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Magdalena Wosinska: 20 Year Issue

Monster Children

January 6, 2025

by Sam Hetherington


Magdalena Wosinska: 20 Year Issue

To make it in skateboarding, you have to be at least kind of good at skateboarding. 

Magdalena Wosinska is exactly the type of person I would expect as a woman who has succeeded and excelled in creative fields dominated by phallic imbeciles. She is straight to the point, passionate, undeniably talented and knows how to squeeze the most out of this silly little thing we call life. She gives a fuck about things she should give a fuck about but nothing else. You have to be if you want to be taken seriously as a female skate photographer and the lead in a punk band started at the age of 40. While her portfolio of photography subjects has expanded in the same way life does, there is something in skating that keeps bringing her back. For me as a young female, talking to Magdalena Woskinska was equal parts inspiring as it was soothing. She put into words the feelings of being impatiently young with lots to prove, caring a lot about your art, existing in a world where you are the minority and wrapped it into a wise take on going after what you want. Layer that with the nuances of being an immigrant and complexity of family and you’ve got the bones of a good story, only it’s not a story - it’s Magdalena Wosinska. 

The first question I have for you is where were you in 2003?

Magdalena: I was in Phoenix, Arizona, busting my butt off, saving money, working like three jobs so I could move to California to fulfill the dream of being a skate photographer.

Amazing. And where are you now?

In Los Angeles, California, working on a book about skateboarding of photos I shot from 1994 till now.

I like it. So you've kind of lived the dream, I guess.

Yeah, I fulfilled the dream, kind of.

And what came first for you, photography or skating?

Skating came first when I was 12, photography came second when I was 14.

Yeah, okay. And did you always have the ambition to be a skate photographer or did you just wanna do photography in general?

When I moved to America from Poland in the early 90s, I had to find a way to like be a part of something. I felt very outcasted as an immigrant from communist Poland and Eastern Europe. The culture was so different there, resources were very limited. When I moved to America, I didn't feel like I belonged ever. I still don't feel like I belong even though I've been here for 32 years. My personality is very different [than Americans] even though I've lived here my whole life because it comes from my ancestors, you know, and it comes from my family and how I was raised. But when I moved to America, I think I found skateboarding because it was a way of finding a family to belong into. And then when I started taking pictures, it was almost like my passport to connect with people. It gave me a reason to be somewhere. I'll be able to give back to the community, but also have a reason to be there. So it was like my way of connecting. And it was also like almost a replacement for the language because obviously when I first moved here, I didn't speak English and it was difficult to connect with people, being Polish, having a weird name, having older parents, eating weird food, dressing in a certain way. And then as I started to speak English, I still didn't have the confidence to feel like an individual and an independent person, but pictures allowed me to almost be like my language.

Yeah, amazing. And are you still in contact with all of the original skaters that first brought you into that community?

Well, it's interesting because I did the skate photography thing from like 14 to 20. Then I went to Big Brother and I showed them all these photos. I saved all this money to drive to LA and have an interview with them. I was so excited to show them all this work I was doing for so long and they were like ‘there's no pros in this photo, so no one's gonna take you seriously. Plus you're a girl, and if you wanna go on tour, they'll either wanna sleep with you, or they won't take you seriously because you're a chick.’ And that was it. I was devastated, I was so bummed. I just drove home in tears, a casual seven hours back to Phoenix, Arizona.That discouraged me a lot. I started playing in a metal band from 20 to 30 so I was still around skaters a lot but in my mind I was like, man, I still never like, fulfilled my dream of being a skate photographer. I wanna shoot the cover of Thrasher! Then I shot my first skate cover in the beginning of this year for Solo Mag.

Then I started working on the skate book. In the last five years, it’s brought me back in contact with skaters I’ve lost touch with for twenty years because I have to hit them up and be like, ‘are you regular or goofy? What was this trick that you were doing because if you're regular it makes it all different you know what I mean?’ People grew up and grew apart, but we always had this connection, this little misfit family together, no matter where we are in the world. That's what skateboarding is, it's family.

