Nigel Barker: Be the Artist You Want to Work With
Hey everybody, what's up, I'm Chase, welcome to another episode of the Chase Jarvis Live Show here on Creative Live. You all know this show, this is where I sit down with amazing humans and do everything I can to unlock their brains to help you live your dreams and career and hobby and in life. My guest today started out on the other side of the camera as a fashion icon, moved to becoming one of the world's top fashion photographers, then landed this random deal as a photographer and judge on America's Top Model. Not random at all, all these things happen for a reason and today he's a thriving entrepreneur, my guest today is none other than Mr. Nigel Barker. (lively music) (applause)
Been a long time coming, good to have you.
I appreciate it. (laughs)
I'm going to start off by saying the obvious, we're dressed the same. (laughs)
Now let's be fair, you're dressed like me.
Yes, that's true, because you, in a classic sense, I wore it better and if you're listening to this right ...
now, some people are watching cuz you can watch this show, but a lot of people, I think grumpily listen. And we have the same freaking pants and the shoes are slightly different, but only slightly.
You know, it's kind of scary, I'm not sure what exactly what is going on, except for the fact that they are very comfortable.
They are, this is why I wear them, it's like my wife's like, "oh you're wearing sweatpants again today." Because they're glorified sweatpants, anyway--
My wife likes to say, "you think you're a soldier." Like, "come on soldier boy." And she takes the mickey out of me, so hey, maybe that's what it is.
We're wearing camo and now it's not the best way to start a show, I'm not gonna lie, but for those people watching, "they wore a uniform on the show?" So it's true, we also have a very similar career path, in except you were sort of a classic model, I was an athlete, so I spent a lot of time on the other side of the camera--
I can see the guns.
Then we transition into photographers and now sort of photographers plus entrepreneurs. That was no way, an attempt to summarize the last 30 years of your life, but in Nigel Barker's own words, how in the hell did you get to sitting right here, give me the short version of the 30 year arc of your career.
I think that at the end of the day, it was about, one, believing in myself and also having a dream, right? Dreaming about moving from England and seeing the world originally, traveling. I grew up doing a bit of travel, I was always fascinated with it and I think when I first started modeling and I never wanted to model, it was not a dream of mine actually. I kind of fell into it, ironically, a show called The Clothes Show in England which is one of the very first modeling competitions in the 80s, right? And I didn't win and I got top three and someone said to me, "would you like a modeling contract." And I thought okay, my year off between high school and college, I would do a bit of modeling.
Gap year, exactly.
Proper British term.
Proper British term. I was trying to Americanize it for you. But I did a bit of modeling, it went well, and the first thing that really struck me was just how interesting people in fashion are. I come from a very straight laced boarding school, private school, English education system, all boys schools and things like that and all of a sudden, I was in the fashion world. And there were all kinds of characters. It was almost like this is where all the people, the fashionistas, the misfits, the odd bunch, everyone comes together and they're in this business and I loved it. I'm like, I finally found home in a weird way.
It was my tribe. And there were people who'd been told they couldn't do this or they shouldn't do that, you don't fit in, and I just loved the creativity. People making stuff happen and I loved it and I didn't leave. My parents got very upset with me. Be careful, parents, what you tell your kids what they can do, because it was my mom who got me involved with this modeling malarkey in the first place and it lead to six years of me not going to medical school and becoming a photographer. Because after six years, I said 80s, right? So in the 80s, it was all about the era of the supermodel. There were curvaceous models, there were these Amazonians. You know, Claudia Schiffer, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell and then came along heroin chic, androgyny, Kate Moss, designers like Anna Sui, Marc Jacobs. It was a very different time and I'm not a small guy. You know, I played rugby and I rode, I wasn't about to become androgynous so I didn't want to throw away everything I'd ever done. The past six years, my other degree and I'd always loved photography and it wasn't until I became a model that I realized that photography was even a career choice. There was no university degrees in photography back when we were kids. That was new, it was interns and assisting. So I started to transition over and I could see that the industry was changing and I took that opportunity to not throw away what I learned and I also found and saw photographers similar to yourself when I was younger who I could see weren't just doing photography, but were turning it into a business. Photographers like Forbrizio Ferri who started Superstudios in Milan who then opened Superstudios in New York and had a studio business as well as a photography business. He then started a fashion business called Ferri, which is his clothing line. He then had an airline, he bought an island. I'm like, this is a photographer, but I'm like, okay. I'm like, this is not what you think when you think "photographer." A guy named Peter Arnell who bought all the billboards down Houston Street in New York City. And if anyone wanted to advertise in New York City, between Soho and Chelsea, on Houston Street, you had to use him or his advertising company to shoot the advertising campaigns. It was brilliant.
