Tired and Inspired

Leda Costa
11 min readNov 16, 2016

An Eddie Adams Workshop story.

On July 11, 2016, I read these few sentences about 100 times over:


Congratulations! We are pleased to welcome you as a student at the Eddie Adams Workshop XXIX. It is with great joy that we welcome you to become a part of this elite photojournalism community!

Instead of immediately shouting from the rooftops, I spent the next 48 hours debating whether or not to reply to the email asking if they had made a mistake. I was legitimately floored by the fact that I was accepted into the Eddie Adams Workshop.

When I applied, I was a student at the International Center of Photography in NYC and all my colleagues were polishing up their portfolios and sending in their applications. The school year was almost over and I recently had a light-bulb moment where I decided to start a new project… in Florida. I took my chances on this project and saw the submission deadline come and go. I could have submitted a jumbled “best of” portfolio but decided against it because of the tempting extended deadline. I figured I’d be forever branded as the procrastinator who just now got her project rolling but I took the opportunity anyway, embarrassingly paid the late fee, and went on with the school year.

The EAW is known for being extremely selective, only accepting 100 students per year. I didn’t think I stood a chance, but then again, I never do. It’s not that I’m not confident in my work, I’m just more confident in everyone else’s. Major character flaw, I know. But I am an opportunist. And this is an opportunity I took and ran with. If there’s one thing to take away from my experience, is that you need to take advantage of everything on the table even if your brain is whispering “who do you think you are?!”

If nothing else, I can offer an insight into what got me into the workshop to begin with. There isn’t *one* way of putting together your application, and in my case, I submitted a sequence of 20 images from a single project. Since I was already past the deadline and there was no more shooting to be done, I put a lot of thought into the written portion of the application. As a photographer, my heart often speaks through my images. Sometimes though, the written word is a better friend to me so I gave my words as much weight as my images because simply I could. When you’re given the opportunity to show your work in images and through your own words, take advantage of it and give both portions everything you can. Even if you think you have a solid portfolio, you should know how to put your intentions and your motivations into writing.

I trashed my lame “this is why you want me” monologue and decided to be honest and transparent about why I thought I should be a part of the EAW in the simplest terms possible. I don’t believe that this is the time for boasting or for fancy writing. You’re being invited into a family, so my advice would be to show off your heart, not your trophy case.

This set of images won’t make much sense without context, but I just wanted to demonstrate the style that I so confidently thought was so not EAW material. Colorful, symmetrical, lacking diversity — all words that I used to beat myself up with. But not anymore. You don’t need to fit into the mold of what you think people want to see, you need to be your own mold. My mold is flamingo-shaped, if you were wondering.

I submitted 20 images total. All 20 were part of the same project, and included no portraits.

There were many times during the four days of the workshop where my heart and brain finally stopped fighting over whether or not I belong. Every single insecurity, doubt, and fear I’ve ever had toward my work was at one point or another addressed and/or shared by my heroes in the industry. Which, if you’re an angsty mess of emotions, is a big deal. I could finally relax. The EAW provides a safe space for professionals and students in the field to be with one another, to share work and ideas. This is a bubble that you enter, one where there’s support and inspiration at every turn.

Aside from all the guidance and motivation you’re surrounded with, there’s also a serious amount of technical help. Nikon plays a huge role in this workshop, so camera bodies, lenses, and accessories were there to be tested and used. I borrowed a lens I don’t own and have never shot with because it was available, and why not? Profoto had a setup throughout the workshop that allowed anyone to borrow equipment (and an assistant) just in case you’re unfamiliar or uncomfortable with lighting. When, EVER, will you have the chance to use bodies, lenses, and lights to your heart’s desire, for free, and with help?

[Insert endless amounts of gratitude for all the EAW sponsors here]

The workshop comprises of working on a given assignment, listening to incredible speakers, and portfolio reviews more commonly known as the 11:30 club.

The Assignment

Each EAW team has a theme that their assignment needs to follow. Our theme was family.

Next thing I know, I’m dropped off at a farm in Callicoon, New York with the company of 80 cows and Dan. Dan Diehl is a 21-year-old farmer who so graciously tolerated me following him around all weekend. A city girl by nature, I clung to my borrowed Nikon lens as Dan gets on his tractor and looks at my puzzled face. I missed my cue to casually “hop on” so I less-than-gracefully climbed on and proceeded to take my first image —

Left hand clinging to the tractor, right hand clinging to my camera, and trying to keep the story in mind. If I’m following Dan around all day while he works on endless to-dos around the farm, how can I possibly capture the essence of family? I’m not very smooth with farm-related small talk so I start hanging out with the cows, making small talk with them, when Dan introduces me to his favorite cow. Ignorant to the idea of having a favorite cow, I blurt out the dumbest question I’ve ever asked — “do cows have personalities?” The answer is yes, yes indeed. And there was my little story. Dan and the animals that keep him company throughout the day. The cows and the cats are always watching him, regardless of what he does.

