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Magda Wosinska – Fulfilling the Dream

Magdalena Wosinska grew up in the states after immigrating from Poland with her parents at a young age. Not speaking a word of English and overwhelmed by the American culture of the 90’s, she found herself at home in the misfit culture of skateboarding. Magda picked up a camera at the age of 14 and quickly started shooting the people and skaters in her surroundings. The dream of having a career in skateboarding photography never really panned out, but after pursuing a music career and ultimately making a name for herself in editorial and commercial photography it seems to be coming full circle. Her archive is filled with early images of skateboarding’s who’s who and full on industry legends from when they first appeared on the scene, all shot from her intimate viewpoint as one of the only women close enough . “Fulfilled the Dream” will be the title of her upcoming book project, showcasing the scene back then as well as her own development as an artist.

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Dustin Dollin – Mexico 2006

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Magda Wosinska

Hey Magda, where am I catching you right now?

I'm on my way from LA to the desert, Pioneertown.

To the Adobe?

Yes, the desert milk Adobe!

Such a beautiful place, I've been following the process on Instagram.

It's cool! Lot's of work, lots of maintenance, that's for sure! All Abobe really means is money pit. [laughs]

How did you first get into skateboarding?

I started skating when I was about twelve, mid 90’s. But it was not normal or cool back then, not anything close to what it's like for female skaters now. It was not encouraged, not looked up to, for women to skate. My dad at the time was a professor and told his class that his twelve year old daughter started skateboarding which at the time was so rare. One of his students told him that there are these things called “skateparks” so my dad started taking me to them. I would go every single day and try to ollie the pyramid and drop into the vert bowl. It was a really rough entry point. I got shoved at the skatepark by 40 year old guys and I was twelve! People would call you names like "You dike! You slut! You pro hoe!", and here I am saying "I'm twelve, I don’t even know what a penis looks like and why would me being a female skater identify with my sexual preference, plus there is nothing wrong with being a lesbian if I was one!?” It was a different time back then. Very homophobic and judgmental. But that usually came from randoms at the park. The people that were good to me in the skate scene were so good to me and they were like my brothers. They took me under their wing and we were a family of misfits. There was a huge sense of community there but it was really hard to break into that group. Once you're in it and you're around enough, you were like everyone's little sister. I was always the youngest person there and one of the only girls, I felt like I had to almost be a dude. I dressed like a guy, acted like a guy, was tough like a guy, drank like a guy. Maybe some of the guys would read this interview and be like "No, you didn't have to", but they wouldn't know the difference, because they were still men back then. I thought if I'm just like the guys nobody will fuck with me – nobody will even notice me, I could fit right in, into my little new found family. Psychologically it's wild looking back at it like that because since then Ive been trying to reconnect with my femininity and that’s been a challenging road. I had to grow out of boyhood.

So you didn’t really have any female role models?

There was Elissa Steamer, but when I was super young I didn't know who that was because there was no internet and I didn't have money to buy skate videos. Plus I was too scared to go to the skate shops to watch them. At 14 I got a camera. I slowly started shooting photos of all my friends in skating and then I realized if I'm skating with these people I might as well also have more of a reason to be there if I shoot photos of them. So I started shooting street skate photos around Phoenix AZ.

I was very outcasted in America as a young girl. I moved to the states from Poland in 1991 and I didn't speak a word of English. I was culture shocked by the American life, so I just leaned into skateboarding as a community of misfits. Looking back I think I cuss a lot because I grew up around skaters and I learned English by listening to Tupac and Eazy-E.

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Harold Hunter – late 90's

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Akwasi Owusu – Wallride 2020

"I ended up freestyle rapping with Harold Hunter at the end of a Zoo York video in the credits."

Who were some of your first subjects?

People I met at the skatepark. Jarrod Sabba, sickest skater ever. I would mostly just skate with these kids that were my age that were super fucking good! A crew called The Wet Boys. By the time I was 17 or maybe 18 I had a pretty decent portfolio of skate photos so I went to Big Brother or Slap, I can’t remember, I think it was Big Brother, and showed them my images. The photos looked exactly like the other male skate photographer’s photos from the 90s. Difference was they were shooting pros and I wasn't. So the guy I met with from the magazine said “ For us to run these images you need to be shooting pros. If you go on tour with these guys they'll either want to fuck you or they won't take you seriously ‘cause you are a chick." At that point I laughed and just said fuck it. I felt sooo defeated. Just to get that meeting alone, I had to work for months to save money for gas just to get out from Phoenix to LA! My dream was to shoot the cover of Thrasher. It's not just about a girl being on the cover, but also a woman photographing that cover. It's 2023 and we are only half way there… I've been trying to do this since 1995. But as time passed, some people started to see potential in my photos. Some of the first pros that actually trusted me were the guys from Black Label. Adam Alfaro, Patrick Melcher, Ragdoll, they actually let me come along on a skate trip to Vegas.

