Famed fashion photographer Nigel Barker visits Boston tonight to promote his new book, Models of Influence, which highlights the careers on 50 of the most beautiful fashion models to ever grace the covers of fashion magazines.

After 20 years working as a model and photographer with the likes of Naomi Campbell, Janice Dickinson and countless others, Barker says he wanted to do more than write about how these women were talented or lucky. Instead, he wanted to capture "how they influenced fashion and beauty over time."

"In many respects, they helped shape our idea of fashion and beauty by taking risks, by putting themselves out there," Barker says. As a result, these fashion icons didn't just epitomize an era, but they revolutionized what was possible.

While doing research for this project, he came across stories of the hardships models faced during their careers. Consider Naomi Sims, for example. When she started in the fashion business, black models simply didn't appear on the covers of magazines. Modeling agencies didn't want to touch her. Even after Wilhelmina signed her, "she had to send out her own tear sheets to get jobs because the agency wouldn't do it," Barker says. It was only after Simms got her first cover in 1967 that the agency started to see that she was of some worth.

Then there is Isabella Rossellini, who started later than most, and yet her face became one of the most memorable in fashion. When the industry finally remembered to ask how old she was, they were shocked to learn that she was 33, which is typically well past the point of discovery in a business that prizes youth.

Stories like this and more are what make Models of Influence such an important book. Barker captures the pioneering spirit of these women, proving that they are more than simply a pretty face in a commercial, but in many cases they have influenced our culture, and ultimately, how we identify ourselves as a society.

Growing up, Barker's own mother was a model. So he was always aware of and surrounded with beauty. It should come as no surprise then, that he went on to become a model himself before breaking out as a fashion photographer in the mid 90's. More recently, he has appeared on television shows like The Face and America's Next Top Model.

Want to meet Barker? Visit him at Brookline Booksmiths Monday, Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. The store is located at 279 Harvard St. in Boston.

50 Women Who Reset the Course of Fashion
By Nigel Barker
256 pp. Harper Design. $40.