And I'm like, these are different ways of marketing, branding, and doing business in photography. And so I was inspired by these men and these women who were doing these sorts of things and I tried to put that into my business and I remember when Top Model came knocking. Tyra had done one season, I wasn't there for season one, it was on a small network called UPN which doesn't even exist anymore, and it was a bit of a cult show, it wasn't a huge hit, but it was done quite well, season one. And she came and said, "would you "be interested in doing a photo shoot for next season?" I thought, okay, why not, it's been fun. You know, reality TV was new, if you can believe it. This is back in 2003 and they actually put everyone on tape back then and I was on tape and I think it was partly my British accent, because by all accounts, every reality show cocktail has a dash of English in it, you know. And they liked the way I critiqued the models and what have you and I got a call a month later, I didn't think I got it because it was a month later and they said, "look, we've looked at your tape, "we like what you did, we like you on the show, "but would you consider a more permanent role "as a permanent judge and a photographer?" And I didn't really know what that meant, but I did know that it was a bit of a risk and you think now, "well what's the risk?" Because obviously I did well out of it and it's a part of my calling card, you know. But it was a risk because when you work in fashion, especially back then, high fashion and couture and that well that I was in and editorial photography, being on primetime, being sort a bit of a sell out, perhaps, commercializing yourself, opening the doors of this exclusive fashion club to the world was not a popular thing. They were like, "don't make a mockery "of what we do, we're not primetime." You know, and I knew that that was that risk and people warned me, but I also thought and I could feel it that times were changing and I think being in touch with the zeitgeist of the time is very important. And I could see that people loved these kinds of shows, and I'm like, you know what, sod it, it's about pop culture and I want to be a part of it and I enjoy that kind of feeling and so I took the risk and one season for me, lead to 18 seasons that I did. It became the number one show on primetime on a Wednesday night, it became syndicated to 156 countries around the world and had a weekly viewership of 100 million people watching our show. We were the number one television export out of the U.S. for several years beating both Baywatch and Sesame Street, sorry Grover. (laughs) It was something, you know.
It was real. It became a real deal and there was a whole generation of fashionistas and young photographers who grew up who saw what we did on that show and were inspired to take up the camera, you know? Who knew that I would be here 20 years later and now everybody has a camera on their phone and they're all fascinated with the world of photography.
I think that your story is fascinating because of all of the little decisions that you've had to make. Like that you wanted to move from modeling to photography, that when photography was happening, you realized that it was changing and then when it was changing, you decided actively that you were going to risk the thing that was the sure which is being a part of this fashion community with the unknown. So just a series of you know 20 decisions that have shaped your career. So if I'm going to go back and tap into a couple of those little anecdotes along the way, what was it about being a model that you feel like helped you be a better photographer?
So it's funny, you know, I actually didn't like modeling. It's ironic because I'm constantly talking to people about becoming models and helping them be models and things. But I really just didn't love it, I kind of always felt awkward.
Because it was boring, there's a lot of standing around.
It was a bit of standing around, no, that wasn't the right reason, I actually felt a little silly, to be honest. I'll be straight up with you, I just felt uncomfortable. And maybe it's the control in me. I'm quite controlling, probably very controlling if I talked to some people. But you know, when you're not in control of your life and you're at the whim of someone else telling you what to do or at the whim of someone else booking you or hiring you, it did not make me feel comfortable. And so I didn't like just being arm candy and to be honest, the fashion industry for men, male models, you were not the lead. You were always the secondary, you were hired as the prop. You know, so it just wasn't fulfilling for me. But I did love the role that the photographer had or the creative director had or the editor in chief had, the designer had. And I'm like, which one of these can I do? Where was my potential here? And I saw the photographers and I remember as a model what I learned was watching all these different photographers I worked with, hundreds over the years and some of the biggest names in the business, how they treated me, how they talked to me, how they treated the people on their set, their team, how they worked a job, and their finesse or their charm, or their lack of it or whether they got booked again or whether I got booked again and the way they lit their sets. You know, every aspect of it, the whole production. And not just from one photographer that I could have assisted, but sort of several hundred and it was very interesting, the reaction, what certain photographers got out of me because of the way they talked to me. And I incorporated that into my style.
