After 20 years in the fashion business, Nigel Barker has worn many hats. The handsome model-turned-photographer-turned-TV-personality is currently the host of Oxygen’s The Face. However, that’s not to say he’s put down his camera. Case in point: his new exhibition, “RAW: Presented by Rock Paper Studio,” part of this weekend’s In the Now fashion show event at the Village of Merrick Park. Comprised of black-and-white photographs conveying “raw” emotion, the exhibit’s list of subjects reads like a who’s who of the fashion world: Coco Rocha, Betsey Johnson, and Cynthia Rowley, to name a few. Other well known faces like Alan Cumming, singer Estelle, and Barker’s wife, Cristen, also appear in the show, which he hopes to translate into a book. And making us love the photos, and their creator, even more is the fact that ten percent of exhibit sales at this weekend’s event will benefit St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital.
This exhibit is all about pure, unfiltered emotion. How did you extract that from your subjects?
NIGEL BARKER: The whole process was very interesting, it was a therapeutic, psychological process. A big part of it was the conversation we had while photographing. I would talk to every subject. We'd have a chat over a cup of tea or a cup of coffee or over a glass of Champagne and people would let their guard down. During the conversation, the photograph would happen.
Was that difficult, getting them to let their guard down?
NB: I took a lot of [inspiration] from Richard Avedon, an expert in portraits. He disarmed his subjects by catching them off guard and surprising them in many respects. That was a big part of it.
Why is everyone wearing denim in the photographs?
NB: Denim and jeans are what most people have as a comfort clothing; it's something that we go to on the weekends. I wanted people to wear items like that. It helped the whole process, getting them in the mood and in the right place.
Tell us about how you chose the subjects.
NB: It really sort of formed itself. It started off with personal friends. It is always easier to start with friends because they will potentially be more comfortable in front of a camera with you because they know you . . . Then it moved on to people we didn't really know. Everyone from A-list celebrities to people I found on Facebook are a part of this collection.
You entered the world of TV as a judge on America’s Next Top Model, and now your hosting your own show, The Face. How do the two experiences differ?
NB: One of the wonderful things about The Face is that there are no judges—the ‘judges’ are clients and the clients determine the decision. It was nice for me to have a different role and relax a little bit. It also allowed me to get closer to the contestants. As a judge, you had to be held away and separate from everyone. Here, I was able to let my guard down more.
What’s next for you?
NB: I feel very lucky to do something I love. I'm in the process of writing a screenplay about the life of human rights activist David Mixner. I'm hoping and planning to direct it as my first feature film.