from me, and I was of course embarrassed, and the bull fighters looked at me, and, I'm thinking, here we go, I'm gonna get kicked out, they're gonna get really upset, I've betrayed their trust. Sort of looking down, I'm like, "Oh, I'm so sorry." But yes, I got the picture cuz I could see I had these shots of the bull right there. And they looked at me and they said, "Mr. Barker, "you have the heart of a bull." (audience laughs) "You are one of us." I was like, huh, yes, I do! I have the heart of a bull. And I never forgot that moment and it was literally from then onwards, every time I took a photo and every time I take a picture, no matter what I'm doing, I'm looking to go that extra bit. I'm looking to push the envelope. I'm wanting to wake people up with my imagery, and to startle them and to stop them, because as a commercial photographer, when you're shooting an advertising campaign, if you don't stop people, you're just tear sheet, you're just a turn. And that doesn't work, that does not sell product. It doesn't open people's imaginations. And that's what you gotta do. Now the good news on the bull is that everyone was very upset about the bull, cuz it's a bull and bull fighting and I'm not really into bull fighting or any of that kind of stuff. And it actually turned my life around because I then got really into animal activism and we actually bought the bulls and saved them. So we had three bulls and luckily that day, these bulls were saved. So that's the only good turning point, and we'll get more to the animal activism part later on. I wanna go on. Zeitgeist. And that's not just cuz you sneezed. (audience laughs) Actively, you need to actively be a part of the world. And what I mean by that is that, as a photographer, you can be a bystander, you can just photograph what you see, and things happen and if you're lucky, you're there, or you can go to an event, but I mean, to really make a difference, to really be a part of it, you need to be a part of pop culture. Or you need to be a part of whatever you're into, whether it's pop culture, even if it's, you're into landscapes, you need to be immersed in that world, you need to understand your subject. You need to be a part of that whole, whatever it might be, for me it was fashion and modeling. And this photo is one of the very first pictures in my, it was actually the cover of Paper Magazine, it was my first story, my first big story that I ever did. I was commissioned not to shoot the cover. Oh no, of course not, you don't get that as your first story. You get to shoot a picture. And they'd hired me a couple of times on a couple of portraits and they said, "Oh, would you do this shot "about male models as a rise in male modeling?" And I guess, if you think about it, this was late 90s, the Zoolander concept had already been created by Ben Stiller, he was yet to make his movie in for those of you who might remember it. I was actually, did a cameo in Zoolander 2. Check that out later. It's another whole side of my life. Anyway, I got inspired, and I thought, again, I'm not gonna do one page, I'm not gonna do one picture of this. I'm gonna do a huge 12 page story for them. And we'll see what happens. And we came up with the idea of the male model not to sort of, I guess, take the Mickey or anything, but we created the story called You're So Vain. And it was about that whole, the sort of silliness of modeling and kind of the poker, I guess, poke it in the side a little bit and say hey, really, it's kinda crazy what's going on. And they loved it. And that one, two page story I was meant to do became a 12 page story and they gave me the cover. And that one moment changed my career. Of course I wasn't alone in doing it, there are many of us who made that happen. But it was due to this particular story that I started getting calls, and they came in. The calls started and one thing led to another, and every time I approached a job, whether it was for Interview Magazine or it was for Vogue Magazine, or whoever I was shooting for or working with, I tried to think, what can I do that explodes this idea? Now, talking about Zeitgeist, America's Next Top Model came looking. And okay, 18 seasons later, yes, thank you for talking about my age and my gray hairs. I didn't have gray hairs when I started shooting. It was the models that did that to me. And I was also very young when I started. No, but, Zeitgeist is an important part here because when they came to me, it was a risk. It doesn't sound like a risk now cuz it was a hugely successful show. It's still on, season 24, which by the way, I'm on again. Who would knew they'd want me back? But I did, after doing 17 seasons, I just did an 18th one. But it's still on, but it was a risk, and no one knew that it was gonna be a success at the time. And in fact, my career in fashion, everyone said to me, "Ooh don't do it, it's primetime TV. "It's so commercial, it's a sell out. "No one's gonna watch you, no one's gonna wanna book you." But I could feel a turn, cuz I was going to clubs, I was part of New York night life, I was a part of the scene, I was working in the fashion business, you could feel the world changing. And if you could believe it, the very first shoot that we ever did on America's Next Top Model was the very first time a Mamiya digital camera was ever used, they flew them in from Germany and we used five cameras, all of which broke on set except the last one. And we managed to get it done. With literally a cutting edge moment, pioneering moment in photography and in reality television all colliding, and I thought to myself, what better way to break in to the world of photography and to let people know about my work than perhaps to be on primetime television? It was a risk and people told me not to do it, and again, I know it doesn't sound like one, cuz you all see the success of it, but that's not how it was at the time. And it went on and on and the irony is though, of course is that when we first got involved, people wouldn't embrace Top Model, the crowds, the audience did, and we were a huge primetime show. Did incredibly well, we were in 150 countries with a average viewership, weekly viewership of 100 million people watching America's Next Top Model. It did, in fact, beat out Sesame Street and Baywatch. (audience laughs) Which I think I'm more impressed with that than anything else about the show, in fact. But again, it was because people loved what was happening in the Americana, the fashion, and we were opening the doors of this