February 25, 2019
Travel & Photography: A Discussion with Nigel Barker
I have always tried to find ways to express the way I see the world through art. I came to photography (film photography specifically) through wanting to document what I saw without taking myself out of the experience as we sometimes do through the accessibility of phone photography these days.
Although, I’m a vegan who eats oysters the same way I’m a film photographer who uses Instagram. My friends taught me all I know about the technical side of it, which isn’t much, but I was always drawn to old family photo albums and the romantic feelings of reminiscence they evoked. I love the idea of not knowing what you’re going to get when you develop film too…it’s like opening a present every time.
Mostly in nature and the intimacy that comes with my closest relationships. My experience of being in nature and self-development is so closely linked to my art practice that it’s almost inseparable. I love the way photography forces me to be completely present with my surroundings by noticing the details of the patterns the landscapes form or the way the shadows dance and kiss the corners of the frame.
I used to shoot solely on 35mm film with my trusty and near indestructible k1000 Pentax film camera and a 50mm lens, but I craved the possibility of higher resolution for prints, so I moved onto a Mamiya645 medium format 120mm film camera with an 80mm lens. I use both now and alternate between the two depending on the situation. I still reach for the Pentax a lot though as it feels like an extension of my arm.
My recent documentation of a solo road trip I took through rural and central Australia during 2020 is a project very close to my heart. Photography gave me purpose during a time where I’d lost a lot personally.
The work is imbued with my connection to country, one I couldn’t help but acknowledge when living on the road, in harmony with natures cycles. It was the first time I really began to think of myself as a photographer and to feel confident enough to start selling my work.
I found an old point and shoot film camera at a tip shop in a rural town and started playing around with self-portraiture and landscape photography during a particularly lonely period of my life. The camera was terrible, but I loved framing up an image and walking for hours through the streets, searching for photos to make.
I spent a year scraping together the funds to go on my first overseas trip to Europe where I planned to take photos solely on film. My very first day in London I made a pilgrimage to the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew to spend the day in the largest glasshouses in the world. I have always loved glasshouses and was a florist at the time as well so really obsessed with rare flowers.
I framed up and shot a picture of the fogged up tropical glasshouse, full of rare lotus and water lilies from all different countries. I took about 5 rolls of film in just one day and I guess I love this photo the most because I remember the feeling in my belly at the time I took it. So full of ecstasy at being on the other side of the world, on a beautiful day, experiencing a place I had only been to in my dreams.
Nature, always nature. And the way the sun changes a landscape slowly, but surely, over the duration of a day.
There isn’t much of a trick to the way I shoot really. Only intense observation and noticing the slight details that could change to make up a whole image, almost a meditation. Most of the time I just get lucky in the beauty of the landscapes I move through. In a way I’ve always felt like being a photographer is cheating because nature is the artist, not me.
No secret! Just Kodak Portra film.
Making money is always the biggest challenge any artist faces no matter the discipline. That and convincing people to pay what your art is worth. Art for me has always had other purposes, a therapy of sorts, if I did it for the money there’s no way it would be worth it.
Soak up as much beauty as you can, be it art, nature, music, love, all things of beauty inspire me. I see the beauty in pain too though, a beauty in the pain and the sad and the struggle to be okay again.