Lelia Scarfiotti: Planning & Organizing Cosmos, a Photography Workshop
Remember we promised you a bonus interview for our Entrepreneurial Women who Inspire series? Here it is! Our first 4 interviews were with Katch Silva, India Earl, Laurken Kendall and Caryl Lyons. Today, you’re about to get a soulful & intimate chat with Lelia Scarfiotti, a brilliant and inspiring Italian photographer, also the mastermind behind the Cosmos Gathering workshops.
Interview #5: Lelia Scarfiotti
www.leliascarfiotti.com | Custom website design by Flothemes
We’re incredibly thankful that Lelia Scarfiotti invited us to be part of Cosmos Gathering for its third edition and are forever grateful for the opportunity to meet all the amazing people who attend Cosmos. It has also allowed us to interview Lelia, face to face, inside the beautiful Al Moudira hotel, where all the workshop participants were hosted.
Now, that the most difficult part is over – the photoshoot on the Nile, with one boat filled with photographers, tilted on the side, and two gorgeous models on the other boat.. How do you feel?
We have crazy ideas, but it’s good to try crazy sometimes, right? Because we don’t really have the opportunity to do it in normal life. Cosmos was actually born also for that – to develop a creative part in us and the participants, something that you don’t really get every day, that you couldn’t do alone or that is very difficult to do alone. So that’s part of Cosmos for sure. Alessandra[Santini] is very creative, we come together, we try to see the situation and study what we can do in the location that we chose. Location is the first important thing, because it sets the possibilities & limitations. For Alessandra it is very important to see and feel the location – that’s where her creative process starts. Then we create Pinterest boards and decide on the elements that are going to work or not. So there is a lot of process and research involved for both, big and small details.
Speaking about the location, we have 3 Why’s for you.
That was Alessandra. She really insisted on Egypt because she’s in love with this country, we already did a shooting here 2 years ago plus my mom is here. So she really thought that Egypt and this location could work well for Cosmos. I think that people are comfortable here, also time moves very differently here, even if you’re on a tight schedule. It feels much slower and we love it, the feeling that we’re not always in a rush.
Is your experience with Cosmos in Egypt different from Tuscany?
Yes, totally. The first one, was the FIRST one. Everything was amazing – it set the bar so high. It was incredibly good. People were happy and the shootings were amazing. The second one was in the same location, and it felt too limited space wise. People need to see different locations. Even if you’re in Tuscany, you still need to move, to get the feeling that you’re doing something different. So with the third edition we really wanted to have a different location, a different movement, different things, the Nile, the desert, the bar and the hotel.
Because we were doing it in November, and in November we were exhausted after the wedding season. So we are trying to organize it in Spring, when we’re all fresh and relaxed. It’s giving people an engine and the energy for the new season. I think spring is a good time for that.
In March we celebrate women, and Cosmos was born with the idea of empowering female creatives. It’s such a beautiful way to highlight this..
Yes, Cosmos was and still is very feminine. I think we will open it up to men, just a little bit.. because at this point, the guys that will come are going to have that sensibility. So we’re not trying to keep it a closed event, where it’s only us, feminist gathering but we don’t accept men. Does not sound right. It’s not only about that, it is about sisterhood and women getting together, but it’s also about attracting a certain kind of people with certain kind of sensibility. So it’s not for everybody. Cosmos is very selective in that way.
Each edition you had a co-host. The first time you had Bek Smith, then Kelle Sauer. This time you have Jose Villa. Why Jose? Was it intentional, the fact that he is not a woman photographer?
Jose has a sensibility, and he’s really special and so nice. I met him many years ago, so I knew him as a person. I actually tried to ask him to come for the first and second Cosmos editions, but he couldn’t, as he was working and busy. This time I said “Okay, let’s try!” and he was very happy to come. Jose was always someone that I would have loved to have at Cosmos, even if he’s not a woman. Last edition Ryan Muirhead was supposed to come. He’s a guy, but he’s incredible and his work is so feminine and so intimate.
You’ve shared the fact that you’re an introverted person. What drives you to do something like Cosmos where you need to get out of your shell, share who you are, your process and really get close to people that you don’t really know?
Well, the wedding industry can get really shitty. People are stepping on each other’s heads. Everybody’s competing for the exceptional weddings and epic shots. You start missing on what’s really important in weddings – which is family relationships and connections. We are so privileged to be there and be able to give them something as unique as their last picture with their father. That is INCREDIBLE, and that’s a gift. And from time to time it’s what I need them [the participants of Cosmos] to get to, that it’s about that connection. You can get the beautiful shots and do your creative portfolio – but think about them, your clients, think about what you’re giving them and leaving for their kids. So that’s the message that is really important for me. I also wanted to share my sister’s story, because she’s really important to me. I think she’s really brave, and it’s incredible what she is doing. She could be dead by now, but she’s alive and she’s happy. Maybe it’s still going to be hard, but I’m very proud of her. So I just wanted to share that.
It’s also about opening up. When you open up, incredible things happen. Cosmos is a safe space to do that, and it’s beautiful when you stop talking about the weather and start talking about yourself. There aren’t many occasions when it’s easy to do that.
You’re so caring and genuinely want to help the participants see their own magic. What else do you want them to take away from this experience?
