Nigel Barker

Nigel Barker, fashion photographer and authority, presents MODELS OF INFLUENCE (Harper Design; February 2015)— a beautiful volume, spotlighting 50 of the most influential models from the 1940s to the present day and revealing each woman’s indelible place in the pantheons of fashion and pop culture.

From Dovima’s transcendent other worldliness to Jerry Hall’s athleticism and booming personality, from Inès de la Fressange, whose gamine frame and style embody French chic, to Coco Rocha, whose extraordinary ability to create unique, usable poses is unrivaled in beauty and speed, MODELS OF INFLUENCE defines each model’s je ne sais quoi—whether it’s her unique physical characteristics, a daring approach to image making, transformative abilities, or a particular quality or energy that captured or even redefined the zeitgeist of fashion and culture at the time.  And, of course, there are those models that broke the mold in their respective eras, those who turned the standard notion of beauty on its head—whether they were the first non-Caucasian to grace the cover of Harper’s Bazaar, or older, shorter, or heavier than industry standard.

Samson: Hi Nigel, how are you, thanks for taking the time to do the interview. When I contacted you on Instagram I wasn’t sure you would reply, I just took a chance really, and I am glad I did. So, I would like to start off by asking you what you think of Instagram. Recently I had a conversation with a photographer friend of mine, about the impact of Instagram. He refuses to accept the role social media plays in the success of some photographers and other creative’s. His point was that real photographers are those with an actual camera, as opposed to those using Instagram. What do you think about this?

Nigel…  It’s a bit like giving every child a pencil or a paintbrush; it gives them the ability to learn how to write or the potential to become an author an artist. It doesn’t mean they are. But it gives them the option, I think Instagram and social media has given people the opportunity to showcase their skill or art form, and there are some very talented people out there.

Are they photographers? Sure they are, they have taken pictures using light. That’s what photographer means out of the Greek word. No-one can argue with that, that’s what the dictionary definition means.
Are there some established photographers who don’t like it? I’m sure there are, because people don’t like competition. They are afraid of things changing and they like the status quo.

Samson: Having interviewed some of the world’s biggest fashion photographers. I have noticed that some creative people seem to be protective of their technique, their style, or their signature we could say. I always wonder What if more people shared their secret.

Nigel… I think this is the thing, there are always going to be people who are secretive, protective and careful. That’s up to them to be honest. I think it’s like one of those things. For example, would you expect a chef from a great restaurant to tell you his recipe? Some do, some don’t. It’s more likely that they don’t because otherwise it’s hard for them to make a living.

That being said, when it comes to photography, similarly, (although, not the same as if you’re being a chef or other kind of examples.) With photography you can tell someone how to light something, or you can tell someone what to look for, but it’s ultimately the photographers eye, or his relationship with his subjects, the chemistry that he produces with whoever he’s photographing, or the way he see’s light, from a very artistic standpoint. That’s unique to the individual and that cannot be replicated, and when we take a photograph it’s an instant, a fraction of a second, and any other person taking that picture it’s a fraction of a second different, so it’ll never be the same. Therefore, to be frightened by other people, who copy you…. well, listen I consider that flattery. There’s nothing more flattering than someone trying to replicate or copy or be inspired by your work. I say ‘bring it on’. I am always talking about how I do it or what I’ve done or did, I don’t really care.

SAMSON: I’m glad you said that because on one of the articles I wrote a while ago, I talked about the importance sharing the knowledge and how it pushes you out of your comfort zone. I feel it helps you stay relevant. What do you think about that?