Insanely valuable, that's like a crash course that you cannot possibly build on purpose. That has to happen from you deconstructing the best successes of every set you've ever been on.
I do some quirky things, no doubt, as a photographer now. And I am not apologetic about it. Some people even laugh at me or I know have spoken to my assistants, "does he always do that?" And they're like, "yes he does, "but there's a reason for it, just let him do his thing." Because ultimately, there isn't one route to getting the job done. You can all do it your own different ways and as long as you create something that's beautiful or is authentic and it moves you and it arrests people when they see an image, then you've done your job. How you got there is kind of up to you.
The thing, it's locked right here, this is the thing.
Like a chef, I mean, how many ways can you cook something. But there are different ways and it can taste different but it can potentially still be the same thing, right? So I do things like, and it's from my modeling days, I always get into my own lights. And I feel the light, I stand where the model is and I really kind of embrace what that feels like, I also look and see what is the model looking at. Because I'm looking at them, they look gorgeous and they're on a beautiful background because this is my scenery and I'm like everything is stunning, why isn't this working? And you look for what they're looking at and half time, first of all, they're looking at me, which isn't always that great and then second of all, they're looking at a whole team of people staring at them, picking them apart and it could be a parking lot or it might not be what I'm looking at. You really require them to be actors but they're not actors, so therefore you have to motivate them. So there are all these sort of things that I start to think about and I try to involve and so there's a simpatico kind of thing. I empathize with them and I'm like, okay let me put myself in your shoes.
We all have our own quirks and some people never do that. There are photographers who'll never be photographed or don't like it but I'm like, if I'm going to do it to you, I have to be okay having it done to me.
I think that works for lots of careers and lots of ways and angles, but I think that specifically, and we share this, you don't know this about me, but I have a very short modeling career, mostly in sports on the other side of the camera. But one of the obsessions I have is a tidy set.
I could tell, by the way.
I could tell by the way you walked.
That you used to have a modeling background. (laughs) They all think they can hide it, but I can always tell.
It's a short, short stint, but the things I loved are that you're not apologetic about it. This is the thing and it is what you learn on both sides on the camera, just being on hundreds of sets is that how you get there becomes your thing and the fact that you're empathetic for the model might create or draw out of them something that some other photographer can't get. This is about as messy as I'll let my set get right here. This bag over there and there's a cup.
I'm the same way.
Because to me, when I look at stuff strewn all over the place, it creates anxiety, we'll hide it in a different place because I want everyone to feel like this is a space that feels good when you're into it and sure, this photograph needs to look good, but the whole place has to feel good.
I have OCD, I think, it comes down to my assistants know that the wires on the ground from the cables leading away from my lights have to be in lines that are angled and they have to be taped down.
Talk about the cable operators here, yes, they're laughing, they're laughing. Because it's true.
I can see that. Because when I take pictures, and this is me and other photographers out there, I'm not hating on you, but I'm not a big fan of people shooting on the beach when the ocean is going like that in the background. What happened, is there an earthquake?
Did you fall when you took this picture? That's just me, okay, my horizons are damn straight. I'm all about symmetry and other people love those pictures, so again, it's really in the eye of the beholder, it just drives me nuts.
We are similar in that. I like the fact that you, I think empathy is a word that is long overdue and there's a realization in our culture that empathy is going to really help us in the next chapter of culture because understanding how someone else feels is part of the human equation. So the fact that you've been on this side of the camera before you became a photographer, but now I want to shift gears and talk about how in particular, what was your first step or series of steps when you're like, okay, cool, I wanna go and do that, I wanna do what that guy or that girl is doing there. Because you mentioned it's not really happening in a four year degree nowadays, or things like Creative Live didn't exist. So what did you do and then what would you recommend for others and just to be clear, this goes beyond photography. We're talking about photography because that's Nigel's background, as mine as well, but similar is probably true in a lot of things.
