Photo from the CWNigel Barker's got his hands full. Not only is the former model a judge on the CW hit America's Next Top Model, he's also a major fashion photographer and a documentarian. But his most important role? Playing dad to Jack, 4, and Jasmine, 1.
We talked to the Brit-born hot dad about life behind the lens, his favorite subjects (plus tips for you!), and raising city kids.
After 14 cycles, does America's Next Top Model ever get old?
Well, every season we have new girls, but this season we also have a new judge -- and that makes things fresh and interesting for all of us. Andre Leon Talley has joined us and he's made a big splash. He's an editor at American Vogue and it's exciting for Top Model to have someone at his level involved. It brings a new credibility to the show. I don't know if our viewers care or not, but our credibility has slowly been building ... we've been embraced by the likes of Vogue. I respect him enormously. That being said, he and I don't always see eye-to-eye. We've gone at it a few times already on the show.
Does anyone aspire to be the Simon Cowell of the panel?
I don't think so. But I have to say, it works for me. I think there should be a little dash of English on every judging panel. But I'm not even close to Simon. I'm there to be constructive. I've worked in this industry, both behind the camera and on the other side of it. So I'm there to be constructive in my criticism. I try to give a suggestion on how they can improve.
You're also the eye candy of the panel, right?
Well, I fall into that category, again, by default. I'm the only guy who's straight on the show.
Do a lot of people assume you're gay?
I get it every now and again. I'm not sure how being on Top Model helps. But I'm not, I'm married with two children.
How do you balance being on the show, being a photographer, making movies, and life with the family?
You know, I bring the children along with me a lot of the time. I go to LA for a month or so for Top Model, and the kids and my wife Christen come along. When we're home in Manhattan, I get every morning with my kids at 6 a.m., so my son, who's 4, and my daughter, who's 1 1/2, wake up and we have breakfast. I take my son to school every day. And I'm the boss at my business, so I get in 10ish -- it works out. I get those three hours with them in the morning every day, and it adds up to a full extra day with them each week. And on top of that, I'm home to put them to bed at night. I'll often go out again after that, but I try to be home for that. It's more difficult to squeeze in time with my wife.
My wife Chrissy, she was a model for years, but now she works with me, along with being a full-time mom. She's been handling all the bookkeeping for my company ever since it started.
Have the kids seen you on the show?
Jasmine's too small, but Jack has seen me on the show. He doesn't really grasp it. He knows that daddy's on TV, but that makes sense to him. To him, everyone's daddy is on TV. And he's been to a few photo shoots, and he'll say, "This is what you need to wear. This shirt will look good." And a few times, he's taken the camera from the photographer and started playing with it. So maybe he's a little judge in the making. Or a photographer.
Speaking of which, any tips for parents taking pictures of their kids?
It's definitely tough taking pictures of kids; it's not easy. It's harder and, at the same time, it's easier. You have to be candid, you have to catch them in the right mood. I'll do things like set my camera on the table at dinner and shoot them at table-level. And you get these genius pictures with these big cups, big glasses, and little kids. Then you make them laugh and capture the moment, so it's vivid, it's natural. You have to take the picture without them knowing, without them expecting it. That's really my main trick is to try to catch them off-guard. And I try to use the real environment, as much natural light as possible, even without a flash. I think the best pictures I take are the ones that are simple and candid, a peek into everyday life.
Do you play off their personalities?
Yes, Jack sort of shies away from it, but Jasmine is a total ham. She loves the camera. She caught onto it really early on. She'll stop and give me a smile and give me looks and put her hand on her hips. And my son, he's the opposite. He puts his hand up to the camera. He'd rather be behind it. Certain kids will and certain kids won't. You really have to see who your kid is. They're not all going to be the same, even in the same family.
Are you worried about how much pressure there will be on Jasmine to be beautiful?
We try to keep the kids out of that. I think the current concept of beauty is really inaccessible and unattainable, with this emphasis on height and thinness and youth. It can be so unhealthy. My personal take on it, really, is the older you get, the more beautiful you become, because you have a story to tell. The most beautiful people are the ones with the best stories, the ones who are the most compassionate. My wife is beautiful, but not because of what she looks like. That's what we try to instill in our kids.
I heard that you and Jack enjoy cooking together too?
We do. We do that a lot. I love to cook; he loves to cook. I think all kids love to cook. We make everything from simple cookies and cakes to actual curries and other traditional foods, because I'm of Sri Lankan descent. But he loves the process of seeing things grow and expand in the oven. It's really a grand scientific experiment for him. And sometimes it just happens to be edible.
You guys live in Manhattan -- did you have any reservations about raising city kids?
I thought it'd be difficult, but I've actually found it to be remarkably easy. We walk everywhere, to school, to the park, to play dates. And it's actually pretty stroller-friendly where we are. It feels like a neighborhood, like a community. And not to mention when it's the middle of the night and you need a diaper, everything's open. But it's also enriching culturally -- we take them to museums and to art exhibits. Last week I took Jack to a Lego exhibit in an art gallery downtown. He loved it.
Photo from Studio NB
Tell us a bit about how you got into making documentaries.
Well, I'm a photographer, so I spend most of my time behind the lens. The moving picture is the natural progression for a lot of us. But documentary photography is sort of a lark for me because I'm a portrait photographer. It gives me the opportunity to tell stories. A lot these charities I've been involved with need their stories to be told. And this is a great way to give back. It's one thing to say, "I'm Nigel Barker from Top Model and I support the Pediatric AIDS Foundation." But I wanted to contribute something real, and this lets me do that. A picture or an image can say so much. I went to Haiti to film Hunger & Hope, Tanzania to do Generation Free about HIV and AIDS, and Canada for A Sealed Fate, which is about the hunting of baby harp seals. I was there for the birth of the seals, and it was really quite an extraordinary experience. All these stories are about hope, about these issues that exist and how we can make things better. You can find them all on my website and on the sites for the organizations.
I'm going to Borneo in the spring to do my next film, which is called The Last Orangutan. It will tell the tale of the beautiful animal, and how in the past 10 years, the population has decreased by 90%. If it continues, there's a good chance that orangutans could become extinct in the next decade, which would be tragic. It's the only great ape outside of Africa, and genetically the closest thing to the human being. As much as I love fashion, these films are probably the most fulfilling thing I've ever done in my career.