Nigel: Let’s look at Richard Avedon, for example. One of the greatest portrait photographers ever. One of his biggest series of photographs was just shooting people up against a white wall. Now, you could say well, what’s the secret? Anyone can shoot someone up against a white wall, true. But, not everyone and almost no one took pictures like Avedon did, So what on earth was he doing that made the difference. He would put a white wall up in a field and the person was put standing against that white wall. It wasn’t like they were removed from their environment and placed into a photo studio that made them feel uncomfortable, and that huge lights were placed all around them, so that they felt awkward. Instead he placed a white studio directly in a huge field, in the middle of mid western America, and the person, who stood on that background when they looked in front of them, saw exactly what they were used to, they saw that field… So Avedon took the studio to them, and then he shot with a very long lens from a distance so that it wasn’t all in their face, and he just asked them to be themselves. To almost just ignore him and look through the lens, and he would talk to them and then take the picture. When you realise the background and what he did, I think that people can emulate that they can copy that, but ultimately, we all, (the people), want the original. I mean mars make mars bars, but if someone else makes mars bars or a snickers bar or whatever, you still want the original even if another one is quite good and it’s cheaper elsewhere. Ultimately, if you can afford it you want the best. And you go for the one with the name cache.

SAMSON: Ok, well I’m going dive into the book, because when I got the press release I was really excited. I mean I’ve watched America’s next top model, with you on the judging panel, and it’s such a humbling experience to be having this interview right now. Sometimes it can be intimidating to contact people we aspire to, or who have been doing this a long time. I am always trying to impress upon people that, ‘look they are just people like us’, with the same issues. That said, I just want to thank you for taking the time out to do this interview, so about the book. How did the initial idea for the book come to fruition?

NIGEL: Basically, I am twenty-five years in the business, first having started as a model myself, becoming a photographer, working with many super models, and nurturing many young models careers, I got a really good appreciation of the business. I really got to understand how it worked from the ground up and got to see what it was like on both sides, as a model and a photographer. Then of course working on a television show, highlighting models and working with many of the top supermodels, whether it is Tyra Banks, Naomi Campbell, Heidi Klum, or many of the other women too. Paulina kaskova, Janice Dickinson, Twiggy, and so on and so fourth… Lots and lots of extraordinary women.

A few years ago I was really thinking about how important these women have been, and how when we think of models, all too often we don’t really think of them as really serious characters. We think of them of frivolous, or not too serious… When the reality is that. When we think of history, or think of say, The Beatles, we also think of Twiggy as being just as relevant to that time. What she stood for, or when she cut her hair and had that boyish look. I mean that was revolutionary back then in Carnaby Street in London. It caused a worldwide revolution and gave women the world over a sense of freedom. She stood for the rebellious nature of the time. Models throughout history have done just that. They have stood for the popular zeitgeist of the moment. They have made people see themselves in the models, and seen something to aspire to, and have been inspired.

The book about models of influence was a book to really think about, who were the women, that epitomised a generation, that spoke to an era and really influenced the world at large. Women who transcended the modelling industry and really became, popular culture icons of their time. Many of who will continue to model for many years after their specific moment in time. So it was an interesting process and an interesting project, and it came from my personal love and admiration of these women, and the business itself.

SAMSON: You already mentioned twiggy, as an icon, if you were to chose three other models who revolutionised the fashion industry and how we look at models, who would they be and why?

NIGEL: I don’t think there would be three models specifically; I think that every generation, has someone who speaks to a moment. The modelling industry as an industry, so to speak, started in the 1940’s/1950’s so you would have to speak of that moment if you wanted to speak of the beginning of the industry. Prior to that models would stand for a drawing, but the drawing would appear on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar, or Vogue or other magazines. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that models like Lisa Fonssagrives- Penn, Dovima, Dorian Leigh, Bettina Graziani, and these models stood for that moment in the 1950’s. An interesting thing is that, that moment was a very opulent, glamorous, almost aristocratic moment and it was due in part to the fact that we had just come out of the second world war and food rationing and difficulties and everyone wanted the opposite of that.