Are there any women a part of that mix at all? Or it's just you?

It was such a different world. In the ten years of skating in Arizona, I maybe came across like three other women outside of my best friend, Lauren. So nonexistent for girls. So I felt again outcasted, even though it was in a family of misfits. I still felt like a misfit in that family. You just had to be a dude.

Wow and you said before when you went to the magazine, presented your work and they said, oh, you're a girl - have you heard that a lot in your life?

Oh, so much. I wonder, reflecting back, did I just choose this harder way of living because I liked the challenge? I've heard it my whole life. Skateboarding was one thing but then I played guitar in a metal band from twenty to thirty in the early 2000s. There were definitely female musicians all over the world, but there weren't a lot of female musicians playing guitar in a metal band. Like a heavy,  psych rock doom metal genre of music. So it was you have to become a dude again. Everyone always thinks that you're the merch girl or somebody's girlfriend. You walk in to do soundcheck and you show up on stage with a guitar and they're like, what, why are you here? 

On that whole cultural change, we've obviously progressed a lot in twenty years but what has stayed the same?

I think it's still a boys club. Sometimes I still have to fight to do my job. Sometimes if you arrive and you're a boss on set, you're automatically associated with being a bitch. Whereas a man is  praised for showing up with confidence and people like wanna show up for him. A woman is automatically not taken as seriously. It's a sign that we're insecure when we know what we want or we're too demanding. And it blows my mind, because if I have a penis, you guys would totally treat me differently. There's definitely times where I have to fight to do my job as a woman.

I can relate to that as a female still playing in the boys club myself.

Yeah and you know, it's also interesting because as much community as there is amongst women, it's almost woman to woman sometimes too. A woman would respond and react differently to a male artist leading a group of two hundred people on a photo set than they would to a female. It's super interesting. My parents were both psychology professors, so I'm very analytical and I love human behavior, psychology and watching how things happen. I've been observing it for a very long time, and it comes from all angles.

Getting into the technical parts of photography, what was your first camera?

I think it was like a Nikon. I got a job at the food court at the mall when I was 12. I lied about my age, told them I was 16 and I worked there for four years to save up to buy my first camera. It was a Nikon F5 because it had eight frames a second to shoot sequences. It was a very big deal for a fourteen, fifteen year old to buy on their own. I mean, it's still a big deal now when I'm forty

What comes first for you, the story or the photograph?

Are those different? Because I don't know if they are for me.

That's a good answer.

Yeah, the story is the photograph and the photograph is the story and sometimes you have a photograph that tells a thousand words and tells a whole story and sometimes it's told to a couple pictures but I think you see something and then you take a picture and maybe that's when it becomes a story. It's the process.

And when did you sort of feel like you sort of became within your own right as a photographer?

Being a photographer is one thing, but being an artist is another thing. And maybe I'll speak more to the artist side. Artist is a title that is earned, not given. People take it way too quickly and give it to themselves without earning it. I think it takes a lot of time and mental, emotional connection to your work to become an artist. And I think I started taking myself seriously as a photographer who is an artist, just in the last couple of years, when I was able to express my emotions through my pictures, especially with projects that have taken a long time, like photographing my mother for like the last eight years of her life till she passed and really showing up and showing a story of life. Having a book in 2018 be put in the MoMA Museum and the artist section, that was a really big deal. But even then, I didn't feel like I was an artist yet because I didn't know if people could relate to my work. 

Can you tell me about that project with your mum?

I moved out of my house at twenty. I probably was a very rebellious teenager and me and my mom probably hated each other. I don't remember. I don't remember my mom the way I wished I could remember her. And when I was twenty four, one day I was at work shooting photos and I got a call that she had a stroke. I remember being like, fuck, how do I go see her? I'm too broke to even fly home. She was paralyzed and in a coma and when she came out of the coma, she only spoke French. She thought she was in Nazi Germany and she thought it was 1942. She didn't remember me, my boyfriend at the time, my dad or my sisters. Before the stroke I was building my own life, my own independence, my own career but then I started seeing the fragility of life. I had this need to capture this the best I can before it's over. When she had the stroke, she just hid from the world and didn't wanna be seen. She didn't want anyone to remember her as a cripple, as she would say. Slowly she'd let me take her picture though. That became a thing that was a love language between the two of us. She started to think wow, my daughter doesn't think I look crazy cause half of my face is paralyzed and like food comes out of my mouth like when I eat, you know? She started seeing the fact that being different was okay. It developed into this beautiful connection and relationship. 