Back when I was a young girl people wouldn't take me seriously or know that I existed. Now that my career is in a totally different place a lot of people that would never have paid attention to me now respect me and would probably go shoot skate photos with me, funny how that works. Maybe it's because I shot a photo of Joachim Phoenix sitting on a skateboard for the cover of the New York Times and it got reblogged more than any photo they ran at the time. Shit like that makes me laugh, it should have been equal all the time. At times I still feel like I have to prove myself. All I want is a sick skate cover before I’m 40!

Would be amazing, let’s make it happen! Who do you shoot with these days? I saw you skate with Ryan Townley?

Ryan is the fucking best. He's my neighbor, he shows up, he's fucking down. My friend Andrew Peters told him I'm working on a skate book and he connected me to him and a couple skaters, because I'm not out there actively shooting skateboarding now so I don't know who is who the way I used to. Sitting at the bottom of a handrail with skateboards flying at my head for no money doesn't sound as fascinating at 39 as it did when I was 15 [laughs]. There are lots of cool dudes like David Reyes or Ryan, who aren't getting pissed and throwing their skateboards through a window and are down to trust me and do something cool for me to shoot a photo of them, those are my favorite kinda people. But overall my book is probably going to lean towards photos from the 90s and the 2000s, sprinkled in with some new work. I like the crappy skate photos from back then, all shot on film with my crappy fisheye that doesn't even look like a fisheye, because I was too poor to get a real one and bought a shitty adapter. Make do with what you have! Most of the photos in the book are the first photos I’ve ever taken!

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Eli Reed – 2012

"I dressed like a guy, acted like a guy, was tough like a guy, drank like a guy."

What's the process of putting the book together, do you have a final selection already?

Right now it's thousands and thousands of negatives to go through, I’m narrowing it down. I gotta go through a few decades of my life, but it’s exciting and nostalgic and I’m surprised what a wide variety of skaters I have in there. From the Shorty's crew, to Baker, to Ali Boulala, Ethan Fowler, Tom Penny, Austyn Gillette, Toy Machine crew, to ZooYork and Kareem Campbell.

Many known faces from back in the day have made it into our selection. Dustin, Ellington, Muska and more.

I know, people when they were kids before they had tattoos!

I think you definitely were capturing the rockstar era of skateboarding, something that does not really exist anymore.

Yeah for sure in the late 90s, early 2000's. I went to prom with Peter Smolik, he was my close friend and “Fulfill the Dream” had just come out. Brandon Turner was my best friend. We pulled up to prom in a white escalade and so much weed smoke flowed out of that car from Peter’s joint [laughs]. Times were different back then. From that it went straight into early 2000's Rock'n'Roll and everybody wore tight pants and skated to all the rock hits. When I was 21 I met Ethan Fowler at a house party in Long Beach. I bummed a smoke off of him and we ended up dating for almost a decade. When we met he looked like Iggy Pop, in a crop top, white platform boots and always wearing pencil tight pants before it was cool. He didn't give a fuck about looking like a skater and had such cool style of his own. He started skating to bands like Electric Wizard, stoner rock shit before any of these kids knew what stoner rock was. It was interesting to see who was ahead of the time in that rock n roll era and who grew out of it and was over it. The Cory Duffel days, he's a legend, the look and that vibe. So rock’n’roll and so cool.

Were you a part of the “Pissdrunx” days?

I knew Aaron Pearcey, because he's from Arizona. He’s the one that started the Pissdrunx. I grew up with Erik Ellington, we were always friends. I also knew all the Zoo York guys from a super young age, I ended up freestyle rapping with Harold Hunter at the end of a Zoo York video in the credits.

When you first got started, where did you pick up the technical skills of photography? There's a lot of technical stuff involved in shooting skating, getting the flashes dialed and everything.

When I was 14 I lied about my age to work at a cookie store in the food court of Fiesta Mall, in order to buy equipment. I eventually bought my favorite camera, a Nikon F5, flashes and pocket wizards. Shad Lambert really showed up and taught me about shooting with good light and flashes. The rest of the photographers were just kinda assholes. Shad helped pave the way for me and was very patient with my learning. Now I don't even want to shoot with flashes, I’d rather shoot with natural light and shoot more iconic photos. Depends on the spot obviously. These days I have people like Austyn Gillette who are super cool and say, "Hey try this angle." Skaters are picky with the way they look skating, but I’m stoked I get to collaborate with the skaters I shoot with now.