They wanted to forget all the hardship they had been through and these models stood for that, they stood for perfection, a kind of perfection that was almost unattainable. They had the hour glass frames and they had the almost arrogant looks on their faces. They were over the top in the way they held their hands, their cigarettes’, and drinks, They were very super glamorous, and of course fast forward a little bit, to the 1960’s and that’s where people like Jean Shrimpton, Twiggy and Naomi Sims, define that era. By this time we had enough of the over the top glamour and opulence. Women were no longer clamouring to attain that look. We just had it for over a decade… We were now over it, and like everything else, the fashion world is dictated by cycles.

Women were now saying, we’ve enough of all of that, we don’t want to be stereotyped, feel obligated to have an hourglass figure, be some sort of regal creature, or be seen as arm candy. Women were saying, now I want to be my own woman, and it was that kind of rebellious nature in the swinging sixties, with the freedom of expression and the love movement. All of these things created an environment for models like Jean Shrimpton, who was both aristocratic and sexy, and had a sex appeal that was new… Up until that moment, women didn’t really have the freedom to be sexy, it was considered crass or almost pornographic, and then these models came around and said, ‘well no if I want to be sexy or boyish I will. That freedom spoke to women Then came the 70’s and the emancipation of women the world over. The 70’s put a kind of gloss on everything; It was now the era of sex, drugs, and rock and Roll and freedom of expression.

Women were in charge of their own sex appeal. Then came models like Janice Dickinson, Jerry Hall, and other models that in that moment were very much in control of who they were. (Lauren Hutton, Margaux Hemingway, Iman) They had a very definite vibe about their sex appeal. They had a look in their eyes, that was of total control, that was very powerful, saucy, naughty, and yet very alluring. Then with the 80’s came the lash back against all the drugs, sex and rock and roll. Instead, it was all about health and body, the girl next door, and more curvaceous models became the stereotype. Models like Christie Brinkley, Brooke Sheilds, and Isabella Rossellini, these were women who had a more classic beauty, and it was like they had just taking a breath of fresh air.

These were women who were all about their bodies. It was how the era of the swimsuit model, and it was all about fitness and health. It wasn’t about being too skinny, the grunge look, or looking dangerous. It was about being positive and healthy, and confident… This was also a very successful commercial brand. Because all of a sudden the world could afford to buy fashion, up until this moment high fashion had only been obtainable to a certain wage bracket. It wasn’t really until the 70’s/ 80’s that fashion exploded and people were able to access high street fashion, and so the whole business exploded.

Then came the super models, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, and the business was booming. The 80’s were so opulent and there was so much money around. That’s when I started, modeling myself, and it’s funny because I can tell you that the model rates didn’t really change for 20 years, bar at that time, at that moment, the rates were so high, that models were saying ‘I don’t get out of bed for any less that 10,000 dollars. Ten thousand dollars sounds like a lot now but you can imagine at that time it was astronomic, but these models were signing multimillion dollar contracts and then of course what happened.

The world fell into recession, and the world wanted authenticity and realism. Bands like nirvana were around and we were reacting to MTV and reality shows, and then the whole grunge movement took us, and we began to see more androgynous models. We had models like Kate Moss, (etc etc). More down to earth in a way, less occupied with glamour, models that were awkward and odd looking became what we were identifying with, because we were tired of the over the top Amazonian glamour girls.

We saw another change in trends in the year 2,000 with models the rise of the Brazilian and Russian models, these extraordinary beauties, which were another indicator that the world had changed. The soviet block had collapsed and the Berlin wall had come down, and now we had access to all these girls who weren’t allowed to model before. And then we also see  girls from china, brazil, etc.
Then the internet starts to take a hold and then we have the Cara Delevingne, and Coco Rocha, and then we have what you were talking about earlier on, girls who are being selected from the internet because the people we’re voting, through social media. If a girl goes to a model agency and she has x million followers on Instagram or whatever, the agency will take her seriously, because they know the client will want to book her over a girl who only has a thousand.