That is a very beautiful story. How special. On that, with your family and being from Poland - is there something special about Poland that you'd like more people to know?

I've always been spoken about as an intense person and I think that the English word for intensity has a negative connotation to it, where I think I'm just a passionate person. When I go to Poland, I feel at home because a lot of people are intense. When we speak we are direct, we're blunt, and here it's considered to be harsh, because we just don't have time for bullshit. In American culture, people are like, hey, how are you? And no matter what the other person is going through, they will answer 95% of the time, I'm great, how are you? Even though they just got diagnosed with cancer or their mom just died. In Poland, when someone's like, hey, how are you? They're really asking me, and I'm like I'm kind of fucking bummed right now, I just got dumped yesterday. So Poland has this great reality to human connection from what I know.

We talk fast. We're to the point. We have a dry sense of humor. Also Poland is just a great place that's booming with art right now. Lots of film and music, punk bands, black metal bands, all sorts of stuff and amazing food. Lots of skate spots because of all the marble ledges because of the Communism development too. 

Definitely selling Poland to me for sure. You mentioned punk. What's, I know you just had a show last week. Tell me about your punk band.

I played in a metal band called Green and Wood from twenty to twenty nine, and then when I quit that band I was like, fuck playing music, fuck these people. It was a dark time, it was very barbaric. So I didn't touch a guitar for eleven years. When you don't play guitar for eleven years, like you lose it, you fully lose it. But then two years ago  I started playing with other people that were like let's do it. A couple of girls. We started this band as kind of  a joke. Then I was like, my fortieth birthday coming up, you guys down to play a show and write enough songs for the show? So then we played a show and over a hundred-something people came. It was so fun. My friends came up to me and they said, Magda, God, that was a lot better than I thought it was going to be. And I was like, what did you guys expect? A friend of mine is good friends with the Foo Fighters so we ended up sharing the videos with them and they were like, holy shit your band rules! You need to record in our studio! So now we’re off to record at Foo Fighters studio for three days which is hilarious because I was like A. I'm not a musician. B. This is just for fun but fuck it. Let's make a punk record when I turn forty. Why not? I don't want to oversell it because it might fucking suck, but hopefully it's cool because everyone that's in the band is a really good musician. If anything, I'm the weakest link. I'm the only one that's not a musician, but I think it'll be fun. 

That is so cool. Are there any goals left to aspire to achieve that you haven't yet?

Well, my skate book is gonna come out at the end of this year or early next year, so I'm having a big solo show. So getting some things dialed in for that, getting the book out this year, getting my Mom’s book out the next year or two after that, and then writing a script for a feature film about the relationship between my mother and I. The biggest goal is the movie. I have no idea what the fuck I'm doing when it comes to movies. I'm super intimidated, I'm really excited, but I don't know what I'm doing. So those are goals. Yeah.

Just keep moving the goalpost, don't you?

Well the cool thing that I realized as I've gotten older is patience plays a huge role in my life. And you know, like when I wanted to make a movie, I was like, I gotta do it by the time I'm thirty five. When I wanted to make a skate book, I wanted to do it four years ago, but it took me four years to do it. And it took me eight years to make my mom's book. So now I'm like, If this gig book doesn't come out this year, fuck it. It'll come out next year. If I don't make a movie for the next five to ten years, fuck it. We have this programming in our culture now that it is like, do it now and do it faster and do it better. Why are you rushing something? You can't force what's not natural. Take your time and make sure you're making good art.

Patience, that's definitely some advice that a lot of people need including myself.  If you could give your 2003 self some advice other than patience, what would it be?