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Cowboy Josh – Kickflip

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Kenny Anderson – 2020

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Sammy Baca – 2022

"Austyn Gillette I wasn't friends with in the 90's because he was probably two years old."

Do you pay attention to skateboarding and what is being printed and would you want to get back into the skate photography game?

Not really. I don't follow it like I did. And I've never really looked at other people's work for inspiration, I'm always blindly going into it. I paid my dues 25 years ago for 10 years and nobody gave me the time of day back then and the only thing that changed between now and then is people are trying to be more inclusive. For me that ship's sailed, I can't go back for another 10 years trying to prove myself in skating. If it happens great, if it doesn't whatever. The book is going to come out regardless and it's just my version of viewing the skateboard scene in Phoenix, Arizona, through the eyes of a young teenage skater girl in the late 90s.

I just got my second paycheck for shooting a skate photo. I shot a wallride of my friend Akwasí [Owusu]. Thunder is using it for their catalog. I got a check for $150. I had to take a photo of it [laughs]. My second check ever in 25 years for a skate pic. The first time I got paid I shot a photo of Ethan doing a switch 180 over a rail into a bank for a RVCA ad and that was 15 years ago. I've gotten paid a total of $350 in 25 years shooting skate photos and probably spent thousands and thousands of dollars on film. At least I got a Thunder and a RVCA ad though!

Do you think if you did what you did 20 years ago today, things would be different?

Yeah I think I'd be killing it. There's so much more respect for women in skateboarding and if you show up and you're a chick it's not weird. I was an alien doing this in the 90s. I just shot something for “Core” water with a bunch of female skaters going to the Olympics and I was in tears. If I would have known 20 years ago that I'd be directing a commercial with a bunch of women going to the Olympics skateboarding, I would have never guessed it. It was not inclusive back then. Me photographing the metal scene in the early 2000s was not considered cool back then either. It's funny, now I can put out these books from an archive, because now it's fucking cool. It's old enough, vintage enough, metal is cool again, skateboarding is cool again.

Which people from back in the day are you still in touch with?

Chad [Muska] has always been a really positive person and given me positive feedback when I share my work on public platforms, we have a mutual respect as artists for one another. Same with Brandon Turner. We reconnected two years ago for the first time in 15 years and he just showed up as such a fucking legend. He's opening up these facilities for people with mental illness, he's a pilates instructor and he's sober and killing it in life. We were the same kids in the 90's and now we're the same type of adults. Austyn Gillette I wasn't friends with in the 90's because he was probably two years old, but he has been my friend for 13 years and is now one of my best friends. He's been consistently a person I adore and respect, one of my favorite people and best skaters. Kenny Anderson also is a good friend. Me and Ellington reconnected a few years ago because I posted a photo of him on Instagram when he was 16. Then I started shooting a bunch of stuff for “HRS”, his shoe company, and we made some really beautiful images together, that was really fun. He's really evolving in a huge way as an artist, it's really cool to see how people evolve and change and how we come back together when we're in the same place. Most of the people are sober now, taking care of themselves and their mental health.

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Dylan Rieder – 2006

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Unknown – Fs Flip

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Rick Eusey – Frontside Bluntslide late 90's

Ellington almost seemed a bit embarrassed about the “Pissdrunx” era in his Thrasher “Out There”.

Well, all of us did that, don't be embarrassed, it makes you who you are. The reason you're probably sober is because you went through all that shit. If you didn't go through that shit you might still be drinking. Maybe not excessively but enough to bum people out, including yourself.

People who grow up skating often seem to find success in other creative careers. You’ve built a great career in photography after stepping back from skating, how did that happen?

I moved to California to become a skate photographer but then I realized, "This is going to be really difficult to make money." When I met Ethan and we started dating, we started a metal band called “Green and Wood”. Our band started touring and I was positioning myself away from trying to shoot skate photos to shooting the music metal scene. While I was shooting that, I was shooting a little more of my friend groups and that's how I started shooting advertising. Skate photography not working out maybe was a blessing to have a more expansive career. Now I can still go out and shoot skateboarding if I want to, but not becoming a skate photographer full time allowed me to shoot everything. From music to running, beauty, jewelry campaigns to making art books, shooting street photos to photographing my elderly dying mother until the day she passed away and her becoming my muse in that process. It all cracked me open.