WHEELER ARMY AIRFIELD, Hawaii - Not many people have the ability to render a room completely silent just by walking into it.

This isn't true for Nigel Barker, fashion photographer and judge on the reality television show "America's Next Top Model."

Barker visited Hawaii schools with large military children populations during a USO celebrity-education tour in Hawaii, April 12-14, part of the USO's Month of the Military Child activities.

As the 6-foot, 4-inch celebrity strolled into a classroom full of chattering photography level three and four students at Leilehua High School, silence descended. Then came an explosion of movement and cacophony of sound as students scrambled for their cell phones and cameras while giggling, chatting and blushing.

Barker visited Leilehua, Radford and Moanalua high schools and Aliamanu Middle School, as well as spent some time meeting with military photographers at Hickam Air Force Base and Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay.

"As a military mom, it's important to know celebrities care about our children, and (the visit) teaches everyone that giving back to the community makes a huge difference," said Nicole Darity, USO Hawaii programs manager.

Barker spoke to large and small assemblies about gaining and portraying personal confidence, following their dreams and embracing life, and harnessing the power of creativity.

"It's your own personal journey of trial and error, and passion. Live without regrets." Barker said. "All the mistakes I have made in my life are important to me. I am the sum of my imperfections; that's what makes me unique."

He continued, "Believe in yourself; no one else will until you do. Find yourself. Follow your own visions and dreams."

During his talk, Barker showed students a collection of his work from shoots, including a recent trip to Haiti and "from America's Next Top Model," one of the longest running reality shows on televisio; and he allowed students to examine one of his cameras up close.

"This was a great opportunity for students to hear real-life experiences from a well-known photographer," said Keith Sasada, Leilehua photography teacher. "This will inspire them and show that they have to find their own path within themselves. We have a lot of military dependents here and that helps because they learn from one another by sharing experiences."

"This was really cool, learning photography from someone of his caliber," said Kendyll Barnett, daughter of Staff Sgt. Donald Sumner, 25th Infantry Division.

Barker also volunteers his services to organizations like Make-a-Wish and the Humane Society to tell the personal stories and give a face to the charities to encourage personal involvement.

"Think about all the iconic moments in history," Barker said, prompting students. "We remember the event by the photograph; there is always a photo that goes along with it. That's what makes photography so powerful."

Barker referenced military "combat camera" photographers who document history throughout the world.

He was inspired by one combat photographer's viewpoint - that any one photo a service member takes can potentially send troops home or keep them in combat zones longer.

"Combat photographers and military photographers put themselves in harm's way to tell a story, while working as Soldiers, at the same time, and saving lives," Barker said. "The use of photography is so important in the military. The photographs they take could potentially save troops as well as let people at home know that they are safe or that things are getting better or worse."

Barker once contemplated pursing a military medical career and has a couple of relatives who have served in the military.

These reasons were part of his decision to do the USO tour and to personally thank service members and families for what they do daily.

"We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the services," said the photographer. "We can learn from their ability to be active, the way they handle themselves in public and their people skills."

Barker was inspired with the strength of military parents, stating, "Some don't see their kids for months on end. I am away from my kids two weeks, at the most, but it's still terrible. I miss them even when they go to bed."

Barker said, multiple times, he is willing to "embed" with troops and would be "amazed" to go on a USO tour in Afghanistan.

To embed as a photographer attached to a military unit during conflict operations would be a "great opportunity to tell the human story to a huge global audience," he said.

He noted the power of Steve McCurry's photograph titled "Afghan Girl," from a 1985 "National Geographic" cover that jump-started his interest in the field.

"It's equally important, in a big or small setting, to inspire people," he said. "To be a role model with a more serious message is a real powerful tool."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16