I think I would have just given myself a little bit more credit of being like, hey, fuck yeah, you're doing a really good job. You don't need to be insecure and don't over function or don't show people what you can offer them so they can love you because you're good enough just by existing exactly how you are. 

Back yourself. Everyone needs to hear that from themselves sometimes, hey?

Yeah, because so many of us are always figuring out who we are, especially when we're teenagers or young adults. Just be okay being you. It’s good to have discipline, but don't overdo it to prove something.

Of all the industries that you sort of dabble in, photography, skate, punk - what would you like to see in those industries moving forward?

I think people need to just kind of really try and hone their own style and craft. We're super overexposed to information on the internet and seeing so many other people's work. I have a weird thing where I don't really look at other people's work because I never want to feel like I'm taking from someone else's work. I want to be inspired by my eyelids closed and dream of something or walk outside and see something and pay attention to human behavior. Also I think people need to be less eager to just make it. Young kids have so much pressure to make it and they also expect to get paid the same day rates I get paid as a 40 year old. Be humble, chill the fuck out, and work for it. 

Yeah and speaking about honing in your own kind of style -  in the office you are notoriously known for (amongst many other things) the bum photos. We'd just like to know when did they  start?

I think growing up being exposed to fashion magazines and the culture surrounding that, you see all these people put together in a specific way. They're wearing these Chanel outfits on the cover of Vogue, you know. That's what you look at as a teenage girl, whether you have a choice or not, even if you're a skater. I don't think I'll ever be able to afford that shit. Looking at these magazines and the look it portrays isn’t achievable. When I started taking photos I needed to practice taking photos of people so I took photos of myself. I didn’t have nice clothes. Everyone's going to know that I don't come from money but if I get naked, no one can tell if I'm rich or poor. If I'm naked, you can't judge me. Even though, on that, people have judged me for twenty years because nudity is over-sexualized in American culture. It is such bullshit because you go to any cathedral in the world and it's just like little naked boys and angels on the roof, nude women with their plump breasts. Helmut Newton shoots women nude, but when I do it in my version, I get judged for that. Not only am I photographing women naked as a woman, I'm photographing myself as a photographer naked and it's still judged. Yet the series came from not a judgment of social class. It's about being free in a landscape and they're definitely not easy pictures to take. Swimming across a freezing cold river to stand on a glacier fucking sucks. It's definitely an art. It's not, hey look at my butt. I started the series twenty years ago and I'm going to do it until I'm ninety nine, old and saggy.

Yep, love. What is your favourite subject to document?

Recently it's been elderly people. The conversations with those people are fascinating, especially when they have Instagram accounts, websites and are current in modern time but they're super smart and say things like back in World War II.  I'm just fascinated with connecting with people that have been around a long time and  like, yeah, I saw Led Zeppelin in 1974. I'm like, cool, tell me about it.

We definitely don't give them enough credit for the stories and the knowledge that they have for sure.

I highly encourage people to ask their parents questions and their grandparents questions, because I have learned so much about myself and why I am the way, the great things and the shitty things. 

Absolutely. On figuring it out, what has been your biggest fuck up?

I haven't had a fuck up.

Wow, that's impressive.

No (laughs). Lots of fucked up things but it happens for you, not to you. Even if it's against you, it's a lesson.

Okay last question, what is Monster Children to you?

Well, Monster Children has been a great opportunity to feel involved as a female photographer in something that was such a male-dominated world. It’s amazing I’m even talking to you as a woman. When I first saw it was with Sam I automatically thought it was a guy. 

Yeah I do that on purpose. I mean I don’t need to tell you but people interact with you differently when they think it’s a guy on the other end right? 

For sure. One of the first photographs the mag published of mine was in 2013 with a bunch of girls naked, me included. It wasn't considered nudity the way some people overlook it and forget that it's art. Being able to have a publication take me seriously as an artist, as a female that was photographing herself nude in a tasteful way was really amazing. So Monster Children was a sense of being seen, understood, and supported.

I love to hear that. 

Now I just need to shoot a skate photo cover for you.