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Nigel Barker Talks Tyra vs. Naomi, His New Photo Exhibition, and Loving Miami

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It's nearly impossible to hear the name Nigel Barker without having the resounding voice of Tyra Banks saying "noted fashion photographer" come to mind.

But aside from his lengthy gig as a judge on America's Next Top Model, Barker is a jack-of-all-trades. He's host of The Face on the Oxygen Network, an author, humanitarian, filmmaker, and professional nice guy. He also has a cookbook in collaboration with his mother in the works, which means he's both a man who can cook and a guy who loves his mom. To top it all off, the tan Sri Lankan-Irish-Portuguese hunk has a suave British accent. Sorry, ladies. He's taken. He's been married to his beautiful model wife Cristen for nearly fifteen years.

Just because he's taken doesn't mean you can't admire him from afar, or even from near distance. Fans of Nigel Barker will have the chance to meet him this weekend.

He'll be in town May 3 and May 4 to debut In The Now, The Village of Merrick Park's new signature fashion event. The two-day event will feature runway shows by Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom and trunk shows, among other in-store events. Barker will also be on hand for a meet-and-greet and a Q&A session to discuss the latest beauty and fashion trends.

Barker will also be unveiling his latest photo exhibition, "RAW: Presented by Rock Paper Photo," with 10 percent of all sales of the photos going to benefit St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. We caught up with Barker to talk Tyra versus Naomi, his connection with Miami, and why St. Jude holds a special place in his heart.

New Times: The Face is coming back for second season. Congrats!

Nigel Barker: Thank you very much. We got the news about a week ago and we're all very excited. It's very big news.

So how has working on The Face been different for you compared to America's Next Top Model?

I was on America's Next Top Model from season 2 to season 18, which is the better part of a decade on one show. You get very comfortable with what you're doing, the format, and obviously you're starting off with a new TV show, with a whole new crew, and whole bunch of new people. It's a very different thing to do. It's somewhat unnerving. It's somewhat of a whole new territory. They're just two very different shows to produce and direct and be a part of. Obviously, I'm now a host, not a judge. The whole content of The Face, if you've seen it, you know that it's not a show that has judges per se, but the actual judge is the client. Every week the models have a job, like actual real models and you get insight into what these models are doing and it's much more like the real business.

Be honest: Tyra or Naomi?

Well, I have worked with both, that's the thing. I don't need to choose [laughs]. I worked with Tyra for a decade and we worked very well together, we had an incredible run, but, you know, ultimately she fired me from the job [laughs]. Now, I'm working with Naomi, which can be hard, but ultimately, I would be very lucky if I have a decade run with her.

You've photographed so many people throughout your career. What are your ultimate do's and don'ts for models?

Well, you know, I don't necessarily have things a model should and shouldn't do. In the business as a whole, when models are hired for a job, they should already know what to do. Hiring professionals hire models that are successful, which is truly how it is--you hire somebody who's already done the job before. Being willing is a big part of it, though. When it comes to hiring, one of the things we do on The Face is train these models from the inside on how the business works. I think that's the biggest surprise you'll always find with one of these models is the ability to be very, very hard working. People like Naomi and Tyra are at the top of they're business because they are enormously ambitious and incredibly hardworking and they're very good at what they do. I think it's always shocking to people when they see that they don't just roll out of bed, show up late, have a glass of Champagne and it's actually far from the truth. Models work very hard at what they do. Whether there is a worse thing you could do, I try to imagine one of our models and I would say it's not showing up at all.

Tell us a bit about your photo exhibition, "RAW."

It's the very first time it's being shown, which is very exciting. It's all about raw, authentic emotion. The majority features real people from everywhere. From people I've met on the street to people, to friends of mine, to people on Facebook. Also A-listers, people like Alan Cumming and Judith Light to fashion top stars like Coco Rocha and Veronica Webb. The exhibition is running with 25 images but the actual exhibition is 70 images and they're all going to be available on rockpaperphoto.com. Ten percent of the proceeds from the sales are going to go to St. Jude. It's an incredible organization and interestingly enough, one of the people I photographed named Nicky Mulo was actually a very good friend of mine and she sadly passed away from cancer at the age of 31. I knew her when she was only 13 years old and I photographed her and she had cancer then as well. Organizations like St. Jude fight and do good for the people like Nicky.

You've been to Miami before, right?

Many times. I love Miami. I'm a big fan of Florida and a big fan of Miami. When I first started modeling I used to come to Miami a lot and interestingly enough, my wife went to UM. I met my wife when she was cast as a model by her agent in Milan, so in many respects you can say I found my wife in Miami. Actually, the first place I ever went to in America is Miami.

Do you have any favorite Miami places?

I love Coconut Grove and I love South Beach. I was in South Beach in the late '80s, which is a very different feeling. The Fontainebleau, the Betsy Hotel, I love the architecture. I think as a young person when you first arrive, the whole fashion scene, the people watching, it was like nothing else in the world. And the people are beautiful and happy. You can find beautiful people in New York, but they don't always have a smile on their face [laughs].

What other projects do you have in the works?

I have a lot of things. I have season two of The Face coming up. I have a photobook coming out with "RAW." I also have a cookbook coming out with my mum--it's a Sri Lankan cookbook, which is rather exciting. I'm working on a new film as well. It's will be my first feature film that I'm producing and directing for Lifetime and interestingly enough, David Mixner is one of the characters in the film, who's also in the "RAW" exhibition. He's a very well known political and human rights activist. It's very fun for me to be doing something not only outside of fashion, but doing something that I love, which is storytelling.

In The Now, Q&A session on beauty is Saturday, May 4 starting at 2 pm, followed by a meet-and-greet with shoppers who spend $150 or more during the weekend beginning at 3 pm. (Receipt with purchases required). Call 305-447-0635 or visit villageofmerrickpark.com.

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