What he meant was to ask if I had digital copies of my photographs to distribute, because he assumes that with digital copies people can share my photographs for free and print as they wish without paying me.
This is not the first time I hear this joke in Germany. In both cases I answer "no" because I really don't have, but I just realize it is a joke and what it really mean after seeing they walking away laughing on their own.
The reality is that it makes no difference if I sell prints or digital files. Once people get them they can reproduce as they wish, whatever media they get. The different is that one is a original work and the other is just a reproduction.
I do get permission to photograph exhibition of new and old painting, sculpture and photography all the time.
As most photographers and many artists, specially visual artists, I have digital reproduction of my photographs in my website. At least in small resolution. After all I want to show my work to the wider audience as possible, in order to higher my chances of opportunities through it.
But how about people downloading your photographs? many of you may ask. But when people themselves goes to museums and galleries they find inside shops selling cheap reproduction of the exhibition contents . And very often they even have free postcards with works' images as exhibition advertisement.
The reality is that my digitized images are just low resolution copies. They are just souvenirs, samples, advertise. Very different from the original prints I do myself. Specially because I make silver gelatin prints on traditional handwork. Where else people can have original prints other than me?
This is why bands like Radiohead tried to offer their songs for free download. Or bands like Foo Fighters released videos of their performance for free on YouTube.
You may enjoy listening a street performance playing some of the songs you like the most. Or you can even listen then in radio. But you only can see bands performance alive from themselves. Everything else are just sample reproduction. Bands don't even make much money selling albums but recorders companies. Bands make true living through alive concerts.
Those who actually make money with reproduction are third parties in most of the cases. Normally big corporations that make fortunes with the entertainment industry. This is the reason they make massive campaign against piracy, and most people take their campaigns very serious, even creators themselves.
After all, creators themselves need other works inspiration for their own creation. Nothing comes fro nothing. And if they want be recognized by their inspiration and work, as well as inspiring others, they need to show their work somehow, which always will allow someone to copy and reproduce somehow, by photographing, recording, drawing, cutting the image from a publication like magazines or downloading it from websites.
But the original work from traditional creators you only can get from themselves, from their hands, their voices and so own.