Photographer Lakshal Perera shares the beauty of the give and take within bartering
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. The best part is, bartering can work for everyone and it can work for you as well. Kristen and I love travel, Asian street food and cultural experiences so we are always happy to barter that for photography. If you’ve got a family, there might be someone out there who would be willing to exchange tickets to a show that your kids might like in return for a discount on a family session. If you want to learn guitar, there’s probably a person who will give you lessons in exchange for some head-shots. These opportunities exist and all it takes is for you to recognise that money doesn’t need to be a factor and to put yourself out there. 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.
Words and images by Lakshal Perera.