After two days of shooting, your team Editor will work with you to make an edit of around ten images that best tell your story. In my case, nothing from my second day was used in the final edit. My second day of shooting involved the whole Diehl family, so I thought I hit the jackpot. I got them working together and even orchestrated a big family portrait. But at the end of the day, the more compelling story lived on in these subtle moments of Dan’s chores around the barn surrounded by the animals that love him. This is something I would have never put together on my own, and it showed me the importance of working together to tell a story. Even if you’re not a staff photographer and have the privilege of someone like Colin Crawford editing your work, it’s important to have open conversations about your images, to not delete your photos, and to give a voice to every possible angle of your seemingly normal assignment.

Here are my ten images that were a part of our slide show:

The Speakers

Non-shooting time was spent at the barn; either eating incredibly delicious home-cooked meals (this alone should be a reason to apply) or listening to some of the most accomplished photographers in the industry pour their hearts out on the stage, talking about work and inspirations (okay, this is the real reason to apply).

With all of the talent that was at the workshop, this piece would turn into a seemingly never-ending string of name-dropping if I were to list every influential photojournalist that at one point or another made an impact in our careers. So I will just say that the diversity of speakers allows for every single EAW participant to come out with something that touched them personally. From photographing war to photographing Lady Gaga and everything in between (I’m looking at you, Steve Winter, snow leopard extraordinaire), a stroke of inspiration can hit anyone in the room at any moment.

As far as personal experience goes, the highlight of my time at the barn was Craig Walker’s presentation. I was not familiar with his (pulitzer prize-winning and widely recognized) project and now it’s my inspiration. I won’t go into the why and the how, but sometime during this specific presentation I had a sort of eureka moment where I realized why I was there. A feeling that if the workshop ended at the end of Craig Walker’s presentation and I was put on a plane back to Seattle, I would be completely fine with it. Everyone who talks about this workshop will tell you it will change your life, but they won’t really elaborate. I always thought this was so mysterious, having little knowledge of the workshop before attending, but now I get it. Before coming to the workshop I thought the networking opportunities and the portfolio reviews would be once in a lifetime and that’s what they meant by life/career changing, but that’s not all this is about. No experience is alike and everyone goes home with something different.

The Portfolio Reviews

The 11:30 club is an all-nighter portfolio review extravaganza. It begins at 11:30pm and goes on until the cows come home.

The idea of portfolio reviews terrifies me because I’m at a place where my portfolio feels like a fragile child and my blood pressure goes through the roof when I let a stranger hold this child. Especially when that stranger is a Pulitzer prize-winning photographer.

To date, I have had two experiences with portfolio reviews. I was a nauseous wreck at my first one. This was at the end of my year at the ICP, and I was scheduled to meet with around ten professionals from the industry. I bought a new top just for this day, I got my hair blow-dried (as if anyone cares), and I made sure to sleep a full eight hours and eat a nice breakfast.

Fast forward a few months to my EAW portfolio review… I’d just spent the day with 80 cows, I had hay in my hair, dirt on my clothes, and I was running on roughly one hour of sleep. But then again, so was everyone else! I felt like I was in a bizarre snow globe of a scenario full of smelly, passionate people shaking around this room, photos and conversations flying left and right. Kind of makes my $40 blow-dry feel like a waste of money now that I think of it. I know there’s a time and place to look presentable and put on your “I’m a professional” facade, but this is not it. This is the “I’m a storyteller, look at what I’ve done and look at what I want to do” place where time doesn’t exist and anything goes.

The Knight’s Inn

Because the Eddie Adams Workshop unfortunately does not double as a slumber party, our designated home base was a dingy little establishment recently under the name of the Knight’s Inn. We were all dying to get our room keys, dump our luggage, and finally go to the barn which was a short drive away. When I got to my room on the second floor, I felt around the wall for a light switch — first mistake. One does not “feel around” the walls of the Knight’s Inn. After my first encounter with the cockroach that was napping on the light switch, I quickly learned that this is an initiation into the workshop. Photojournalists have thick skins for a reason, and this place is paradise compared to the living quarters some of us have shared. One thing is certain though, we all left the workshop with our own unique Knight’s Inn anecdote. This adds to the charm of the experience, and in retrospect, I would not trade the Knight’s Inn for the comfort of five stars. Did I mention this is a tuition free workshop? All of us did not fork over thousands of dollars to be treated to chocolate covered strawberries and casually listen to presentations with cucumber slices over our eyes. We applied to the Eddie Adams Workshop because we wanted the experience, the family, and the momentum to keep doing our jobs, just 100 times better.

My Thank Yous

Big heartfelt thank you to the wonderfully talented and silly humans that made up the red team and the leaders and backbone of our team — Nancy Borowick, Ruth Fremson, Colin Crawford, and Clayton Filipowicz.

And of course, Alyssa, Mirjam, Marie, and every single person behind the Black + White teams.

EAW XXIX Red Team Group Photo

For more information about the Eddie Adams Workshop, click here.

An incomplete list of other articles I’ve found about the workshop: