Barker first studied to be a landscape painter, but after a family financial setback in 1857 he canceled his plans to study art in Europe and took up photography. In 1862 Barker moved to Niagara Falls, New York, where he opened his own studio and began producing paper prints of the falls. One of the most prolific photographers in the area, Barker made over eight hundred negatives of Niagara Falls. Barker traveled to other states, including Florida, Georgia, and Kentucky, photographing landscapes and the aftermaths of disasters. In addition to making studio portraits during the winter months, Barker also operated a stereo card manufacturing company and a variety store that sold photographs, curios, and souvenirs. He won numerous awards for his work, including successive awards at the Professional Photographers of America conventions of 1886 and 1887. Barker supplied the photographs that accompanied a state survey report on the terrible effects of industrial and commercial development along the Niagara River; the survey led to the establishment of park lands along either side of the river.
Gardner, James T., Director. Special Report of New York State Survey of the Preservation of the Scenery of Niagara Falls, and Fourth Annual Report of the Triangulation of the State. For the Year 1879. Albany, 1880.