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TEDxCanberra- Moment of Truth

Well today is the day after. The day after I presented the talk of my life! TEDx stage, me standing on the big red circle in all my glory.

The official dress rehearsal was rubbished, so I panicked until my coach reassured me it means the real thing will be perfect!

This is how the actual day went. I was nervous and excited and very happy to be there. I started with a smile, the microphone didn’t catch my first 6 words but after that I was in full flight. I gestured big, I swore a few too many times, but that was me being very passionate. I showed myself and all I had to offer in that 17 minutes, and gave it my all. The first laugh from the audience was so reassuring, they were paying attention to my every word, then I felt like I owned the stage! But it wasn’t time to relax, I still had to remember the next 15 minutes of my story and lay it on them. I moved my body all over that red circle to express my story, I was over the top in true Italian fashion, arms flying everywhere but I got my message across loud and clear.   The audience had my back the entire time, they laughed with me, they cried, and the applause was huge.  I walked off that stage so sure of myself and confident that all my hard work paid off.

So many strangers approached me throughout the day telling me how much they loved my talk, and they loved the horse portraits. My family and friends and my coaches all were balls of tears throughout my talk, and people that know me best, reported that I was 100%  ME on that stage!

I worked freaking hard to make it flawless, let me tell you about the journey.

I had a fabulous coach allocated to me from TEDx team, the gorgeous Sally Dooley who has also presented a TEDx (SALON) talk this year, a very talented leadership coach she helped me write my talk, she gave me confidence and showed me the way to perform at my best.  I also got myself a coach of  very different kind, a personal coach the adorable Liz Tilley, she helped me on a more spiritual level prepare my mind and body and get into the truth about why horses mean so much to me. Her sessions always made me cry (in a good way) because I was always accessing the truth about my story at the deepest level, but she helped me in many different ways; spiritually and emotionally, to crafting the language I used. Liz allowed me to show myself and bring my most authentic self to the red circle.  I also had personal trainer at my local gym and did lots of yoga to help me challenge my mind and body to feel more powerful as I reached the pinnacle of the TEDx event. I did multiple workshops online that helped me enormously 1. Heroic Public Speaking” (Creative Live) with Michael Port who taught me how to be the most engaging speaker, moving my body, changing my vocal contrast and emotional contrast and so much more, this workshop I would recommend to anyone learning public speaking. The second workshop I studied online was David Nihill 2. “How to be a Funnier Speaker” (Creative Live) David showed me how to craft my speech like a comedic stand up show. How to strategically place the funny bit of the story at the end, for major impact, and that advice worked for me just perfectly!  I also read a book titled “How to tell your story so the world listens.” By Bobette Buster recommended to me by Liz Tilley.

The week before the talk, I drank so much water to lubricate my throat and voice, I ate so much fish I was sick of it, I needed all the help I could get (Omega 3) to help my brain function to the highest capacity and I avoided sugar in the lead up.  I even bought three versions of red lipstick to find the perfect one! Everything became about the preparation to my TEDx, because I wanted to be the best version I could be. I needed to perform and give my audience the best experience I could master. I changed my planned outfit a day before the show freaking out what to wear at the last minute. The preparation took a lot of focus and shits loads of practising and hard work. I took 2 weeks off work to help me prepare in the home stretch, where I had multiple coaching sessions, I exercised and practices so much I was so sick of hearing my own voice, I dreaded opening my mouth for the 100th practice! I rehearsed in the shower, while boxing, while cycling backwards, while driving, listening back to my recored versions. Over and over….

People asked me did I nominate myself to do this? NO way man! I was found, I would never put my hand up to do something so scary! The licensee of TEDx Canberra the fabulous Ingrid Tomanovits found me through my HORSE exhibition at Nishi Gallery last year where she fell in love with JOCK#2 and invited me to give this TEDx Talk.  I felt scared but I immediately said YES, I have this motto “Do it before your ready”. I knew I could figure out how to be LESS scared by the time the actual event came around. I had a good 4 months to prepare.

I also knew that I would be learning a new skill of public speaking and so much personal growth would come from doing something like this.  I was right, I was so right. I learned about my limits (there were none) my obsession, and how focussed I really can be when I want to be the best! My husband kept reminding me not to put so much pressure on myself, and that was very sound advice that I didn’t take because putting pressure on myself helps me work harder and I’m fine with that.

There were times I cried when I felt I couldn’t do this, it was too hard to figure out how to remember everything I needed to say and do.  I had to come so far and I feared I wouldn’t be able to get there. But the truth is I knew that’s not how I truly felt, my gut knew that I would nail it because I would never let myself down and my audience down.

If you are ever considering doing a TEDx talk I would say, “Do it”. Its the most fun and challenging experience and the people that I have met during this process inspire me and it’s a privilege to know them. It was a new family of friends and community. I loved being part of it. The team at TEDx were so supportive and the coaches they provide are wonderful and so talented. I can’t wait to volunteer next year in some way, if they’ll have me. GO CANBERRA!