I had to use what was available, I think is the reality of the mindset and I was lucky to because I was modeling at the time and so I looked around, everyone I was working with and they were models, right? So there I have this sort of army of good looking or attractive people who are in the business who want to be photographed and one of the hard things is who do I photograph, I don't know any models.
My friend Joey.
My friend, would you let me take your picture? So that was my paradigm, I was living in Milan and I actually lived in a building that had hundreds of models living in it and everyday, they would come back from work if they had a job, which most of them didn't. And you know, I would say to them, please, don't wipe your makeup off, leave your hair the way that the professionals have done it and we will do portraits and I will give you the pictures because half the time, you didn't get the pictures off your job or it might be six months later, the model's already returned to the U.S., the Italians have a sheet, you hope you get the magazine somewhere where you live in Ohio or something, you're just not going to get it. So I'm like, let me, at least take a portrait of you. So they all loved it, so they would come in, and I gotta say that most of my original portraits were what I think were nudes of most people because I didn't have any clothes. They don't let you walk out, unless the model steals the clothes, she just doesn't come home with the clothing, but she does have the hair and the makeup on. So like, okay, and I have these great portraits of these beautiful girls including my wife and my sister in law who I met back then 25 years ago, in Milan. And everyday, they'd have different hair and makeup and we would create these great shots in Milan with this beautiful lighting on these old Italian streets. Very very simple, black and white, mostly, and I was just honing my art so that's how that aspect of it started, I built up a portfolio and I think I figured out, I photographed almost a thousand models in the first two years. So I had a huge body of work, very consistent because it was all very similar scenario, style, lighting, field, and of course that's important too. Because yes, people like to know when they book you what they're gonna get and of course that doesn't mean that you can't do something else, but it does freak people out when they see hundred things. And they're like, "oh, which one are we gonna get today?"
You know. So that was where I started and I've always called things for whatever reason, I call them series, a series. And it's sort of a series of my career that's a style that I shot and a look and feel and it changed when I moved to Paris because the light was different, the people were different and the models were different. It was all a bit more chic and chichi than Italians in Italy and everyone who goes there were a bit more rough and ready and sort of sexy. And Paris was a bit more upscale and the models started wearing clothes and you got to England and everyone was skinny and odd looking and I went down that road and I moved to the states and it was when I moved to America, that I took the risk on myself, I stopped modeling completely, I only decided to become the photographer, I was reinventing myself, no one really knew me over there, I had only done a very little bit of modeling five years ago and I went to the Meatpacking District, which in hindsight was brilliant, but then was terrifying. The only reason why I went was because it was the only place I could afford to go. And I remember when I first started looking for an apartment, I looked in the Village Voice, I saw an opportunity of an apartment that I could be a roommate in. And I went and knocked on the door and it was right there on 14th and 9th and I opened the door and towering above me in suspender belts and heels was this lady who said, "hi, are you Nigel, come to see your room?" And I was like, "yes, please, can I have a look at my room?" And I was a young man and she walked me in and she pulls open this curtain and above the bed and the bed was just a bed with the curtain around it, were handcuffs hanging from the bed top and I'm like, oh, wow. (laughs) "That'll be your room." And I was like, okay, well the funny thing is that I ended up staying and I--
No warning signs here.
No warning signs here, right? But living in the fashion industry, I'm like, okay, I can deal with this, this is cool let's rock this world and I got a studio which was like a 4, square foot studio and models used to show up. It was an active meatpacking plant at the bottom. And they would look and they would say, "oh hi, I'm here to see Nigel Barker for a shoot, "I think I'm at the wrong place, "I must have the wrong number." And I would look out the window and I'd see them and be like, "no, no, you're here, "climb over the carcass, come up to the third floor "and don't worry about the speakeasy on the second floor "or the club called Hell that's in the basement." I'm up there and that's how my career started. And you know, by having that space which was a risk because it cost me money to have the studio space but it also allowed me to shoot whenever I want and I loved the Andy Warhol factory concept.
Of course, big inspiration for me.
Just being able to do whatever you want, create whatever you want at anytime of the day or night, I'd throw parties, everyone would come and by two o'clock in the morning, everyone would be in the mood to get their photograph taken, we'd set up the lights, we'd wheel them out. People would be doing all kinds of crazy stuff. You start shooting.