exclusive industry. People loved the photoshoots. They loved what we did, how we put the shoots together. And for me, it was such a great ride. But magazines like Vogue would have nothing to do with us. In fact, we were endorsed by magazines like Jane Magazine and Seventeen Magazine and Walmart, and those were our sponsors. And people used to say, "Oh come on, "it's not really fashion. "It's way over the top." And I liked the over the top. I was like, but it is fashion. Look at some of the greatest photoshoots from history. Big balls of glass on the Seine River floating down. Crazy shoots have happened. It's about pushing that envelope, it's about waking people up. And the funny thing is is that look what happened on that show. 15 seasons in, Italian Vogue became the magazine sponsor. André Leon Talley, editor at large of American Vogue became a judge. Covergirl was our sponsor and we were having people like Missoni and Armani and Valentino come on. So from going out of Vogue, we became in Vogue, and the world changed. Social media started and reality TV actually worked, people liked it. God knows why, but they did. And so, but again, being a part of that Zeitgeist, understanding it, as a photographer, to really make a difference, to sort of wake people up, you've gotta take risks. You have to take risks on yourself. And it's not always easy. You question yourself. But that's why I started with believe in yourself. Because trust me, there's enough doubters out there. They're gonna question everything you do and say, "Oh, that's not great, that's not worth it, "that's not gonna work." And it's up to you to say, "No, I wanna do this. "I'm gonna try this. "I'm gonna push that boundary. "I'm gonna do what somebody else hasn't done, "I'm gonna paint a girl, make her look like a statue "and tell that story." We time and time again thought outside of the box, and tried to deliver a narrative that spoke to people then and there, whether it was about full-size modeling or whether it was about petite modeling, or whether it was about personality, it was about issues or problems that were going on in the world, we tried to discuss those things, and those all important messages that were happening in the world that made people care about our photography, about our pictures, about what we were trying to deliver. And we had a huge audience that was interested, and of course, eventually, the tides changes and people go, "Oh, that is a good idea." And it might have taken them 18 seasons but hey, we can't all be in Vogue. Now... Inspire. Inspire yourself and those around you. I talk about inspire a lot because no matter what you're doing, you're working, you're busy, you can get wrapped up in work, and it's not always as inspiring as it should be. You're given a job and can you do this, can you shoot that, and here's the brief or what have you. You've gotta stay inspired and I've always had and always done my own projects, and things that mean something to me. This particular one you're looking at here is one called RAW, it's my RAW series. And it's very simple. I shoot friends and people who I know and they're not all famous like Coco Rocha the supermodel here, or various different people, this is a guy called Michael Francoeur who I photographed, but it was about being yourself, and it was very simple. You have to wear denim, you have to wear denim. And I asked everyone simple questions as I photographed them. What does it mean to be raw? What does raw mean to you? And it was very interesting how everyone reacted differently. Some people looked at me, some people couldn't look at me. Some people cried when the emotion came out. Some people said, "Oh raw, like raw fruit," and that was it. And I'm like, huh? You know? Other people said, "Raw," and it got all a little nasty. It can go either way. But the interesting thing is it provoked a reaction. So asking those questions, not just setting up a scene and taking a picture, was a big part of that particular personal thing cuz I was inspiring them to think. Cuz when you take a picture of someone, whatever it might be, if they're just standing in front of you and you've got the great, beautiful light or whatever it might be and you've got the clothing and you've got the location and you've got the star, this is Estelle the singer who did a great song with Kanye West, American Boy, that's not enough. Ask that question. Beg that question. Make them speak, provoke, push. You have to make it happen. And you simultaneously inspire yourself. Now, with this particular light setup, it was very easy, and I'm still shooting it, this is another thing to do too is that, I never end my projects. I mean, do they ever come to an end? No, not really, they kind of continue and whenever I can, I set it all up, and this is a very simple one light setup that I could easily set up, it was very simple measurement from the wall, it wasn't about beautiful lighting. It was about being raw, being yourself, and capturing that moment. And that's one of the most important things for me, is capturing the moment. And it can be quiet, it can be loud, it can be personal, it can be intense. I was inspired by my children, my wife, two babies I have. An 11 year old and an eight year old. Of course, pregnancy being the most extraordinary thing, I think there's not a photographer out there who isn't inspired by the blossoming beauty that is pregnancy. And of course, for me this began a project that's now lasted 11 years, and I photographed 82 women, including this is my wife and our second child. And these sorts of projects that help you as a photographer, stay focused, love what you do. Inspiring yourself and inspiring others to care, it was funny, so many of these women had never been photographed naked before, had never been photographed before, not professionally. But when they were pregnant, it was the one time that they never questioned the fact about being naked. And in fact, they saw themselves as like, almost powerful because they were growing and creating this child inside of them, and it was the most remarkable experience to hear them talk about what it means to be pregnant and how it felt, and again, those questions came, and I felt so privileged to take these sorts of pictures, and many of these people who are my subject just for a few hours of one day, randomly in their life, have become lifelong friends because of these pictures. And randomly on social media, I do still see them pop up as they say, "Oh, Throwback Thursday to when "I got