Tim Barber Discusses His Creative Vision
One of the many beautiful things about Tim Barber’s fashion photography is how it is truly made up of moments captured, blending his documentary background into his editorial work. So often it appears as though Barber was simply hanging out with his models as they casually lean on abandoned furniture, stop in front of stores made up to look like Twiggy, or wander along an abandoned beach in head-to-toe black.
After studying photography in Vancouver, British Columbia, Barber made his way to New York City to work in the field. His work as a photographer has appeared in ELLE, Dazed & Confused, The Fader, Purple, Vogue, and countless others, and his clients have included but are not limited to Adidas, Nike, Nordstrom, Urban Outfitters, Opening Ceremony, Rodarte, and more. He was also a Photo Editor at Vice, founded the well-regarded online image gallery tinyvices.com, co-curated the first New York Photo Festival, curated and edited five Aperture monographs, and launched an independent publishing house. Below, Tim was kind enough to share via email some thoughts about fashion photography–the current state of experimentation, natural light versus strobe, the creative process, and beyond. Be sure to check out his work at tim-barber.com.
How did you develop your aesthetic as a fashion photographer? What are the elements a successful fashion photograph has for you?
My fashion work evolved out of my personal work, which was essentially a documentarian / diaristic style/approach to image making. I’ve always looked to real life and real experience as the starting point, to try and translate the open-ended narratives of human experience. There are general building blocks I look for: spontaneity, intimacy, mystery, natural beauty. A successful photograph for me tells a story and leaves you with a sense of wonder.
When did you start doing fashion photography specifically? Was it something you always wanted to do, or was it something that arose out of necessity? Why did you decide to take it on?
It was something I was invited to do by magazines and commercial brands when I moved to New York after school. I hadn’t thought much about as a photo student, but it seemed like a natural progression and a fun way to collaborate with other people to make images and an opportunity to travel and explore.
How often would you say you use natural light over strobes or flash? Why do you prefer one over the other?
I prefer natural light because it’s already there to use, but different situations call for different solutions, and in the end, it doesn’t matter how it was made as long as it successfully tells the story you are trying to tell. And working outside your comfort zone is always interesting.
How did your work as a photo editor inform your work as a photographer, and vice versa?
Editing is 50% of the photo process…maybe more…so working as an editor helped me strengthen those brain muscles. Also, I just enjoy editing images, and looking at lots of photography in general, is the best way to study photography. It’s all about looking and strengthening your vocabulary.
How has fashion photography changed since you started doing it?
It seems to be more open-minded than ever before, more room for weirdness and eccentricity, less narrowly defined norms, which is exciting.
What do you think are the most important qualities a fashion photographer should have in today’s job market?
I think the most important quality to have in any creative field is a unique perspective, and some kind of consistency to your vision.
How did you initially get started as a photographer? Specifically, how did you get people to look at your work, and get it in front of the people you wanted to see it? What were the most important things you learned about marketing yourself?
I started taking photography seriously in high-school. The world is so different now in terms of ways to promote oneself, but I think the same rules generally apply, which are just to work hard, stay curious and enthusiastic about your craft, and stay connected to your peers and your creative community in whatever way makes sense to you.
What advice do you have for young fashion photographers looking to get their names out there in a saturated market?
Photography is about sharing the unique and specific access you have to the world. The challenge is to figure out what that is and how to translate it into compelling images. If you can do that, the rest should figure itself out. Also, don’t just be a photographer. Do something, anything, else as well.