Yep. The parties became well known in New York City and that was really how I started, it was a lot of fun those days.
Brilliant, there's this very clear transition from model to photographer, you've already shared the story from photographer to getting the call in America's Top Model, but we haven't really talked about the trajectory of the show. So you came on after a shooting being a photographer in an episode and then you went full on being a regular on the show, how was it in the sausage factory of making television, it's very different in real life when you're on a set everyday versus what gets manufactured and shown to the world. So give me a little bit of an arc of what was going on in your mind and on the show and how was it in real life relative to what was being put out on the telly.
You know it was very exciting to be honest. It was an exciting time all around, television was still obviously very popular. Now it's very different, it's changed enormously. How people are receiving their content. But the day to day was a lot of fun. You know, we really were creating. Making people's dreams come true, I think is the way to describe it. A lot of people were interested in the fashion industry that had been forever and this was the very first time that people were being allowed into it. And I did feel very responsible for the contestants. This was their dream and they were there and they were willing to try anything and you felt responsible for them. I always sort of joke that I was sort of local parentes. Which means that I was sort of their parent or guardian on set and I always had that feeling for them. I think too, because I used to be one of them and so I looked to them and I felt so fragile for them. I'm like, we gotta make sure this is a good experience and that you grow from it and I do believe that's partly why I was the longest standing judge on the show, I mean I was there for 18 odd seasons and I saw many other people come and go. And interesting enough, from a business standpoint, and that risk that I talked about earlier how it was a risk going on Top Model. The magazine sponsor was Jane magazine and then Nylon, and then it became 17. The main sponsor for the actual show was things like Walmart and then it moved to CoverGirl. But they were very commercial. It was not high fashion, very mass. And before that, I was working for Paper Magazine. I had done stuff for Interview Magazine and I was doing all this sort of cool stuff like great fashion houses were calling me and asking me to do shoots and then they stopped. They stopped calling. (Chase snaps) Just like that, and I was like, ooh, okay, ouch, so now what? How do I monetize what I'm doing? How do I turn this into an actual opportunity? And of course I realized that what I was doing was I was bringing fashion to the masses, I was that voice for them. The voice of reason and expert in my field. And I'm like okay, that's not a bad place to be. That's actually rather, a good place to be. I don't need to preach to the choir. We have people, "everybody whose already "got the money are in fashion." How about we do something of our own. And you know what happened of course is that the show became so incredibly successful, that magazines like Vogue, 10 seasons deep, came knocking, the ones who had to come. The ones who laughed at us and said, "oh, you shouldn't do this, that's not right, "it's making a mockery of fashion, "we don't hang people from bridges, "we don't put spiders on people's faces, "we don't do photo shoots on water, "you know, this is all silly stuff." And actually every single shoot we did on America's Next Top Model was referenced from some fantastic photo shoot that had actually happened in history. And absolutely people put models in bowls of glass on the Seine in Paris. And these fantastic classic pictures of people with animals and all that stuff is real. And yes, sometimes hanging from bridges. It doesn't happen everyday, but we're making TV. So we make it exciting so on our show, it does happen everyday. This is what could happen it was the fantasy. Which is what fashion is built on anyway. And so 10 seasons deep, Italian Vogue, not just American Vogue, but the hippest, most editorial, cool Vogue there is, Italian Vogue, came on as our magazine sponsor. One of the guest judges who sat next to me became Andre Leon Talley, Editor at Large of American Vogue and we had the likes of Versaces, Missonis, every major designer and supermodel come on as our guest judges for the week and the whole thing changed dramatically. And I always thought to myself, secretly, I laughed at myself and thought, "what, really, so now we're en vogue?" So 10 years later. Who's missed the boat? Or, quite frankly, you know, I think we perhaps were more en vogue than Vogue was and they knew it.
Isn't that weird? The same thing can be said, I feel like, if you, were just stepping back and saying, what is not in fashion becomes fashionable and to me, the folks who are to this day, interesting as people, as visionaries, as leaders, just look at Andy Warhol, he was talking about art and commerce were fascinating. It wasn't just being so true to art, I think he said, "the most "interesting kind of art is business." Or some great line like that.