pregnant and Nigel Barker took my picture. "And he asked me some ridiculous questions and said, "'Can you do this?'" But I was inspiring, and I was inspired. Collaborate. Now, seems obvious. Collaborate. Now, photography all too often is a solo gig for many people and I've never really got that. I don't really understand that. It's not the Nigel Barker show. Whenever I go on set, I'm surrounded by great people, you see some of my pictures and you hear it's me and the, my subject, it's not the case. I've got hair, I've got makeup, I've got set designers, prop stylists, there are many different aspects to all the different people that make a photograph come to life, and of course there are the models themselves. I mentioned my wife and her twin sister. This is them right here. And I have collaborated with them for 24 years, we've been together 24 years, my wife and I, and it'll be 18 years of marriage October 16. How about that? But it's a collaboration. And every photographer would love to have a muse that you can photograph 24 years and watch them develop, flourish, and go through life, and that will be a book in itself at some point. But it's very important to understand that you are the sum of the people around you. Every time I do a shoot, it's the chemistry between the makeup artists and the hair stylists and the model, getting them ready and comfortable. It's me collaborating with the concept with the art director and the creative director, and to realize that, you really have to gather these people around you to make these things actually happen. You can't just hope that you're gonna get good people. When you find them, you need to reward them and you need to bring them in and they need to be a part of your team and feel that they're a part of the creative process. By doing that, they will come back, they will work harder, and together, you make these things. Sometimes I feel guilty about even my name being on the picture, even though it is obviously my photo, cuz I'm saying well no, there were so many people. We did this together. And at the same time, that's the greatest feeling ever. It's not easy sort of getting these things together. When I first started, I didn't even know that I wanted to be a photographer. In fact, I studied biology, chemistry, physics and maths and I was destined to do something in the science world and medicine is where I was aiming towards, but I also simultaneously, much to my father's disdain, studied pattern cutting, weaving and tailoring. And I used to joke and say, "Well, when I become a doctor, "Dad, don't worry, I'll be the best plastic surgeon "out there cuz I know how to sew." But it was because I had an interest in fashion, and I loved making clothes. Now it's been really useful for me because knowing what other people do and knowing what all the people who I hire, what they kind of do. When I first started shooting, when I was testing models, a big part of that was doing their hair myself, fixing their hair, doing a little bit of makeup, helping go through their wardrobe that they brought, and really designing the whole set. The way it looked, getting my apartment, clearing all the furniture out, setting up a backdrop, shooting in my apartment, getting one or two models in there and learning, learning, learning. But a great part of that was not because I was trying to be a one man band that could say, hey, I can do the styling, I can do the makeup, I can do all these things. It helped me appreciate all the people who work with me now. Not just appreciate what they do but also help give guidance. It's no good to be a photographer and say, or when someone says, "How's the makeup?" You say, "I don't know, I don't do that." No, you have an opinion. You say, "No, the makeup isn't right. "Oh, it's fantastic, I love that." Better still, you collaborate in advance of the photo and you come up with ideas with the hair and the makeup and the team. They're looking for you to direct. And give your opinion, your input, and it's really important. And sometimes collaborations like the one with my wife and her twin sister really turn out fantastic and here, for example, this one shot you're looking at, they created this amazing jewelry line which 100% of the proceeds goes towards benefiting women and children saved from human trafficking. So for me, when there's something like that, really does a full circle, that's really magical. Create. Don't wait. Say create, don't wait, because you have to make stuff happen. When you're shooting, you can't just sort of have two models bringing to a hillside and go, "Okay, now, yeah, look handsome. "Okay good, perfect, love that." No, think about story. What is the narrative, what are you trying to say? What's going on right now, and you make that happen, you make that picture, you tell them to get on that hillside, you tell them to wrestle. I'm a bit of a clown sometimes but I like to get in there and sometimes jump in there, I used to model a little bit myself. Back in the day, I had hair. Anyway, but I'm like, "Hey, get in there! "Be a part of it, this is what I want, "this is the kind of energy that we need." You have to make these things happen, they don't just happen by magic. You need to create the wind if there isn't any wind. You need to create that energy. How are you gonna do that? What music are you gonna play? Music is incredibly powerful, and when there isn't any music, I remember telling the models of America's Next Top Model when we were recording sound and they can't play music, I'm like, "This is what we're gonna do, "this is gonna be our little secret, "but I want you to think about your favorite song. "A song that kinda gets you going, you know the words," and whatever, "And shut your eyes for a second "and get that beat and play that song in your head, "and now you're gonna have that music, "no one's gonna hear it except you, and that's good, "and we're gonna dance, except, "either you lead or I lead, I'm not sure, let's see." And then there goes the dance. But that's what taking pictures often is like. It is a dance, it's a give and it's a take. And sometimes you lead, sometimes you're led. As long as there's that reaction. And you know what, people don't have to always like what you do either. It doesn't matter. Sometimes it's about creating polarizing images that piss people off too, that can work. That can provoke a reaction that people stop and say, "Oh, that works for me," but you have to be trying to be in charge of these things. By creating, it