Behind The Lens: Matt Barnes

Matt Barnes came into photography at the age of 14. As an adolescent, he excelled in his art classes, continuously striving to make his images more realistic as opposed to the fanciful drawings of some of his peers. Because of his desire to create lifelike art, the medium of photography was the perfect way to capture the artistic realism he was looking for. Today, Barnes has shot to international stardom for his keen eye and distinct aesthetic.

Loving all things 1950’s, and citing Marlon Brando in The Wild One as an artistic influence, Barnes’ love for a youthful, rebellious, greaser aura is clearly reflected in his art. From hot rods to styling, Barnes’ juxtaposition of 1950’s culture with modern twists has resulting in some truly wonderful and intriguing photographs. Barnes also cites music as a large influence on his work, explaining “that music paints a great visual and truly stimulates the imagination.”

Though Barnes has a very specific artistic style, he loves collaborating – getting input from a diverse pool of sources. He credits his artistic team with helping him not only achieve his vision, but the collective vision of the whole group. Barnes uses the same people to carry out this vision, from his stylist to set builder, they all contribute to the work and their input is invaluable to the finished product. Not only does Barnes consider his colleagues his friends, but also his family. To Barnes, they are so much more than co-workers, they are some of the best people he has ever had the pleasure of knowing.

Jeff Goldblum
Jeff Goldblum

If you haven’t heard the name Matt Barnes, you have almost certainly seen his work. One particularly memorable image is his work on the cover of Ariana Grande’s Dangerous Woman album cover, released in 2016. Donning black lace, fingerless gloves, and an overstated diamond necklace, Barnes cites Hollywood photographer, George Hurrell as his major influence for this iconic shoot. Hurrell’s famed glamor shots of the 1930’s and 40’s Hollywood elite, can clearly been seen as the inspiration for Grande’s album cover. The latex mask and bunny ears, however, is all Barnes. Wanting to achieve an old Hollywood glamor with a modern, sexy spin, Barnes clearly delivered. Though many of his shoots require collaboration between the client and his own vision, Grande’s included, Barnes always finds a way to put as much of his own style into everything he does.

With his vast knowledge and experience, Barnes also uses his talents for philanthropic endeavors. In 2016, Barnes travelled to Madagascar to offer his photographic services for a children’s charity. Witnessing such horrific poverty and how this impacted the health of so many children, Barnes states “I don’t think I’ve never done anything as real or touching as that shoot.” Having two young daughters of his own, as well as being a self-described “big kid” himself, charities and non-profits for children are very close to his heart. He also volunteers to travel to schools and talk to young students about photography and is currently mentoring two young ingénues – adding them to his team. He explains that he loves having young people on set as their excitement and enthusiasm is contagious and helps to keep things interesting and fresh on set.

Ariana Grande
Ariana Grande

A few years ago, Barnes purchased and renovated and old brick Church, located just outside of Toronto, and named it Harmony Studios. Intended to be an escape from the bustling city where his headquarters are located, Harmony Studios is a multipurpose open-concept space tailored to accommodate him, his friends, and his family. Complete with a jukebox, indoor trampoline and barrel slide, Harmony Studios is clearly an amazing place for his children, and also for himself as someone who has “tried never to grow up.” Each week, Barnes and his team try to shoot something just for themselves, something creative with no outside guidelines. Although Harmony Studios is also used for professional shoots, it’s Barnes’ space to enjoy himself, relax, and just have fun.

With an accomplished career, an impressive portfolio ranging from photographing A-list celebrities to collaborating with top brands, what’s next for this photographic maverick on the rise? Barnes is currently working on advertisements for a wine company, as well as more album cover work. But he’s cognizant of maintaining a “balance between projects that have a financial benefit and a creative benefit.” Barnes is very proud of the diversity of the work that he and his team do, from ads for banks to celebrity portraits, there is nothing that he and his colleagues/friends won’t dive into. They love taking on new and interesting challenges as they charge headfirst into the artistic unknown.

Don Cheadle
Don Cheadle
mattbarnesphotography.com