Yeah. And when you can see a handful of examples of people who are constantly reinventing themselves, they're actually setting the trend even at the time where it's very painful for others to follow. Like, "oh, they're crazy, what are they doing?" And I think the same could be said basically in any industry if you look at people who are doing things that are sort of renegade. What I want to tap into and ask, this has been great story telling, but did you know or did you realize that there is a small chance that it could go like this but you were willing to risk it anyway?
I think it was a bit of both it was definitely a bit of both. There were times when you didn't know and you had to shake the dice a little bit but you know, you also have to know what you're gambling with and you have to be ready to ante up and you have to also be ready to leave the table. So there are moments where you're like, okay, I've done this I've made good money, I've done what I needed to do, time to move. And it's very difficult when you're doing very well actually and there was a time of course where I was fired off my show. Off America's Next Top Model, I got fired. And it was painful. With hindsight, I may have left earlier, actually. The funny thing is, a week later, I got a job offer from Naomi Campbell and The Face. And she asked me to host her show and I just went straight in with not even a break and hosted her show for two years and it was complicated to do because Naomi was not good friends with Tyra at the time or any of that kind of business, but actually, it was an eye opener for me and again, it further cemented my position as being someone who was on television talking about the business once again. But you don't always know and you do have to take risks but every single time something comes up like that, you've gotta do your best, you've got to try your hardest, you've got to be as smart as possible, and if you're not enjoying it, that's another part of it. I'm incredibly passionate about everything and I don't take up anything just to do a little bit of it. I'm either 100% in, or I'm not in at all. And I feel that about life in general.
I have the same experience and I think we were laughing before we started the cameras rolling about how, historically, photography wasn't about giving away all of your trade secrets because that was the thing that the business was made on and not this number to you I saw where this world was going and said, wait a minute, information wants to be free and this is all going to be common knowledge soon, so let's start telling stories about what it's like and start providing a vehicle for other people to tap in. And that for me and for our Creative Live, that was an ignition point. So I think that this is a very, you've listed two ingredients, one, sort of listening to the industry and looking where it's going and not where it's necessarily been and also this secondary piece that you just fill in for us is passion. So, is there some particular magic third ingredient? Because you have to know an industry well enough to step into it, that's what you talked about, like, I knew fashion, I knew photography a little bit, I could see myself in that role, I was very passionate about it. Is it just those two ingredients or is there some other--
So what I would say would be would be this, is that the word passion is interesting because it's yes, you're passionate and I am passionate, I'm driven and I'm competitive and with myself as well as other people and everything else, right. But I'm also compassionate to myself as well. And when I say that I love myself, I mean that in the right sense. I mean, it's important to love yourself. You've got to be kind to yourself. You can't be too judgemental, you can't be too tough, you have to know. I always say, look, just do your best. I may not be as good as you, I may not be as good as the next person, but I tried my best and I'm proud of that and that's a big part of life. If you think you're better than everyone else, of course there's the word conceited, that's what that is right? But if you're okay with, "I ran my fastest, "I came in second, but I ran my fastest, "I couldn't have run faster." Hey, what are you gonna do? Are you going to beat yourself up about that forever? Doesn't make any sense, right? So giving yourself that opportunity. But when you add these things together, I think for me it was the understanding that I was always gonna try me hardest, I was going to put 100% in, 120 if need be. I would be okay with that and I would have risk as well. With those things, the magic is when all of a sudden, when something spontaneous happens and spontaneity for me is really the American dream in a way, it's the word freedom, because only when you are truly free, could those special things happen. And I see it on set all the time. When the magic happens when something I wasn't expecting and I'm like, wow, and literally the hair on the back stands up on end and I'm like, I just got something really special. And I didn't know that was going to happen. And there was a build up of all those things and it's just spontaneous and it's very hard because you can't bottle spontaneity you know? But it is allowing spontaneity to happen. So it comes from, I think, a lot of these things, these sort of attributes that allow that moment to happen.