doesn't mean sort of by accident. Sometimes things happen, and we all know as photographers, the happy accident. Where you're like, "Wow, this is the shot. "Some kind of light cracked in in the back "and it kinda looks funky and crazy, but this is, "I did this on purpose, people." (audience laughs) "Don't ask me how to repeat it, but I did it." Okay, that happens. But we don't get paid to do that. No one hires me for a happy accident. They hire me to deliver. And sometimes you have over a million dollars on the budget for the day and we got to deliver, so the pressure is on. But I try not to get worked up on those sorts of things, you don't think about that, you just go in there with ideas, and no matter what, rain or shine, it's game time. And you have to go and you have to think and you have to create and you have to direct and you have to make things happen. You can't rely on these sort of lucky accidents or things just going your way. You see a scenario and you think, what's the story that I can tell? How are we gonna push this? I'm gonna put you on the edge of a cliff and let people think, Oh my god, what's happening here? Yes, that's what we're gonna do, and I'll get in there and do it first so the model isn't completely terrified. Sometimes there's nothing worse then, you have your model and she's in the snow and she's in the bikini and you're standing there and the clients are all around with the cups of hot coffee steaming in their face, you're like, "What's this?" Not that I'm gonna get in my swimsuit too, but I try to understand, I'm like, "Hey, I've been there, "I get it." Really thinking outside the box with different ways to light. And this particular picture, we used a projector and we just drew light onto the actual model, and it was lots of fun, there's so many different ways, again, inspiring myself, staying creative, thinking outside the box, telling stories, this was a photograph for the island of Anguilla, we were doing an advertising job, and it's just that mystery, it's trying to make people think, I'd like to be there. That could be me. That looks exciting, that looks mysterious, that looks exotic. Seeing a situation where I have a model in a white suit. Do I just shoot them in some scenario, no, I find something to juxtapose. And creating the image again, it isn't just by chance, it isn't just here, you're looking over and over again to tell a story and to make (mumbles). This is Fallout Boy. And another shot here, this is actually from Sweden's Next Top Model, and we were working with animals that had been rescued and we were trying to tell some kind of crazy story and the models came out and they're wearing this latex and I'm like, "What is this? "The models are wearing are wearing latex, "we've got animals from a rescue. "What story is this?" So for me here, the drama ended up being in really weird body shapes, I had them hold the leash and all the rest of it, but you have to make that happen, you can't just rely on the model doing it, and all too often, I hear photographers and I watch other people who work with me, even some of my assistants once in awhile and I say to them, "Don't just let it happen. "Make it happen. "Think what you can do. "Teach yourself new tricks all the time. "Don't just stay with one thing." It's too easy. And for me, boring. This particular shoot here, you may be surprised to know, if you look carefully, there's something funny about it. It isn't just the fact that it's long exposure. It is in fact a mannequin, it's not a human. It is a plastic mannequin, and we shot this for American Photo Magazine and we created a fashion story using only moonlight, and we picked this one day and by the way, for all you guys who shoot with moonlight all the time and I know there's a lot of you because it's a big art photography thing to do, it's a nightmare when you shoot it with people, obviously it doesn't work. I shot it with mannequins, I thought that worked, it was really, really tough. It's not an easy thing to do, especially as the day we picked it on, even though it was a full moon, it was also an eclipse. We didn't check. So my time, my night just got dramatically shorter. So the 30 minute exposure, we better get it right, but we did, and anyway, it was pushing those boundaries, having fun with it, and doing whatever it took to create an image by telling stories, creating narratives, and stepping outside of the comfort zone. For everybody involved, and with me, the only way that I personally enjoy shooting (mumbles), I see a scenario, I'm like, "Okay, what have I not done before?" Not, "How do I repeat myself?" Very easy to go on repeating yourself. And to stay with an idea that sells, and there are clients that'll come to you and go, "Please do what you just did, we love that, that's great." But to stay relevant and to stay a part of the Zeitgeist, and to stay motivated, to love your job, to take pictures and to feel hair on the back of your neck stand up on end, you have to push. You have to make it happen, and be demanding. Not aggressive, not conceited, confident. It's a fine line. You're not trying to be better than anyone else, you're just trying to be your best self, and that's what it is. If you push yourself that way, you'll make it happen. You'll do things that'll surprise you and you'll want to get up, you'll want to go to work, you'll want to make those images, and for me, that's the biggest part of photography. Very easy to get stuck and to sort of say, okay, I'm a wedding photographer, or I'm a portrait photographer and this is what my style, and this is my thing and 20 years of that is hard, and there's a lot of competition out there like never before. Social media has created a billion people on Instagram all taking pictures, many of which are brilliant. With a phone! God damn it. (audience laughs) But I love it, bring it on! All those people, it's like having a pencil in their hand for the first time and learning to draw, learning to write. It doesn't necessarily make them an author or an artist, but every pencil gives a child the opportunity to dream about writing and appreciate it the same way cameras and people's phones have given people an appreciation of photography like never before. This is a golden age of photography, because so many people have the opportunity to do something that used to be only a rich person's hobby back in the day, when I first started shooting film, taking Polaroids, and creating images. I think it's wonderful and we have to push it. Whether we shoot