I would love for them to try and listen to their voices more, because we never really do. We always tend to think that we’re not as good as someone else. But if you listen to your own voice, you realize that you are good enough, you just have to learn, and life is always a learning experience. If you listen to yourself, you put out there the things that you really want to say. Not what someone else is saying, and that’s amazing. Eventually every photographer does it.
I talked in one of the sessions about our weaknesses, that you don’t say “Oh my god, I’m so introvert, what the fuck is wrong with me?” It’s more of a “I know I’m an introvert, so let’s take advantage of this. Let’s use this for my pictures, or whatever.” I’m a mess. Everything is out of focus all the time – but I like it. That’s the way I like it, and I’ll get a client who likes that as well. And that’s ok, because that’s my client.
You can’t really be liked by everybody. It’s impossible..
What is the most challenging part when organizing a photography workshop?
Coordinating everybody, and not as much the participants, but the professionals that are working here. It’s a mess (laughs). Everybody needs to say their opinion, and they are all great professionals and know what they’re doing – but trying to coordinate everybody is like being a mom when your little children are arguing. It’s a bit hard. It’s really hard actually (laughs again).
Why do you think Cosmos stands out from all other workshops and how do you want it to be perceived?
Because I am here, obviously (laughs). Cosmos is very crazy, we’re doing very different stuff. It is wedding, but it’s also editorial and it’s about getting out of your comfort zone. We’re not going to make it easy for them, our participants. It’s not about a beautiful bride, in a beautiful setting. It is beautiful in its own way, but it’s really hard to get in pictures. Alessandra’s stuff is amazing, but it’s so hard to photograph. So if you can get THAT right – the rest is easy. That process is really important for us. We’re not giving them everything. We’re pushing them and making them feel uneasy sometimes, because that’s what life is all about. But it’s going to get something different and good out of them. Even frustration, that’s good, it’s part of the experience.
What’s next for Cosmos?
Vacations (laughs). We want to give more space for shootings, less talks. We didn’t do many this time, it’s not a conference. I don’t want it to be a conference. They need to shoot, because it’s about experiencing the shooting part and experiencing the staying together part.
If we talk about styled shoots – you cannot really learn the styling. You see the scenes that Alessandra creates, and it’s amazing. She has a background in theatre decorations and props. You cannot learn that, but when you see it, and you see the process going into creating those ideas, you can then use those bits and pieces in your weddings work, editorial work, etc.
If you’re photographing something that is different, you bring it back to what you’re used to take pictures of and see it in a different way. It’s like contamination. Whatever you do, if you take singing classes or Japanese classes and you contaminate that with what you’re doing – you get incredible and unique results. Something else comes out.
Recently you’ve opened up a Bed & Breakfast in Tuscany. How does that fit in? Do you consider yourself a business woman?
No, I’m not a business woman at all. I’m a mom, I’m a person that really loves to stay home. I love what I do and I would never put this [business] in front of everything else.
When I was pregnant with my son I was only starting to get destination weddings. So I needed to make a choice, while my kid was really small, because I knew that I don’t want to miss all that. He grows so fast. He’s 7 now, and I can’t believe how big he is. These are once in a lifetime moments, you don’t want to miss it.
So you can still work, be independent, be who you want to be – without being hectic busy and trying to be the best of the best. It doesn’t really matter at the end of the day. It’s more about what makes you happy. So with this [B&B] house, we plan to move into it when we get old. I would love to do yoga classes there, poetry retreats, artist retreats. I see it as a very quiet space where people can find themselves.
In fact, Natalie, who spoke at Cosmos last year is going to do a retreat there in November, and she’ll bring together women. We’re going to have creative writing classes, I’m going to take pictures and she’s going to guide them through it. Another woman is going to teach them how to cook with natural ingredients. I think that place is good for those kind of activities.
Everyone talks about being aggressive in business and putting yourself out there. While your brand voice is so quiet in many ways, it’s also very present. That comes from knowing yourself, being able to stay true to yourself, without the need to change something all the time.
Yes, it was a long journey. When I was younger I was totally lost. Then I found my man, and he is very family oriented and all about home. So that gave me the quiet and calmness that I needed, because my family is all over the place. My mom is different (laughs) – she’s all about business. She’s the real business woman, and I admire her now, but I didn’t want to be like her.
The most important thing is to find your balance and what makes you happy. Because some people really want to be out there, they want to be the best and want to be business leaders. If this is what makes you happy – than you should do it. Because it’s one life, it’s not long. Choose what’s good for you. I knew that if I would have chosen business over my family, I would regret it. So I’m very happy with the choice I made.
I like the quiet. I don’t like big voices, I want to hear the voices underneath.
A message for new photographers who are only starting out, or want to create a workshop, or are ready to chase the dream of a destinations photographer?
Don’t be scared. There is nothing to be scared of. I mean, what can happen to you? No one’s gonna eat you. Just do it. If that’s your dream – go for it. No one is going to bring it over to you.
Also try to collaborate. We are all so afraid of the competition. We limit ourselves because we think that we’re not good enough and someone else is doing it better. That’s not true, because you’re doing it your own way.
We’re sad to finalize the Entrepreneurial Women who Inspire interview series. It has been an absolute honor to be able to speak to some of the most brilliant creative minds of the industry, find out what defines them, what motivates them, what shapes their personality and business. We’re happy we could share all these insights and advice with you, and look forward to conducting more series like this one in the future.
Who would you like us to interview next?