Rufus Barkley on the set of the Barneys New York lookbook shoot.

For most creatives, it takes many years to hone in on a point of view, which is why Rufus Barkley’s distinctive style and humble confidence immediately stood out to the creative team at Barneys New York. The SVA senior’s portfolio landed in front of Creative Director Matt Mazzucca and VP/Digital Creative Director Chris Martinez, who were tasked with helping to choose a winner of Barneys’ first-ever Perfect Shot Competition. As part of the Barneys New York Foundation‘s commitment to providing students with hands-on, real world experience, applicants from Parsons School of Design and SVA in New York were eligible to apply for the opportunity to shoot a Barneys digital lookbook, as well as be featured here on The Window.

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“Growing up, I always knew Esther as that woman who would run up the hills of Laguna Beach every day with weights. It’s odd, because I became friends with her daughter and later on found out that my mom was friends with Esther. We just sat and talked, but I forgot to ask her how she managed to do that every day.”

“We selected Rufus as the winner of our inaugural competition because of his versatility, creativity, and his ability to marry the commercial and the creative,” says Mazzucca. And though they were presented with a wide range of talents, they both agreed that Barkley was immediately special. “He knows who he is, which is the hardest part of being an artist and photographer. His confidence really shows in his work,” adds Martinez. “Not only did we know he could execute a professional studio shoot, but he had a rich upbringing that has given him varied experiences and exposure to many angles of the industry.”

In fact, when Barkley came in to speak to the Barneys creative team, they were so intrigued by his anecdotes from back home in Laguna Beach, California, they expanded the prize to include not only the studio shoot for the Barneys New York collection lookbook, but also a trip back home with the same BNY collection and several rolls of 120mm and 35mm film in tow to capture his world. “It was about wanting to know his story and see where he was coming from—to have a window into his work. Rufus had lots of stories to tell, and we could have listened for hours. It was also clear that some of those stories could only be told through pictures,” says Martinez.

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“This was a nice evening. My mom and her friend Nelly are an eccentric duo. We had spent that evening playing Patonk and drinking iced tea. Nelly made sure we did not call it lawn bowling because she is French, and we were playing the French version. I think my drink was the only one that was non-alcoholic.”

Barkley describes himself as a documentary fashion photographer who strives to capture genuine moments. Though he initially got into shooting bands and his friends skateboarding, fashion was never too far away—his great aunt was a muse to Irving Penn and Richard Avedon, his mom a fashion designer, and his sisters were models growing up. “It’s just been part of my life,” he says. “I didn’t think I would ever pursue it, but I interned with a fashion photographer in New York and found it super cool and interesting. It was really in New York that I’ve gotten into it.

As for winning the The Perfect Shot competition, Barkley suspects that the Barneys team was drawn to the honesty in his work. “I created a portfolio that was a bit out of the ordinary and not so typically fashion. I’m really inspired by artists like Rene Magritte and Man Ray who do incredible surrealism that’s always based in reality. I’m also oddly influenced by street artists like Banksy and Invader—they showed me that you don’t have to be a perfect drawer or sketcher to be a great artist.”

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“This is my grandmother. I call her Mota. I watched her sketch for her next art show that she’s preparing for. It was sweet—she tried to teach me how to draw, but that will always be a frivolous task.”

And while Barkley collaborated very closely with the Barneys creative team on the studio lookbook shoot, the shots he took back home in L.A. left him soley in control. “I was doing the shots, the styling, and the production. Shooting so much film was terrifying, but I loved that the team put so much trust in me.” For the shots, he tapped family and friends he grew up with and who helped shaped him, gave them each an outfit to wear, and then let the magic happen.

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“My family and Eva’s family have always been close, and I was friends with her sister in high school. It was just the usual Barkleys spending time with the Beckers. I got to know Eva more that day, though. She deserves more credit, and I think she will be really important in whatever she decides to do.”

“I am so grateful for this opportunity,” Barkley told us several times when chatting. “I’d love to continue to ride this wave and push to make it as a fashion photographer.” We’re certain he’s well on his way.

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“My friend Sam and I just were going around to bookstores and ended up here at the design center in L.A. It had been a while since we saw each other last, so we just caught up and I rolled down a grassy hill. After that, I went over to Heidi’s to see what she was up to. She was my mom’s college roommate and has been a longtime friend. I never really knew her that well when I was younger, but we bonded heavily over our love for bands like the Pixies. I did my best not to fall asleep on the train back home.”

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