with laser beams, whether we just shoot with a white wall. Now personal, shoot for you. I'm gonna go a lot faster through some of this cuz I wanna do questions as well. But the personal aspect is important and I'm not known for shooting still life or shooting landscapes and stuff like that, but I'm a photographer, and I like making pictures. When I see something I love, I photograph it. You may not know about all these things, but if you love something, then do it, and keeping it personal, you see on certain photographers' websites, that little area that says personal work, and you go there sometimes, "What's this?" Or you're like, "Hey, this is awesome." What it is is it doesn't matter, do it for you. And you never know what could happen. I see images, I see things and I wanna capture them. They're mundane. The things that don't move, things I can't control necessarily but I still try and put my touch on it. I still try and say, "No you're not just a New York "landscape that's been photographed a million times. "I'm gonna own you. "I'm gonna do something with that man hole "or make it look exciting." You know? Seems ridiculous. But you can. You have to almost imagine another world. You have to let yourself go. You have to lose yourself in the moment and enjoy what you're doing. It's very hard sometimes but with this particular collaboration, I was inspired by New York, where I lived for 20 years. She's a beautiful city, she's a hard city. She's tough, she'll chew you up and spit you out. But she's incredibly rewarding too. And my son who was growing up, I was trying to reach out to him, loves skateboarding, and I thought, how can I do something with my pictures and his skateboarding that would bring us together? And we did a collaboration with SHUT NYC, the oldest skateboard company in the world, and wasn't for money but it was something really fun that we did together. Now, think outside the box. Seems obvious. What I'm talking about here is taking a job and blowing it up. You're presented with a job. We'd like you to shoot a shoe for Nine West. Okay. Here's my model, here's my shoe, here's the concept. You have to blow the idea up. If you wanna make a difference, if you wanna be noticed in this world, every time you get a job, you gotta think about how you can blow it up. Now this particular job, they came to us, Nine West and said, "Oh, we have this new boot. "It's the most expensive shoe Nine West has ever made, "and we wanna shoot an advertising campaign around it. "We wanna do something special. "And by the way, we're gonna give back money to "a charity of choice of the CFDA." Council of Fashion Designs of America. Fashion Targets Breast Cancer, the name of the charity. Now, that was already brilliant. Okay we have all these different sort of areas. But how do you really make this special? What we decided to do was to place a Fitbit in the boot, create an online campaign where you could sponsor the models and for every step that they took during Fashion Week, they would earn a dollar amount that would be donated by Nine West to the charity, and it became this incredible thing where people were sponsoring these models. When I did the photoshoot itself, we did it in the meat packing district, we did it out in public, we invited the press, we created a red carpet with step and repeat that instead of the models and celebrities will have you bidding on that, they actually put the press on the red carpet and had them face us and shoot the entire time I was shooting the advertising campaign and they photographed it in all ways. This particular advertising campaign for Nine West blew up in a way that they've never seen anything before, over a billion views in three weeks. Everyone from Al Jazeera to New York Times ran a story on it. And it became something that they had never thought of and we ended up doing it for four years in a row. Even recreating the shoot at a fashion's night out and putting the public in the shoes and shooting them with the models, there were so many levels. And that's kind of what you need to do when you talk to a client and you think of a job. It's not just how can I just do the job? But what else am I adding, what else am I bringing to the shoot? What's my value? And everyone has something different. Okay yes, I come with my history, what I've done, but every photographer, every person, no matter who you are, even if you're the model, you're the hair, you're the makeup, what makes you special? How else can you add to the story? What else can you do to turn this into some huge, didn't say huge, huge is relative. But in my mind, everything is huge. I'm like, this has to be big, that has to be great. But great, perhaps is a better word. Now, I was also lucky enough endorsed at one point by a camera company and on their roster. I'll tell you, it was Sony, what can I say? I was endorsed by Sony and I shoot with Canon but at the time I was endorsed by Sony, and they had asked me to shoot some various things in an advertising campaign for them and I said, "(mumbles) That's fine, I'll do all that for you. "But I wanna make something exciting happen." And we looked at the roster of people that Sony had endorsed. It was Justin Timberlake, Peyton Manning, Taylor Swift. And we came up with the idea of photographing Taylor Swift for them and I said, "Look, how about this? "We create a book on Taylor Swift in one day, "and we'll call it Eight Hours." And luckily for me, they said, "That's a fantastic idea, "we're gonna go with this." And literally in that one day, we shot enough images for a 65 page book on Taylor Swift. Everything from her getting up in the morning to driving in to being on the phone talking to her boyfriend to dancing to having lunch to, you name it, we were doing it, and we were shooting it, and we created this incredible amount of imagery. We videoed it, we took stills from the video, we did all kinds of fun and creative things to create a whole book, on her book which sold out almost immediately. Luckily for me, she has a few fans. But again, it was thinking outside of the box. And in creating something for a client and many times, you have to go to them with ideas, not wait for them to come to you and say, "Can you do this and this and this?" When you go to that meeting, you say, "How about "you do this, this, and this and this?" And again, control. As much as you can, the aspects, it's your creation. And you really can make something special happen. Now this is just a funny little story, I'll tell it very