Thank you to everyone who came to see me, who laughed at my jokes and gave me positive encouragement. I loved it and I hope the image of the horse penis doesn’t haunt you!!

Thank you also the the friends who supported me but could not attend.

P.s I’m scared to watch my performance when it gets published online in a few weeks..ekk!

Thank you to Gavin Blake the awesomely talented visual scribe who created this amazing piece for me! I love it so much!! Chops man!!





















Image By Jules Boag

HEAD ON Photo Festival Sydney

The horses are off to Sydney! I have been accepted into the HEAD ON Photo Festival next May 2017 with my exhibition, HORSE. Head On Photo Festival is Australia’s most prestigious photography event and one of the world’s leading photography festivals. It is also Australia’s only annual photography festival.

Held in Sydney over three weeks, it hosts numerous free events and exhibitions, low-cost workshops and talks led by Australian and international industry professionals.

The Festival encompasses the prestigious Head On Awards (Portrait, Landscape, Mobile and Student Prizes) with the 2016 Prize Packages valued at over $50,000.

Each year, the Festival presents the works across all genres of over 900 local and international photo-artists at more than 100 venues across Sydney and regional areas.

The Festival has also presented artists in exhibitions toured interstate and internationally to the US, China, India, The Netherlands and New Zealand, and engaged a global audience of more than 1 million people.

With a philosophy of inclusivity and fair play, work submitted for exhibition in Head On Photo Festival is judged without the artists’ names thereby enabling the work to stand on its own merit. As a result, the festival is one of the very few platforms providing invaluable (if not otherwise unattainable) opportunities to emerging and established artists alike.

Attracting a plethora of artists to exhibit from prestigious and highly acclaimed photographers including Magnum’s David Alan Harvey and National Geographic’s Chris Rainier, and Australia’s own Tracey Moffat and Murray Fredricks to students embarking on a career, Head On Photo Festival occupies a unique and vital place on the Australian arts calendar.

The festival has been running annually since 2010 by the non-profit organisation Head On Foundation.

HORSE Travels to Tamworth

Early next year HORSE exhibition will be on show that the regional Weswal Gallery in Tamworth, during the famous Tamworth Country Music Festival! 19 JAN- 19 FEB 2016.

Weswal Gallery 192 Brisbane Street Tamworth NSW AUSTRALIA

T: +61 2 6766 5847

Open Thurs – Fri 10am to 4pm; Sat – Sun 10am to 2pm or by Appointment

Sandra McMahon 0438 235 657

HORSE My most successful exhibition

There you have it, HORSE is closed in Canberra and ready to move on!

This body of work took approx. 8 months of shooting every weekend and after full time work to complete, but two years in the making. My father helped me get started on this project that he thought was strange at first (to photograph a horse inside a building) but I proved to him it would be visually interesting, and that the idea would work. So he supplied his time and horses to help me work it out and all of 2015 we shot all the test shots to ensure the idea would work seamlessly when I worked with strangers and their horses as I continued the project.
With the invitation from Nishi Gallery last Nov I had to get a wriggle on to make new work in time for the exhibition date.

I’ve travelled all around the region to meet people with horses. These people have now become my friends.  Many hours retouching and deliberating the final selection. Many moments of doubt and then confidence, a total rollercoaster of emotions. Its the type of thing that happens when you are exposing yourself to the world in this way. You are open for complete criticism and judgement as you express yourself as an artist.

As daunting as it could have been, I am totally chuffed with the results of my third solo exhibition, a sell out in Canberra of all places where they say its hard to sell art in Canberra. The gallery had many visitors from all over the country for the during the 3 week period, and the opening night was a full house with patrons purchasing their favourite portrait on the first night.

We held a very special event In Conversation with Horseman Angelo Costa during the second weekend of the exhibtion. Angelo spoke candidly about horse psychology and insights into his life as a horse trainer over the past 50 years. The video will be posted to youtube over the next 3 weeks.

Now I look back on what a great time i’ve had putting this exhibition together, I don’t think i’ve worked so hard on something in my life! It has taken a massive commitment, but then again everything does if you want to do something great. Reward doesn’t come without effort. Dreams don’t get fulfilled without help from others And life isn’t interesting unless you step outside your comfort zone.

I’d like to thank my sponsors Ted’s Professional and Ilford papers.


My HORSE Story In All Its Glory – By Beth Jennings

“The two ladies that just came into the gallery were burnt in the 2003 Canberra bushfires saving their horses. It looked like one lady had lost her fingers. She had burns on her face, all down her arms. Her mother had burns on her face. I think people would save their horse in a fire because their animals are like family members.

