Shantanu Starick isn’t your average photographer. He also isn’t very easy to track down. Over two-and-a-half years ago, he began an experiment called Pixel Trade. The idea? To travel the world without spending a penny.
It wasn’t long before that idea became his daily life. All he needed to do was rethink the boundaries of currency. It was revolutionarily simple. He traded his photography skills in exchange for… everything.
The journey started in Melbourne, Australia where he had one trade arranged. Here are some words from the pixel trader himself:
JR: Were you confident in your photography skills before you started trading photography?
SS: Yes, I was a freelance photographer.
JR: You say that with photography you “generalize” rather than “specialize” on a single genre. Why do you feel the need to generalize instead of focusing on a particular type of photography?
SS: Generalising keeps things new and forever changing, for me at least. When I do one thing all the time, I get a little stale and bored of it. Photographing different subjects keep me forever alert and stimulated.
JR: Were you nervous to start off on this quest to travel the world without spending a cent?
SS: Naturally, I was nervous, but it wasn’t like going out on stage; it was something that would happen over time, and that created a sense of calm amongst the nerves.
JR: What about relationships? How do you manage those while you travel?
SS: Let me put it this way, it adds a dimension to the project I never anticipated, but it also adds a level of fun and interest you’d be hard pressed to get from ‘normal’ circumstances. I will reveal more when I write my book.
JR: Have you encountered difficult language barriers?
SS: Mostly, the people who get in touch with me speak English even if they live in a country that doesn’t speak it. There was a fun moment in Spain when I was trading with a couple and they took me to the local markets run by these amazing diverse women who only spoke Spanish or Catalan. I wanted to sit and learn some Spanish with one of them called Carmen, a butcher. She didn’t speak a word of English, and I knew next to no Spanish, so all she taught me were the cuts of meats in front of her: tails, kidneys, intestines… really worthwhile things to know when trying to talk to someone on the street in Spanish.
JR: Have you had a photo project go wrong or was someone upset with your work? What did you do?
SS: I’m sure there were some people who were not as happy with the images and I wanted them to be, but that will happen sometimes, so I try not to get too caught up on it. Things that have gone wrong were unpredictable like weather or changes with models etc.
JR: What compels you to travel?
SS: Curiosity. Curious people often travel because the world will forever feed their curiosity.
JR: Do you think you’ll be able to live through trade forever? Or do you think you’re going to have to resort to another plan?
SS: This project has never been about setting up a world of trade. Money has its positive aspects just like trade, and both have their downsides. I think proving that it can work on a scale like this will hopefully inspire others to add an element of trade into their lives that are often driven solely by money. I have a lot of ideas for what will come next, but I’m going to keep that a secret for now.
JR: Do you work with anyone who contacts you, or do you pick and choose?
SS: In the beginning, I didn’t have as much flexibility to pick and choose because no one knew about it and word hadn’t spread very far. As the years rolled over, I have become busier and busier in all parts of the world and have lists of people on 6 continents who want to trade. Now, I’m a lot more selective because I know what will be more enjoyable to photograph. I also contact some companies when I need to trade something specific and inform them that I’ll be shooting in their city or country and [see] if they’d like to trade.
JR: Has there been a point where you’ve been nervous that you won’t have an upcoming gig?
SS: The rule of not moving onto the next trade until the person I was with found me the next was a pretty safe buffer for those scenarios. There were still a couple of times where I really wanted to shoot more projects but the people I was with found it hard to find the next. It was more disappointment than nervousness, though.
JR: What’s been the hardest thing you’ve had to give up?
SS: The solitude of a single environment. For two and a half years, I’ve never been in one single home for over 10 days.
JR: Let’s talk about camera gear. Did you own everything you were traveling with?
SS: I owned most of what I have. If I need any gear, I ask if people are happy to provide it as part of the trade. Simple. Just ask.
JR: How do you travel with your gear?
SS: Everything fits snuggly in my backpack that comes everywhere with me.
JR: Who has been the most inspiring person you’ve met?
SS: Way too many — I don’t want to even name one.
JR: Have you discovered certain types of photography that you don’t enjoy shooting?
SS: Family portraits and pets.
JR: Did you have support when you first started off? What about a fallback plan in case things didn’t work out?
SS: Friends helped me find trades for the first while. If the project didn’t work out, I guess I’d go back to charging people for my services… not a lot to lose really.
JR: Do you ever get tired of meeting new people? I mean, after a while, does it feel like it’s work?
SS: I do get tired of meeting people sometimes, but I often walk into a new place and even if I’m a little worn out or reluctant, if they’re beautiful and warm people, within moments, I’ve forgotten how I felt moments ago about not wanting to meet them.
JR: Did you give much thought to your project before embarking on it? Or did it happen over a relatively short period of time?
SS: The Pixel Trade did happen over a few months, but the thinking and deciding of it happened over a short period.
JR: Is there anything that you’ve been surprised to learn or realize that your journeys have taught you?
SS: As for what I’ve learnt, it’s ongoing and things change all the time because of people, my mentality, and basically everything that influences a person.
For more, check out The Pixel Trade website. Don’t forget to take a moment to share the interview!