Barry Goldwater, the photographer gets "sick" every time he thinks about how he had to give away Edward Sheriff Curtis photogravures from his now famous "North American Indiana" series.

Goldwater, the Republican senator from Arizona when he is not photographing, said he bought a big stock of the Curtis portfolios (each containing 25 to 40 pictures) for $2 apiece in the early 1930s during a visit to New York. He took them home to Phoenix and tried selling them for $1 each, but nobody wanted them. "So I finally gave them away."

Talking about it last night at the Kathleen Ewing Gallery in Georgetown, Goldwater said he did hang on to a couple of sets. Not long ago, one to a couple of sets. Not long ago, one portfolio sold for $10,000.

A few of the works by Curtis, who died in 1952, were in the exhibition, "Southwest Photography 1890-1980," which opened at the gallery last night and which continues until May 27. It includes 10 photographs by Goldwater, as well as works by six others.

Goldwater has been taking pictures of his native Arizona since the early 1930s. He spends most of his Christmas holidays in his Phoenix darkroom filling orders for two dozen of his most popular prints.

"I can't do it any other time of the year," he said, "because the cold water taps gets so hot I can't use it."

He told Ewing and others whom she invited to the opening that he has 15,000 negatives, none of them indexed.

"That's what I'm going to do when I get out of politics."

Last night he was very much in politics, however, and was heading to the Capitol for President Ronald Reagan's speech to a joint session of Congress. The senator made no bones about the fact that he disagreed with Reagan's decision to lift the grain embargo against the Soviet Union, but that was the only bit of political conversation at the gallery gathering.

"Something the American people never understand -- neither does the government -- is that there are instruments you can use short of war to bring pressure. But we never use this power, and anything the Russians want they seem to get. I think the president made a mistake, but that's his problem, not mine."

Gallery owner Kathleen Ewing said she decided to include Goldwater among the artists she is featuring because "this is a political town," and part of the fun of it is to have works by somebody like him.