When Nick initially contacted me about photographing him and Claire’s wedding, he told me that it would be in their backyard. They live with their 1 year old daughter Stevie in a home on the south eastern outskirts of Melbourne surrounded by 30 acres of beautiful Australian forest. Their place was initially built by one of Nick’s cousins about 15 years ago in a disused quarry using the stone and metal that was leftover from the times when it was an active site. The scars on the earth where this work was done are still visible but it’s still an amazing part of the world.
The week before their wedding was a really wet one for Melbourne, I think it rained nearly every day. So their wedding was a somewhat unique experience for me, it’s the only time where I (along with all of their guests) wore gumboots for an entire day as their whole block was covered in water and mud. But it didn’t seem to matter to anyone, least of all Nick and Claire. They had their daughter, they had each other and they had their small square in the world. They seemed happy with that. I remember in the evening straight after their ceremony, Nick and Claire went back to the house to give Stevie a bath and to put her to bed. In the middle of their wedding day with everyone waiting for them to arrive at their dinner, Nick and Claire still had time with their daughter at the forefront of their minds. It wasn’t just about the two of them, it was about their little family and making sure that their child was looked after. I think that really shows how special these two people are.
I was born in Australia but grew up in Sri Lanka from the ages of 1 to 7. While growing up in a developing country comes with many disadvantages, there is a sense of community and camaraderie that Sri Lankans have which is wonderful to be a part of. People address each other not by names but as brother, sister, aunty and uncle and look after others before they look after themselves. I miss that. But thankfully, Kristen and I experience community through other ways.
We’ve always felt a bit disconnected from the idea of how us humans can be motivated so much by money and we’re really happy and fortunate that on occasion, we’re in a position to barter – in essence, we swap photography in exchange for goods or services, rather than money.
Bartering has resulted in a few things:
- We get to do things and meet people we otherwise would not
- Some of our experiences move us outside of our comfort zone which then opens us up to personal realisations
- We can provide photos to people who may not have much money, but have a whole heap of other things, sometimes more valuable, which they can exchange. This isn’t about doing someone with less money a ‘favour’ or giving them a discount – it’s about recognising that there is another currency of valuing skills and experiences as much, or more than, money.
We’ve already had some truly amazing experiences as a result of bartering, including a basically never ending supply of delicious honey from a groom whose family are beekeepers, handwritten poetry, Scandinavian travel, helicopter rides and home made t-shirts. However one really significant example of a recent barter was a recent trip to the island of Bali with accommodation at a beautiful hotel partly in exchange for photographing a couple’s wedding later this year. To be honest, Bali is not somewhere I’ve ever wanted to visit as it invokes images of drunken Australian tourists, but how wrong I was – it’s simply a stunning country and its people exude warmth, humility and generosity.
When we were in Bali, we wanted to go and visit a historic temple so organised a local driver to take us there. The driver’s name was Bagus and he helped fill an empty place in my heart. Bagus told us that all the Balinese want is to be connected to their land, their family and their God. I started asking Bagus questions – ‘How do you stay so happy?’, ‘What about when bad things happen?’ and so on. To each question, he smiled and philosophically answered that life is about accepting your circumstances and appreciating what you have.
A few days later we saw Bagus again, when we went to his village and met his family. Bagus, his wife, 2 sons, parents and brothers and sisters (with their children) live in 4 adjacent houses and the kinship, love and support we saw in them made my chest ache – I was proud to be a human being and it reminded me of my life and family in Sri Lanka.
The whole experience reinforced to me that even though the Balinese people we met are ‘poor’ in our financial terms, they’re much wealthier than most of us – they have things that are truly valuable. They are surrounded by people who love and accept them, they love in return, they respect their environment and they are content. And we in the West, often strive so hard for more and more, yet come up empty. Bagus helped me to pause and reflect on the amazing positives that I have in my life, he also reinforced my ideals of being part of a community and of having genuine connections, and possibly most importantly he inspired me to love and live more deeply. The opportunities that can open up for us from a simple act of deprioritising money are never predictable, which make them just that little bit more exciting! Without bartering I would never have gone to Bali, without Bali I would never have met Bagus and without Bagus, my life would be just a little emptier.
We appreciate that we don’t live in a moneyless society and all of us need to earn money to pay for things. We only barter for a fraction of what we do, but at the same time we try and remember profits are not the be-all and end-all of running our business. Bartering can help you to have rich and fulfilling lives where you aren’t just taking – you are part of a system that provides and receives and it benefits everyone involved. You are creating your very own community and from that moment, you can’t even begin to predict all the great things that can happen.