Shift the way you see the world and… a new world opens up to you. A world with new possibilities, new actions, new emotions, new outcomes. Things that seemed implausible or impossible become believable and achievable. “Reality” shifts.
The photographer Shantanu Starick provided a vivid example of this simple, but not easy, endeavor in his talk at the terrific 99u Conference Caroline and I attended last week. His story goes like this…
A great believer in diversity of experience, Shantanu found himself growing increasingly frustrated by the demands for specialization he frequently heard from potential employers. He didn’t want to shoot only fashion or food or weddings or any one thing. But the people doing the hiring always seemed to insist on a depth of experience in their one domain.
This bias is by no means limited to photography but prevalent throughout our work culture—I’ve certainly encountered it in my career. All you need to do is to think of the last time you had a job interview to make this fresh and relevant for yourself.
Some might say, “That’s just the way the world is, there’s nothing you can do about it.” Well-intentioned folks probably advised him, as they have advised us all at one point or another, to “just get with the program.”
Shantanu said (my paraphrase), well, screw that. Instead of conforming to cultural norms around work, he launched a project he calls Pixel Trade. “In exchange for my skills as a professional photographer, all I’m asking from my subjects is a roof to sleep under, food to keep the stomach happy and a ticket or ride to the next trade,” he explains on his website. “Shelter, food and transport traded for whatever photography work you need snapped. It’s that simple.”
The results so far? In two years, he’s hit five of seven continents and completed 162 trades. Money spent, or earned: None.
Shantanu reports that he’s met some incredible people and have had some likewise amazing experiences. I can report that he’s doing exceptional and, yes, truly diverse work as demonstrated in the portfolio of images he shared with us. He plans to continue the project until he fulfills his goal of reaching all seven continents, or, as he puts it, “I will continue to trade with as many people as possible until the well of human compassion and curiosity dries up.”
To me, Shantanu has accomplished something most of us would have said was impossible: He has taken money (and therefore, time) out of the modern work equation and asked the professional world to start thinking about the people they interact with in terms of their attributes, not their wallets. With money out of the equation, the relationship he has with the people he works with is as a friend and collaborator. They share meals and physical space; each offers their unique gifts to the other. Generosity and relationship rules.
Can you even imagine? My heart melts a bit when I do. And that, my friends, is the power of seeing the world a little differently.
PS: If you are interested in doing a trade with Shantanu, you can contact him via his website, here.