SAMSON: I’m glad you mentioned that as it brings me to the next question.
Recently, Calvin Klein unveiled their new underwear advertisement with Justin Beiber, and Beiber has about 21 million followers in Instagram. He posted the pictures on his account, and received over 1 million likes. That’s a lot more than you would get if you book a model like Tyson Beckford or David Gandy. It seems we are living in an era where influence sells and having x million Followers on social media is almost the equivalent of being famous. What do you think about this?

NIGEL: It’s a new form of fame, no doubt it’s Instagram fame, but celebrities themselves have been popular for many years, and models like Brooke Shields turned to acting, and then it was the perfect opportunity to cross over. The public identify with people with talent. Actors, musicians, Athletes and so forth. So all of a sudden you see your favourite musician, actor or athlete wearing a certain watch or something, then you think I want that too, and that’s very powerful. I think the power of social media has helped models as well, it’s personalised them.
It’s not just that they look beautiful, take pretty pictures, or have good bodies or whatever…
You get to see them behind the scenes, having fun at home, and see what they are really like… What they do, what they are really about, and if their successful at that, they can also have multimillion following communities on Instagram and Facebook and compete with some of these other celebrities.

SAMSON: It used to be that the agencies, creative directors, magazine editors were the gatekeepers, It seems that social media has flipped the switch and the power is slowly changing in the models favour. Do you see that trend continuing for some time?

NIGEL: I think it’s difficult to say how far into the future that will continue, but there’s no doubt models in general have become far more influential, than say the photographer’s or even the designers when it comes to their numbers on Instagram. Most designers, even Calvin Klein, might have a few million followers on Instagram, but they’re booking models that could have tens of millions of followers and therefore they are using them for that reason too, not just because their beautiful and they fit their clothes, but also because they want to reach their fan base. It’s also a great way to do research. A client can find out very quickly the reaction of their ad campaign, because if Justin Beiber posts it on his Instagram and he gets a million likes, then he posts another and only gets half a million likes, that gives instant reaction and feedback and can measure how well received something is. They can even test things with them, they can do lukewarm pickups, run advertising on Instagram, see the most successful reaction and then use those pictures as their billboard, because they have already tested the waters as to what’s going to work and what isn’t.

SAMSON: It does seem that influence sells, and popularity on social media seems to be more likely to guarantee bookings. One example of someone who has more followers than some of the top fashion magazine’s combined. She would definitely seem to be a model of influence.
Your book showcases fifty of the influential models from the 1940’s to present day. Do you think that there are any commonalities they share that may have contributed to their success?
NIGEL: I think the biggest commonality between all of them is personality. When people think of a model in general, they don’t think of personality as the first trait. The first trait that comes to mind is normally physicality. People think it’s about the way they look, that, they all have to be tall, have good skin, that they all have perfect teeth, a great smile, or killer body or something like that.

The reality is, that is not a commonality between them all, some are short, some are skinny, some are voluptuous, some are small, it really depended on the generation they came from. What is true is that they had attitude, different kinds of attitude, but personality in abundance and they weren’t shy. You know, these are people who went out there and got it for them, who made things happen. Now, there’s no doubt that at the beginning some of them weren’t expecting to become a model and may have been discovered… But once you get discovered, there’s still a lot of work to be done. It’s not easy to be a super model, it’s an incredible workload, and it takes an enormous amount of personality. Often what is the real game changer is that they are inspiring to the photographers and fashion designers. Every one of these women, is specifically successful because she has managed to inspire someone and make a difference, and because she speaks to that era or that time. So I suppose that’s really the defining moment.

SAMSON: Yes, I have worked with models that just come alive while working with the photographer. Just staying on the subject of personality, I want to talk about Coco Rocha; there is no doubt that she is probably one of the most influential models we have seen. Even Naomi Campbell names her as one of her favourite models, after working with her on new York fashion week. What do you think separates a model like Coco Rocha from the pack?