quickly. But Taylor Swift, as she's holding the camera here, pointing at me, she actually, there was a card in there, I didn't know it, and she was taking pictures, and after the fact, I got the card back, and I looked at it and I put it in and for about five years, the very best headshot of me that I've ever had taken was Taylor Swift, and there were very few photographers who can say their portrait was taken by Taylor Swift, is all I can say so, that's like my own personal thing. Don't wait for work. Important not to wait for work. Go out there, get it. In this particular instance, this is a gym. There are certain clients that can't afford to pay you. Okay. Take an active role, an actual position in the business. I think for myself sometimes, I'm like, I really like this idea, this concept. But if they can't afford to pay me, a sort of trade aspect is one part of it, but better still, actually take a position in the company and when you work, when you shoot, you know that you're working for yourself. And that has been something for me that has been a new thing that I've been doing over and over again is, when I can, when I see something, and of course online, you see all these great products, and there are so many people out there, we all have friends who are starting businesses or starting something up, they can't afford to pay you, they can't afford to pay a photographer for what they need, but they need the imagery. Try and do a deal where you take a position in the company. You take a piece of the action and you bleed in it. And you do right by them and you do right by yourself and you create something special and you know the power of photography and imagery. You can make and break a company by the pictures that are connected with it. It is that powerful. And certainly for me, whether it's a gym that I love and have been very involved with to a clothing company that I'm now, called Flag and Anthem, that I am very involved with. None of them could afford to pay me but I took an active role in the business, became creative director, and again, if you can't do that, cuz that isn't who you are and that's not what you do, there's still different ways around it. You collaborate and you give back. Now, finally, I'm gonna talk about making a difference. Because truly, there's nothing more rewarding as a photographer than having your photographs tell a story that helps people understand a problem. That they want to advocate, donate, volunteer, and as I mentioned earlier at the beginning with the picture of the bull, it stirred something in me that when I see that picture, I both love it, cuz it was a moment for me and I also hate it cuz I feel bad for the bull. But it made me do something and I got involved and I got involved with the Humane Society and they asked me originally to just go up to the ice and be photographed with the seals and I'm like, "Be photographed with the seals? "I'm photographing the seals. "And I'm gonna take all my camera gear with me." And we went up there with strobes and cameras and all kinds of stuff and they looked at me, people were like, "You're crazy, what are you doing, "don't take that pack up there, it's minus 20 degrees." But we showed a video which became a documentary called The Seal of Fate, which we took all around the world, it actually played in cinemas and they also play it on television, and we lobbied the EU, and believe it or not, we actually passed legislation that banned the import of seal products into Europe for the very first time in history. And it was because, in large part, of the photography and the imagery that was about the celebration of life. Not about the hunt that was so dreadful, which I witnessed as well and it in the film, but I said, "No, let's talk about how wonderful things are "versus how horrendous they are, cuz we can't scare "people out of this." And it's okay, you can go aww. (audience chuckles) Yeah, it's one of my favorite models. Never answered back. Just laid there, did exactly as I said. Perfect, if only all my models were like that. And here's a picture of us on the ice, really, as you can see, the stroke equipment, there's a strobe going off into the ground it was the most extraordinary thing, 35 miles off the coast of Canada. And it was one of those magic moments. I also created a film called Generation Free. I'm on the board with Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation now. But talking about pediatric AIDS when I first created this, the actual documentary that we created, we talked about 2000 babies being born every day, HIV positive, and I'm delighted to say that as of today, it's less than 500 babies born every day HIV positive, and in fact, the generation (mumbles) concept of this film which we did a decade ago, we are now looking at literally eliminating pediatric AIDS in the next five years, which is extraordinary. It can be done, it needs to be done, and only together can we make it happen, but the power of photography to tell these stories and to give back and to make people get up and realize that they can do something is incredible, and every photographer out there I encourage to find a cause that resonates with you and make a difference. You yourself will benefit more than anything else that you've done, and if i could stop everything I'm doing and just do this, I'd be there tomorrow. Unfortunately, I've got a mortgage. Haiti Hunger and Hope, I did a documentary in Haiti before the earthquake. I thought I could (mumbles) put a picture of myself in, only made sense. But I went out there, created a documentary, and I went back after the earthquake and created another documentary that one the Film Hills Award, the Manhattan Film Festival called Dreams Not Forgotten. And it's vital that we change people's hearts and minds on countries like Haiti and issues that are out there, and by telling stories that make people understand what it's about in our last documentary was about a little girl who lost all her family in the earthquake and now lives with her schoolteacher and her postman and is going to school every day and we just followed her life and it was silent film that just had her voice in it, and for me, it wasn't about me talking or me trying to tell you anything. Again, let the imagery speak for itself. And all aspects of it. So I leave you with believe in yourself. And commit 100%. And discover the creator in all of you. Thank you very much. (audience applauds) I believe we have time for a few questions. We have time for questions?
