Shantanu Starick, a professional photographer from Australia, left the norm behind him and set out with a plan to see the world, a plan that involved no money. Using the age-old barter system, Shantanu is trading his photography services in return for food, shelter, and transportation. The Pixel Trade, as his project is called, is carried on as each ‘trader’ introduces Shantanu to someone new who could benefit from his skill set. From product photography to weddings to photographs of someone’s business, Shantanu has already made his way to the United States in just four months time.
We find Shantanu's willingness to step outside of his comfort zone, his ingenuity developing this project, and his ability to adapt to constantly changing surroundings, assignments and people all very inspiring. Learn more details about his journey in the below interview, and write him at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to set up a trade.
I had worked extremely hard to accomplish a number of things I wanted, and as a result, was earning good money, had a healthy lifestyle, social balance and all things else. My focus, however, was being split between my architectural studies and my photography work, and I decided it was time to take something out of the cake mix and focus on one thing. I wasn’t going to stop taking photographs. The Pixel Trade was a decision to force a single focus, but not just a single focus relating to work, a single focus in every aspect of life. Remove money from the well-known line ‘time is money’ and you’re left with...time. For this equation to remain just ‘time,’ I need to trade photography with people. So, in a way, it might be more accurate to say ‘time is photography.’ It sounds like I’m running a math class now, but I think you get what I mean.
How did the idea to trade your photography services for food, shelter, and transportation come about?
I found a sketch and some words in one of my journals earlier this year, and it questioned, “How cheaply could I travel around using photography as a form of payment?” When I read this, I wanted to take this idea further, so I started pulling it apart and figuring out all the ins and outs of the project. In the end, I realized food, shelter and transportation would be all I needed to get around the world. In terms of cost for others, it was very little compared to paying regular rates for my services.
My journey began in Melbourne, a city I had only skipped in and out of for the odd job here and there. I only knew a handful of good places to eat, this being a very good indication the place was unfamiliar to me. It was important to be in a new setting, because it made me take the beginning of the journey seriously & not rely on friends and family to avoid spending money if I didn’t find a trade. As the primary purpose of the project is to travel around the world without spending a cent, I am aiming to get to at least every continent & many countries on each continent at best. I want to trade with some of the poorest people in the world and some of the richest & observe whether the photographs produced can create a similar value.
In July was when I touched down in Melbourne, and from that moment not a cent has been spent. There is no clear end date. I imagined a couple of years would allow me to get around the world and give me enough time to plan project 2 for The Pixel trade as well. I have said that if someone trades me a house, I will consider doing it a while longer. Lots of people have traded me other things like hard drives and photography gear. I know a house is a step further for some but not for others.
I look back at the list that has built up very quickly over the beginning of this project, averaging about 12 trades a months, a lot of work. The trades so far include architects, jewelry designers, weddings, musicians, students, restaurateurs and the list goes on. People in many other professions around the world are contacting me now to set up future trades in even more diverse areas.
It’s a frequent question amongst the people I trade with, and I really find it difficult to choose one over another, because they are all different. There was a particular trade, which went for six days, and the people I was with were incredible. I was photographing their house and the surrounding valley they lived in. Three days in, they said they had to leave to go back to the city. This was followed by the words, “I know you’ve got friends close by. Why don’t you get them up for a few days, and have some fun whilst taking photos? Fridge is full. Wine is there. Have fun”. It became a holiday for a few days, except I still had to get up before the sun to venture into the landscape for photographs. Every trade has had its amazing moments, but that one does come to the forefront of my rather big, but proportioned head.
The answer that comes to mind is that I do have a lot of creative freedom when approaching each project. Most of the trades go for about 3 days, which gives a nice amount of time to talk about their project and generate ideas based on their philosophies, character and subject. Because my focus is purely photographs and nothing else, I generally find that we can pump out some good ideas fairly quickly and get into shooting and testing out the concepts. Some trades have a clearer picture of what they want, and that works great as well. We often expand on the ideas and away we go. The website is great for this because people see my approach to photographs, and if it’s suited to them, they line up a trade.
What has been the most challenging part of this whole experience?
I think one of the most challenging parts of the project was the beginning. The web programmer hadn’t completed the website on time, and as a result, people didn’t really take the project seriously as I couldn’t point them to my work. I think most people were thinking, “This is some hippy trying to get around the world for free.” Once the site got up and running, the legitimacy of what I was doing built up with it. People realized that having a photographer for a few days, photographing as much as they needed me to and as long as I they needed me for, was a big win for them. People also started seeing that the depth of the photographs were significantly increased by having me there for days rather than just a few hours. So, not only do they get a greater scope of photos, they also don’t pay for it. Most people think I’m getting the raw carrot of the deal, but they don’t realize that the success of this project is what I care about, and people trading with me are the ones that are allowing this to happen.
Favorite places to shop:
Book Depository, Emmanuel’s Wineshop, Byron Bay Unplugged, Everingham & Watson, Pearl Cafe, Notemaker and construction sites