NIGEL: I think as you just said yourself; Coco has a lot of personality, a lot of gumption, she’s a go- getter.
She is someone who is unusual from the pack; she’s an incredible dancer and mover who isn’t afraid to express herself. She’s not afraid to just do whatever it takes.You know a lot of the times I think people think they have to be perfect to be a model. Actually, in many ways one of the things that is interesting about some of the most successful models is that imperfections, make them as attractive as their perfections.
It’s the fact that they can be different, and that they can be so confident in themselves, that they allow themselves to be spontaneous and it is that spontaneity and that freedom of spirit and nature, that is incredibly alluring and very sexy really too. I suppose it motivates people to want to photograph them, to want to be around them, to want to use them, because we all aspire to spontaneous, to believe we have the ability to do what it takes to make something happen. Coco, is the perfect example of that kind of individual really, the kind who grabs the world by the horns, and her career has been meteoric. She has been photographed by some of the best photographers in the world,  and you know you talk to her and you sort of think she’s an old soul, and you realise she’s only 26 and you can’t believe how young she is and how much she’s done.

SAMSON: That’s very powerful right there. I’d like to talk to you now about your press release for the book. Particularly, when you mention those models that don’t fit the usual perception of what a model is, but who light up when with the photographer.What do you think differentiates these models from other models you describe, which may be known for their physique, or sexiness, or beauty?

NIGEL: OK, yes there are models who are known for their body, or who are kind of sexier. The sports illustrated, Victoria’s secret, swimsuit models, for instance. Then you get the more high fashion models that do more run way shows and that kind of stuff. But I think if you’re going to be a top model or super model, in a way you kind of have to do it all, it’s not one thing or another, and all the models in the book, are models that cross over. They were able to make money doing a Coco Cola ad, a Pepsi ad or a car ad, while simultaneously working for Versace, Valentino, Vogue, or Harpers Bazaar. They were walking the runways of Milan and at the same time posing for the cover of sports illustrated. And I think it’s that ability to be a chameleon and to work all sides of the industry that enables you to become a super successful model. You can certainly have a career by only doing one side of it, but you won’t be a super success unless you manage to have the ability to really rock it all. It doesn’t mean you have to be perfect at everything, it means you have to be confident enough, in your ability to inspire other people to fall in love with you. If you think about life in general when you’re attracted to someone. Initially, you might feel their pretty or whatever, but when you really find somebody attractive, it’s something about the way they are, something about the way they breathe, something about the way they move…

SAMSON…. So, you mean their personality?

Nigel… yes that’s what it boils to… That’s what Tyra Banks used to say all the time…and people used to laugh and say oh come on models don’t talk… One that’s not true but two, even if you don’t talk there s a lot to be said in silence. If a model has that ability to do that or the confidence to light up a screen and light up a page, just like an actress in a silent movie. She needs to show there is light inside of her, otherwise it’s like a deer in the headlights and the picture is dead. So, it always takes that that personality and that soul to come through.

Nigel Barker

“Nigel Barker has brought so much research, knowledge, and, above all, sensitivity, to Models of Influence that he is almost an essayist on the subject. He gives the beauties of each era—from Dovima and Jean Shrimpton to Christy Turlington and Coco Rocha—their rightful due and at the same time allows you to see the individual woman who helped shape fashion history.”
— Cathy Horyn, journalist and former New York Times fashion critic

 

“Nigel Barker is the Sergei Diaghilev of the world of models in our time. His experience as a photographer, documentary filmmaker, and presence on the globally televised reality shows America’s Next Top Model and The Face, with Naomi Campbell, allows him an exceptional historical view of the cultural impact of the world’s most legendary models. His dedication to the arenas of beauty, fashion, and modeling is matchless. This elegant book is a must-read and must-have.”
— André Leon Talley, contributing editor, Vogue

” A must read for anyone that’s a model, an agent and anyone that works within the fashion industry .”

— Samson Ogunshe, editor, Flawless Magazine

To Pre-Order  Models of Influence visit – http://amzn.to/1Dz3wnu