When I think of horses I think of family. We all rode horses. We’ve always had horses in our life. No matter where we lived we had horses. They’ve come and gone through our life. They were always sold, we didn’t keep them, except in some cases where we had them for life as pets until they passed away and that was always very traumatic.

When I was writing my journal, I was writing about ‘the why’. My father came through in it a lot. I was digging really deep into how my father was involved. It got really intense and I had a breakthrough. It made me really emotional discovering that connection between me and my Dad. It was that horses tie me to my father. I only ever went riding if my father was there. He’d saddle it, put the bridle on, did all the work. I just had to turn up.

When I was a kid I loved anything with horses on it. As a teenager my bedroom was filled with horse pictures, and horse paraphernalia. I was obsessed with them. I had a passion for them, like lots of other young girls, except I was fortunate to own one. At that time though, I had a fear of them, too. I was riding, but I had a fear of them because I didn’t understand them.

‘Fantasy’ is a word I think of with horses, they are kind of like a fantasy object. They are mysterious, I love their shape, the outline, the form, I love their…I love their…natural behaviours. Why they act the way they do in the wild. That’s why I photographed them unbridled, in their stark shape, it’s the only thing that makes them recognizable as a horse. It’s that outline that’s unmistakable.

Photographing them is my dedication if you will – to how I see and feel about horses. I haven’t tried to tell stories about the horses’ lives, but I have tried to tell a story about the horse’s character. I love the still horse, that’s what I’m exploring at the moment. It’s not about the movement. When it’s standing still is when it’s showing its presence. That’s what I’m attracted to, is its presence.

The Stromlo site supported the theme about presence. It’s a ruin of the old telescope observatory which was part of the Australian National University. It was situated in the forest that burned in the fires. The site has an echoy ambience. Oddly enough it still feels like a room. When you walk in, it has the entrance, the windows without glass and the roof is gone.

In that space – I imagined a horse blending into its environment, an unnatural environment. So when I put a grey horse in there against the concrete background, I could explore the idea of horses blending into unnatural worlds. And it showed me that I could use the same space with different horses. I didn’t have to go looking for different backgrounds. I wanted different horses, different types and different personalities to explore against the same background.

I should have brought my journal – that’s got all the details of the process including my emotions and difficulties.

The horse has its limits. You can’t keep asking and asking without giving it a little bit in return. So if I’m asking him to stand there for five minutes, I have to give him five minutes break in return. I can’t keep going give me more, give me more, give me more. I’m conscious of when I have to give him breaks. We’d usually shoot for about an hour because I felt like asking for more than an hour was too much for the horse, and the owner.

Even right at the beginning…when I asked Dad to photograph one of his horses – we got up at 7am to wash him, put him on the float and drive 40 mins to go to Stromlo. I thought, oh my God I’m asking so much of my Dad, this is so much effort.

Then other people were saying, that’s a lot of effort to do that. There was this one person that kept challenging my effort for it. I had the effort for it but they saw it as a major logistical challenge. You shouldn’t ask that of them, it’s too much, nobody is going to want to bring their horse up there.

It is a lot to ask of people: I put the owners out of their convenience, you have to trek up this winding hill, and I only had a short period of light before it went down in the evenings.

It was challenging me to say to myself, yes it is a lot of effort, maybe I shouldn’t do it, or yes, it’s a lot of effort, but maybe I should do it anyway because it’s worth it.

At the end of the day they loved participating and they’ve all told me they are really thankful to be a part of it. They enjoyed having their horse in the series, be out of its comfort zone and to do something interesting like that.

This horse project – no matter how logistically challenging it was, that took most weekends for the whole year, made me work with complete strangers and didn’t guarantee me any results – I knew I had to keep doing it to push through.

If I want to do something I will find the way to do it, if it means something to me.

For me it was a pleasure to get up on a Saturday and Sunday after full time work. And when I stopped because it was complete, I missed driving up there – my friends were my assistants, my generous helpers that were there for an hour or so to move the lights around, to give up their time to help me out. But we all had fun on the shoots even the toilet accidents from the horses were pretty funny!

It was just in somebody else’s eye that it was a logistical nightmare. To me it didn’t seem like a chore, because I loved it.

I still don’t know what I’m doing, but I know I want to continue doing it. I want to be on a large scale, doing my horse stories, my way. I feel like they are a subject I’m willing to trudge around for, to go to big extremes for, to make amazing stories, my way.

I was never meant to be an amazing horse rider, or trainer, but it’s me, photographing horses, in my way.”


Grace Costa‘s photographic exhibition HORSE is showing at the Nishi Gallery, Canberra

HORSE Exhibition

8HORSE Exhibition is almost here! I will be sitting the gallery Saturday and Sunday’s 11-3pm during the exhibition so come and say hello. Nishi Gallery open Wed-Sun 11-3pm. In the mean time please enjoy this lil clip of the making of HORSE. Exhibition is free entry