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Nigel Barker and Art Van Elslander on 2-12-14 (2)


Q&A: Nigel Barker

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

Over the past decade, famed fashion photographer Nigel Barker has spent just as much time in front of the camera as behind it. After a 17-season run as a judge on America’s Next Top Model, Barker remains the show’s longest-standing judge—after Tyra Banks of course. Currently the host of Oxygen’s modeling competition, The Face with Naomi Campbell, Barker also juggles a variety of other projects including three fragrance lines, a book deal with Harper Collins, and his recent collaboration on Art Van Furniture’s 2014 spring home catalogue. Teaming up with the veteran furniture retailer for the latter, Barker photographed the massive 144-page book in its entirety, sharing his stylish vision for the brand. Speaking to his creative process for the catalogue, Barker recently sat down with Design Bureau and shared with us how he brought Art Van’s furniture to life.

When did you first meet Art?

We met several years ago on vacation. I was a guest of the DeVos family and Pamella Roland, a fashion designer in New York for whom I’ve shot a couture collection. I was a guest of theirs with my family, and we were sitting by the pool at the clubhouse and staying by their cabana at the time. Mr. Van walks by, and we started talking and chatting, and we really became friends. He’s fascinated with fashion, and our relationship was built over several years. He asked me if I would take a portrait of him, and I was shooting him in New York at my studio; he asked if I’d be interested in working with him on his furniture catalogue. I said I would be delighted to!

What was your vision for the catalogue?

I got to know Art and what he’s passionate about and how much everything means to him. To him every piece told a story, and its not just a table, it’s a table that’s part of your life. So I suggested we make that part of the story in the catalogue. I said, "Let’s bring it to life and let have models and people and a sense of the product being lived in— with action and motion and movement."

Can you tell us about the front cover photo?

The front cover picture is fun because I picked that particular sofa made by Bernhardt for its feather and thread section of the catalogue. You can wrap the sofa in all these different types of fabric; so I said let’s make a gown out of all the swatches. We had a local designer, Katerina Bocci, make the outfit; it was kind of a Cinderella moment.

How is this catalogue different?

With a sense of fun and a sense of whimsy to tell the story, it becomes a very beautiful piece that’s not just like a regular catalogue. I think in the furniture world, it's never really been done like this before. The story moves somewhere, and you feel like the house is being lived in. Throughout the catalogue, we try to tell a story that it isn’t just a simple piece of furniture. It could just have been shot as a still life, but we are bringing a still life to life. You can actually imagine yourself in that world.

You shot in many cities like Chicago, Detroit, North Carolina, and Miami. What was the process like and what did all those places bring to the catalogue?

It’s a big performance. There were lots of people and teams and furniture flying in from all over the world. People were putting furniture together, and teams of designers were going over ideas and brainstorming. Each shop came up with a whole slew of ideas of how we were going to do it and shoot them. Every little detail became important down to even what color the remote control car would be in the scene where a little kid is playing with one.

What was one of your favorite scenes to shoot?

In the scene with the young man getting ready in the morning with his dog, this was actually his own dog. He had the dog in his car and asked if he could bring him in and I said, “Let's bring him in and let's put him in the photograph.” By doing these things and having those real organic moments with his own dog, not a stage dog, it became really real. Through the whole thing we wanted to make it really real and not force anything.

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