There's also another reference on our conversation we had before, it's like it's not just the photograph that makes the photographer. We talk about the end result, yes, but can you give that result over and over and over because people are betting on you and they have to bet on something that is a known quantity, whether it is being able to look at your portfolio, but you also described how it's in a photographer or you can say this in any career, it's the total package, it's all of the things that you can bring to that moment. A, I want to have you comment on all of the things that are beyond what people think about when they think of a photographer. Like what are the other things you control for? So that's question one and then question two, is it in that world, are you really creating a fertile environment for spontaneity? Question one, what is it beyond just the photograph that you as a photographer are setting up. You talked about client management, or inspiration or the sets, so just tell us a little bit of story of that.
It really, for me, and I again, there's no list, well there isn't even a magic potion. I mean, people often say, what three things can I do or can you give me some advice, I want to do what you did with your career, it's like that's just never gonna happen and you may have a better career than me. But having a team has always been incredibly crucial and I'm the sum of my parts and my parts are everyone who works with me and for me and around me and I met my wife, as I mentioned earlier, 25 years earlier with her twin sister and they became my muses and I had these incredible muses which helped me work and build my portfolio. But my wife and I have also worked hand in glove together for years and everything I do, every shoot that I do, her fingerprint is on it as much as mine and many of my photo assistants have been with me for a decade and 12 years and another 15 years and everything that they do is a part of the DNA of what I do. It isn't just me, even if sometimes it is me and the model, there's so much that's gone into that. Even my mood that day, even the mood on set, my hair and makeup artists, with the way they work with people, how they make people feel, the way the stylists dress people. It's not just having any old team, it has to be this team. You can't trade people, it's like having your own family. You can't trade your brothers and sisters because you don't like them today for someone else and say, "it's still family." Even if you don't get on, it's your family and these people become your family and some days, they rub you up the wrong way, other times, you love each other to death and when you don't see each other, you miss one another and it was that team, I think was the secret sauce. And you know what, you can build your own team, it doesn't have to be my team, that was the team that worked for me and that's the wonderful thing and I think most great people I know, have wonderful people around them. And they're good at delegating, they need to know how to do that, they need to know how to manage people too, as well as themselves and have people there to manage them. I always say, you've got to speak to the boss and I direct them to my wife and if she doesn't approve or she's not going to do it. And I remember photographers like Helmut Newton. His wife worked all his photo shoots. She picked the models, she set up the ideas and the concepts and he went and shot them and people often credit Helmut for everything, but actually, his wife is very instrumental.
The same is true for me, by the way, Kate has been absolutely critical in every element of my career and I try and recognize her as you do your wife of 25 years, same, 25 years.
So it's fair to say it's the total package. You talked about team, you talked about the environment, we further talked about what it feels like on set. Those are the parameters, now, is it all of those things that gets to culminate in this magic moment, the serendipity, or is there some other magic that you're trying to infuse in the moment? Because that's the thing that people, I think when they're listening to you right now, they're like, but how do I get that thing?
The is inspiration, probably and that is a love of life. You have to appreciate life, you have to literally wake up in the morning and be willing and open to be inspired. People say to me all the time, what happens if you're not inspired or you don't know what to do, you don't know how to shoot it? I get a bit stuck with that question because I'm like, I don't really know because I literally wake up and I'm inspired by the rain, I'm inspired by the smell of cooking, I'm inspired by the color of things around me, someone's story, good or bad. I mean, I love New York City because it's dirty and smelly and stinky. That actually inspires me because how could you sing the blues unless you have the blues? And what a beautiful music the blues is? And most great love songs are of heartbreak not of actually being in love. So you need the pain as well as the nice side of life. Heck, I hate to say it, but it's one of the reasons I never moved to L.A., I love Los Angeles, but every time I'm there, I'm like hey, maybe I'll just hang here in the garden today. (laughs)
It's so easy.
It's so nice. And I go back to New York and I'm like--
It's snowing today.
