Skip to content
Something You Need: Magdalena Wosinska On Her New Skateboarding Photography Book, ‘Fulfill The Dream’

Monster Children

by Wes Glover

April 2, 2024


Something You Need: Magdalena Wosinska On Her New Skateboarding Photography Book, ‘Fulfill The Dream’

Picture this: A fourteen-year-old girl has just immigrated to America from Communist Poland.

It is the mid 90’s and she learns English by listening to Eazy-E and Tupac. She finally gains the courage to skateboard to her high school in Tempe, Arizona, only to be mocked and laughed at for being a girl pretending to be a skater, pushed and shoved for being a female immigrant attempting to fit in with a male-dominated gang of misfits. How does she find belonging — in what codes does she speak to communicate that she is not in fact an alien, that she is one of them?

This is the story of photographer Magdalena Wosinska. “The word opportunity back then didn’t really exist for a girl in the skate scene. So, looking like a little boy was easier… It's ironic in the end because women gave birth to the men that told us we couldn’t be part of their world.” For Magdalena, her camera was her first language, her invisibility cloak, “people had their guard down around me, and the photos in this book capture the world of skaters through the eyes of a little girl.”

Fulfill the Dream features photographs of Austyn Gillette, Harold Hunter, Ed Templeton, Ali Boulala and many other influential skaters, but looking at the intimate portraits and raw recording of lost innocence, the book becomes so much more than just an examination of skateboarding’s subculture. It is the odyssey of a young girl’s attempt to find belonging in a world of outlaws. In one of the most arresting images she took, we see a motley crew of forty men shot from afar, skaters holding cans of Budweiser as they huddle around a mini ramp in someone’s backyard. I imagine Magdalena walking through the backyard gate as if entering the pit of the colosseum, a teenage girl navigating her way amongst gladiators, her camera her only defense and a passport to this tough community.

Could you talk about your early experiences entering a male-dominated world of skateboarding as a young girl?

When I came here, I felt like the one way to belong to something was to be a part of a group of misfits. But even in that group of misfits, when you're a girl, you're even more of a misfit. I mean, the skaters back in the 90’s were assholes, and if you were a girl skating, something was weird about you.

When I started shooting photos at fourteen, it gave me a reason to be there. It was my passport. But I skated every day too. My attitude was like “If you're going to heel flip, I'm going to learn how to heel flip. If you drop in the bowl, I'll try.” I didn't have mentors, especially female ones.

Did you ever feel like you were received into the skate community?

When you’re a little kid at a skatepark, you’re treated like a nuisance. Huge dudes in their 30’s would bump into me, skate past me and knock me down. Still, I kept going. But there were guys a couple of years older who treated me like family and they were the first people who let me take their pictures.

After I kind of proved myself in Arizona, I wanted to shoot for skate magazines. Nobody would take me seriously because I had never shot professionals. When I came to LA for meetings and said “hey, let me shoot for Thrasher or Big Brother,” they told me no one is going to take me seriously because I’m a girl and I’m also not one of the great skate photographers of the time. I was working three jobs as a waitress and working at a food court in the local mall just to afford film while trying to go to school and skate every day. It took a lot of hustling and resilience. But the family that took me in, the skaters in Arizona, they're the ones that were like ‘OK, you're one of us.’ After 10 years of shooting skate photos I said you know what? I'm not going to try and prove my worth to these people that don't take me seriously. So, I started a metal band! I played guitar in a metal band for ten years in my 20’s.

Your perspective in these early photos feels remarkably developed for a fourteen-year-old. Were there other female photographers that you looked up to?

There was no internet, right? I didn't know female skaters like Ellissa Steamer. There were no photographers shooting for magazines where I lived in Arizona, they all lived in California. There were people that showed up and were willing to help me, but it was very few and far between and it was really difficult for anyone to take me seriously. It’s funny, I'm 40 now and I still weirdly feel that way. Throughout my career, I never thought it was because I was a woman, but it is! It sucks to say that, but it fucking is. Some people still don’t take me seriously.

I was one of the first females to shoot for Harley-Davidson. I shot the cover photo for Solo Mag of Austyn Gillette doing a backside smith grind. I don't think a girl's ever shot the cover of that magazine. Has a girl ever shot the cover of Thrasher? I would love to be that girl, but people still don’t take you seriously and I am kind of tired of trying to prove myself. I am just going to make cool work and if people like it, fine, if they don’t, they can go fuck themselves.

When you hustle like this, you become an extremely masculine, almost alpha personality, and it doesn’t end up serving you. I would just like to be a woman without having to prove my value by having masculine energy. I'm still in this place trying to find acceptance. Releasing this book felt so cathartic. I cried. Having the upcoming show and inviting everyone from that time to come, maybe it feels like I finally belong. I feel like all of us at one point have felt like we don't belong. To have community and be able to support one another, that’s beautiful. To shoot these photographs and then thirty years later make a book about it feels special.

There is a photo in the book of forty skaters, all of them grown men, huddled around a mini ramp in someone’s backyard. Seeing that photo and trying to put myself in the shoes of a teenage girl walking through the backyard gate feels terrifying. Were you comfortable in that environment?

It’s one of the few photos in the book that’s taken from afar. I was so scared walking in there. It was taken from afar because I was not ready. But I think I have set up my life to always take risks, I have nothing to lose. What’s going to happen? Yeah, you're not going to fit in. You already don’t fit in, so what the fuck? I found the photograph of Cedric and the accompanied text deeply moving. It is a photograph of this young, innocent-looking boy you knew, your first kiss, and you write that he went on to murder someone a few years after the photograph was taken. It reads like a story Dennis Johnson would have published.

I mean that story was insane because I showed how young we both were. I shaved my head and had orange hair. That photo was taken when he was 14 and I was 13 or I was 14 when he was 15. A year later he killed somebody. The photograph encapsulates the world of skateboarding and how some of the misfits end up being these very scary people at a really young age. Cedric was tried as an adult and is still in prison today. The world can start to be a very scary place at an early age outside of your home. You encounter so much trauma. When I was working on this book after being a photographer for so many years, it struck me that I wasn’t influenced by other people, I was influenced by my environment. I wasn’t looking to other photographers to find my style. I just sat down, looked to the left, somebody leaned over, smiled, and I snapped a photograph.

Were there any surprises looking back?

I don’t remember taking the cover photo for the book. I wanted to use it because it was of this very cool skater who had great style. He is holding a flower to his nose and it feels so dainty. Back then, skateboarding was tough and quite homophobic, you know, and this felt very fluid. I love that.

Some of the pictures I took while I was wasted too (laughs). How did I get my shit together to run around with an expensive camera when everything around me was so debaucherous? Clearly I was addicted to photography.

Do you have any advice you could offer to female photographers trying to break in?

Don’t be afraid of your own resilience. You have more power than you think, so don’t let rejection get to you. I’ve been rejected on a daily basis my entire life. That’s what being a freelance photographer is. I lose work all the time. I get disappointed all the time.

Learn, learn, learn. Take your time, be patient. Expectations are great, but make them realistic.

Why Fulfill The Dream?

Fulfill the dream was a famous skate video in the late 90’s with Chad Muska, Brandon Turner and Peter Smolik. I ended up becoming friends with them when they were in their prime. The film is a time capsule of that era. Two of my friends, the McQueen brothers, the designers of this book, were like “Well, you know, your dream was always to be a professional skate photographer and now you're making a skate book. You fulfilled your dream!” (laughs) I have a lot of dreams and that's one of them. I fulfilled that dream.