We absolutely do.
Hi, thank you so much for your time. I've been a huge fan for years. You were one of the first commercial photographers I ever saw when I was younger and your work really inspired me on America's Next Top Model and I would like to ask you, how can we as photographers, help other young photographers come up too, help inspire people who are not maybe at the same place as us?
Great question. I think inspiring, the great thing about social media is that it is this huge platform for inspiring people and talking and keeping that dialogue open. And sharing. Unfortunately, and I'm not gonna condemn people in general, but in, certainly the photography world, people love their secrets, how they do things, and hiding everything, it's my technique. You're never gonna know what I do. This is the magic. Certainly, it's always kinda been like that, especially as it all happened in the box of the camera and the film came back and you're like, "Boom, here it is, and no one's gonna know "what I've done," but the magic isn't there, really. The magic is in the conversation, it's in the personality, it's in how you relate to people, it's in your body language, it's in all these different aspects, which, bring that alive, and I think just really talking to people and being open. I can say it's a collaboration, for me, it's not me, it's everybody. And social media, I'm a fan actually. People say to me all the time, "Come on, "how can you like it?" It is what it is, but it's another medium. And by the way there are jobs out there because of it. Yes there is competition. But competition is coming, it always has been, and it's good for you. So that for me, just get out there and do it.
Great presentation, thanks so much.
So, could you contrast the Top Model kind of work where you're working with maybe reluctant models, amateur models, versus clients with professional models, what's similar and different about how you approach those kinds of jobs?
That's a great question, so actually, funnily enough, many of the people who I shoot, they aren't models always. So yes, Top Model, they were trying to become models, but they really wanted to do it, so you got a very willing but naive, green kind of subject but they really want to please and want to do how you direct them. Or they have ideas. But actually, funny enough, many times, shooting actually professional people in the real world who perhaps aren't models is more challenging. Even sometimes models can be challenging, because they come with their own set of like, this is how I do it too. And like I said, I like it to be a collaboration, I like it to be a dance, so casting is very important in that particular instance, but sometimes that's not the case, so I'll get an athlete who is really confident in the field, in the court, in the pool, and you take them out of that environment, and you're doing a portrait of them in the studio, and they're like, "What do I do? "Where do I look? "This is awkward." And even actors, who, you'll give them a role, fantastic, movies, action, lights, go, fantastic. When you're shooting on set, they're like, "How long's this gonna take? "This is really uncomfortable. "Where's my publicist? "He's got 15 minutes." You're like, okay, you have to find ways to make it happen, and to make it work, and for me, oftentimes I have a story where I talk about confidence with athletes sometimes and it's about making them imagine that they're in the field or they're in the court. I always try and create a happy place for whoever I'm shooting, and, like I told the models on Top Model to think of music to make them relax and kinda get into the rhythm of it all, the same way I'm shooting an athlete, I've said to them, "Imagine that time where "if you're an Olympian and you're literally "competing for your country, you think of all the years "of work that you've done, all the training, "everything that went into it, remember that moment "when you stood on that Olympic podium. "The flag of your country rising on the flag pole. "Your national anthem playing, your mother at home "with the family, watching the TV, probably crying "as you're there, that moment, how did you feel?" And you'll see this athlete who is one moment nervous and all of a sudden go like this. Boom, and I'm like, that's my shot. But it can go either way, I also had a boxer one time who wasn't giving me what I wanted when I stupidly went and pushed him and he went back at me and almost knocked me flat out. And I was like, but I got the shot. (audience laughs)
Nigel, I'd love to take a question from the folks at home. We like to say go to the phones. We have people watching from all over the world. So one question is, with iPhone cameras making photography so accessible as you talked about, how do you educate clients about the value of what you do as a professional?
There are jobs that we do where the client will even say, "Okay this is fantastic, will you shoot "this film for us as well as still campaign?" And we're like, "Fantastic," we get there for the creative meeting. You're like, "Okay so the whole thing needs to be square." And you see a lot of people's face in the room go (moans softly) you know. We're shooting with Hasselblad film back in the day, what are we talking about here? They're like, "No cuz the whole thing is for Instagram, "or for Facebook or the actual campaigns "are being run online." Now you can get caught up with that, you can get upset by that, or not. You can say, "Hey, actually, that is one of the "mediums today, it's like a magazine," which, by the way, if you're shooting and it's an advertising campaign that's going to be on social media, the chances are, you may well get many millions more followers or likes or people viewing your picture and your work than you might ever get in a magazine, even if it's Vogue, because they only sell half a million copies worldwide per month. So it's, I just say, you go with it and enjoy it and really just embrace the change and don't get caught up in feeling annoyed by those things.
Awesome, thank you. In the studio, yes, right over here.