It's tough. And everyone's pushing and stress and then I do my best work. And I've gotta say, some of my best shoots have been when I have a hangover, so hey, it happens. So sometimes that pain, if you push through and it's being inspired and if you're not inspired, of course it's difficult to do anything. But I feel very inspired all the time. Everything, I listen to the small things like drops of water in the shower and the noise of music, anything. I love music, I love colors, I go out and I see the Seattle sky and people are like, oh it's grey, but no, it could be really emotional, it could be really powerful, it could be really angry, or it could be really soft, it could be really gentle, it's misty, it's like a cream, and that's how I see things. And I think that for me, helps me in general have those moments of spontaneity and I see opportunity, I see promise in people. I love people I've done documentaries in Haiti, two of them, I've done a documentary in Africa on pediatric AIDs, and I'm fascinated in the human condition and how people in the most adverse of conditions push through, power through, and decide that they're not going to accept this crappy life and actually, they're going to make something of it even though they've got beyond nothing. They've lost all their family members and live in a tent in a tent city and are a little girl and she's trying to get educated and going to school everyday and trying to make something better for herself and you see these people and you're like, huh, how can you not be inspired?
Last question because I've already kept you a couple minutes longer than I've promised, because he's gotta get back to his Creative Live class. We also talked about this before the show, but we never really got to complete our thought and it's how we both as photographers, have taken on a lot of other interests and then we're doing things that transcend the original concept of photography it's a little bit full circle. Like when you talked about the folks who have inspired you. Like wait a minute, these people are doing so many different things, now with Creative Live, you with your furniture lines, and Dog Pound the gym in New York, what is it about this next aspect of your career that you're most excited about? And what do the rest of us have to learn from it?
I think it's one of those things, it's a couple of things. Some of this started, like you mentioned, I have a furniture line, it's called NB and it sells from this store called Art Van in the mid west and the gym, the Dog Pound, they're very different, I have an investment in this t-shirt company that I'm wearing right now and I have an investment in a wine company, all these different things, they're all very diverse, they're things I love, they are businesses I love, and also I thought to myself, as a photographer, I've never waited around for people to hire me. I've never said, I hope I get a job this year. Or who's gonna hire me? I literally go to people and say, "you should hire me, "this is what I would do for you, "this is how I feel your campaign should look." And if they can't afford to pay me, or they don't want to pay me, or I decide I don't want to be paid, which is another thing.
How about I take a slice of your business. I will shoot everything, I'll handle your marketing and your advertising and I'll turn it around for you. This is what we're gonna do and this is the plan. Utilizing everything I have, my celebrity, my social media, my everything else, my talent as a photographer to tell these stories, and it's been a very interesting kind of business decision and I remember with Art Van specifically, I was brought on as a photographer to shoot their catalogs and campaigns, and I remember talking to Mr. Van himself in a meeting and he says, "oh Nigel, what do you "see, what would you like to do for us, what's your vision?" And I looked at him and I said, "well, you know what I'd "really like to do is my own furniture line." He looked and he literally went (blows raspberry) laughed, "I mean, what do you see "as far as shooting our current campaign?" And I'm like, "oh I know that's what you meant, "but I want my own furniture line." And he looked at me and he said, "okay young man." He was in his 90s, okay, young man, can we just get back on track? And anyway, two years later, he came to me and he said, "you know what, we sell Kathy Ireland, "we sell Cindy Crawford, they're both models, "I don't see why a photographer who shoots models "and actually creates the imagery "shouldn't have his own line of furniture, "are you still interested?" And I'm like, I was hoping you'd come around. And here we are several years deep into it and I love it, we have over two hundred something skus, travel the world with them making this furniture and photograph it, I work with all these great designers and I've always loved creating. It's being creative whether it's the gym and creating a look and a feel for that and organic nature of how that started, a group of friends working together. Whether it's a t-shirt company where I felt there was a hole in the market of a certain age group of men who leave college but like a certain look but can't afford another one and here's that right price point for them and filling that hole to a wine company that in the world of wine which is so saturated where it's so pompous where people don't understand it, they don't know the words to describe it, they just know that they like it and I meet some cool, fun New Zealanders who created a wine and the warning label on the wine bottle says, "be careful, could contain traces of bloody good wine." And I thought, that's me.
Those are my people.
Those are my people. Let's have come fun, you know. And so I look for ventures and opportunities like that. But it's really about people who are willing to shake it up, take a risk, and be creative.
It's really hard to end on anything but that. We kind of went a little bit over, super happy to have you on the show, man. Thank you so much and now, we gotta go get a drink, I'm sorry that's not going to be filmed. But I appreciate, you know how to find Nigel, you're just @nigelbarker every where on social, right?
Track him down, give him a shout out when you see this and we'll see you again, probably tomorrow. (upbeat music)