So first of all I wanna say that I'm a huge fan, I've been following you since America's Next Top Model. One of the reasons why I watched it was your photography, and I've been following you on social media, so that's how I knew about this event so I am grateful for social media, and followed your wife and her jewelry line and everything, and I see that you're a very family-oriented man with your kids and your family and that really like inspires me so I guess my question is how do you find a balance between being like the super husband and super dad and amazing photographer, how do you find that balance?
I love this question, you wanna say it again, just in case people didn't hear it. I'm not sure people in the back heard you. (audience laughs) (chuckles) You're very sweet, thank you. You know, divide and conquer right, so we're a team, my wife and I work together. You just saw pictures of her that I showed you here but she also helps run my studio, runs our business, she also runs her own business, but you work hard, you love what you do, and you compartmentalize. You know who really taught me a lot about that, credits due is Tyra Banks, I mean, she was someone who showed me how to run multiple businesses at the same time and when you're doing what you're doing, you are focused on that moment, and it isn't always about quantity and yeah, I can't always be there for my kids, but when I'm there, I try to be there, and I am with them, and we are playing, we are building, we are talking, we are creating, and luckily as I run my own businesses, when I'm not working I can take them to school in the morning, I can pick them up, you can do all those things and likewise when I'm working, I'm focused 100% on that client at that moment. So they have me 100%. I'm not thinking about 20 things, juggling them all in my mind, I'm here and I'm present. I think being present is incredibly important and as a photographer, you have to be in the moment to capture it.
How you doing Nigel, big fan. Super deep question so I want you to think about the answer. Okay?
So two part series. One, when is Top Photographer coming back on Youtube? Love the series. And two, how do I get a slot? (audience laughs)
Brilliant, well, see me after. Well, thank you very much, Top Photographer, a new show that I created that was on Youtube, we did sort of a really almost like a sizzle of what the show would be like, it was a five episode, you can check it out. We had a lot of fun with it. We are actually working on season two, and it's a Youtube show so it's really kind of exciting and really fun to do, and means it's all on us as well. And really to get involved with a show, just submit your work, and we are using social media to do it, and we truly looked at it. We had over 10,000 applicants for the first season, and so it's a lot, and we know we're gonna bigger, we wanna make an international show, and so it's gonna get huge, but it's really, really fun. It's exciting, and I think that, like I said, it's a golden age for photography in a way that we haven't seen since back in the 1920s. So very special.
All right Nigel, we have one last question for you, from Pauline C.J. at home, and her question is how do you find your customer, the market for your activism, your humanitarian photography and do people want them paid, donated, but I guess for people at home, how do they go about partnering with somebody?
You know, think about a cause that means something to you. Every one of these causes that I'm involved with has something to do with my own life, whether it was the HSUS and the Humane Society and working with animals and trying to protect them, and hey there's a great announcement happened today. I'm not sure if you read about it but Gucci, the fashion label, decided to not use fur anymore in the whole of Gucci, which is huge. Following in the footsteps of Armani and Hugo Boss. Real changes are happening, and they do happen. And you rarely hear about the good news, unfortunately, you only ever hear about the bad, but things do change if you make a difference. You have to think of something that motivates you. I have children so I care about early learning, literacy, I care about children and I remember that I grew up in the 80s and many of my friends died of AIDS and so when I found out about Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, I got extremely motivated to help children that were being born HIV positive. They had nothing that they had done in their life. They were just born that way, and the fact that we could end it, we had the medicine and we had the ability, we just needed to take care of that, so to tell that story, one thing we can do is tell stories. So if you see something that matters to you, it could be local, it could be big. There are many different organizations, there's one thing they all need is imagery. They're dying for good photography. I did something with the ASPCA where we went into kennels and we brought the dogs out of the kennels and we spent time with them and then we photographed them and the whole point of it was to show that if you take a photograph of a dog looking miserable behind a cage, it looks like a prisoner. And who wants to adopt a prisoner? Not most people. But it's a dog and when you take it out and you play with it, and all of a sudden it's like literally smiling, you want that dog. And adoption rates went through the roof during this campaign, and it's now a national campaign that they do every year. So realize how powerful your photography can be and what a difference you can make, and if nothing else, if you don't become a professional photographer, doing something like this will be as rewarding if not more, and quite frankly, is the most powerful thing you can do. Thank you very much.
Please help me give it up for Nigel Barker, everyone. Thank you Nigel. (audience applauds) Thank you so much. Now, I understand that you have a book and we have a book giveaway, so tell us about your book.
It's called Models of Influence. It luckily became a New York Times best-seller, and we are actually giving a book away, I believe someone has a little smiley face underneath their chair, is that correct?
That's right, everybody look under your chair.
We're gonna turn this place upside down right now. You got it.
We got a winner right over here. We've got a winner. Right here. Chelsea's gonna hand you the book, awesome, congratulations. She's very excited.
Nigel, I think you have another one to give away as well.
I do, what are we gonna do with that? How are we gonna give that one away?
Maybe your favorite question.
I could do my favorite question, you know, where's the lady, yeah, I think you. That compliment works. I'm a pretty simple guy. Tell me what I wanna hear. (audience applauds)