© rylan perry
FROM ASSISTANT TO PRO
Photographer Magdalena Wosinska learned everything
she could while assisting some of Los Angeles’s top
photographers, shot personal work every day to develop
her style, then pulled some all nighters to land clients.
By David Walker
After working neArly seven yeArs As A photo AssistAnt, MAgdAlenA
wosinska’s career as a photographer began to take off last year with assignments
for Dazed & Confused, silver jeans, lee jeans and Converse. the 28-year-old photographer says her transition was a matter of building a body of personal work with a
distinctive style, then working tirelessly to get it in front of potential clients.
Born in poland in 1983, wosinska came to the U.s. with her parents in 1991, and
moved to los Angeles when she was 20 to pursue photography. her one contact
there—photographer Joe torino—referred her to Art streiber, the editorial and advertising portrait photographer.
“he knew that Art is one of those people who will always take kids in, because the
more interns, the merrier,” wosinska says, adding that she learned a lot about lighting
from streiber. she also realized that as a female assistant, “you really have to hustle
twice as hard” as the guys. through contacts she met on streiber’s sets, she got assisting work from frank w. ockenfels 3, then eventually from Chris Mcpherson, hilary
walsh, Jeff lipsky, Jeremy and Claire weiss, and daniela federici.
wosinska says assisting was invaluable preparation, not only for learning technique, but also learning how to deal with clients and crew in a professional way. “if
you don’t assist and you jump right in and a really big problem occurs, you don’t know
what to do,” she observes. she says she learned the most from walsh, Mcpherson and
lipsky, for whom she assisted the longest.
“hilary is so calm. i have never seen her stressed on a shoot. And she has so many
different ways of shooting. she knows everything about lighting, she’s confident, she
makes it look easy,” wosinksa says. “she’s just so comfortable in her own skin.
“same with Chris. he has amazing technique. he’s one of those photographers who
knows ten times more than his assistants. Chris goes to workshops. he knows about
almost every computer program, every light, every camera that comes out. And he has
great rapport with his subjects.”
lipsky, she says, “is never stressed, and really good to his crew.” she continues,
“the better your team is, and the better you treat them, the better photographer
you are, and the more it’s going to work out for you.”
when wosinska was about 23, someone (she doesn’t remember who) told her
she had to shoot every day if she wanted to be a photographer. she bought a Contax
t2 point-and-shoot, but soon lost it, and bought another one. the second one had a
longer strap “and i swear that’s the reason i became a photographer. now that i had
that longer strap i had that camera around my neck every single day for three years.
it was right there—small enough, quick enough, fun enough to take pictures, and
that’s when slowly i started to think: ok, i’m a photographer.”
But she continued to assist, with a growing restlessness. “i was thinking: i’m get-
ting older, i don’t want to be a lifer. so i decided to put a collective body of work
together.” her goal was to produce a book by her twenty-sixth birthday.
with three days to spare, she self-published a limited-edition book called Bite It,
You Scum featuring her images of the skateboarders, musicians and other adventur-
ous, hard-partying twenty-somethings she had been hanging out with. “i realized,
ok, they’re all consistent. i have a style.”
the book had 120 pages, about 200 images and a hand-sewn binding. each cost
$250 to produce—far more than she would have spent if she had chosen other self-
publishing services like Blurb, but wosinska wanted production values that wowed
anyone who saw it, she says.
she booked flights to new york City, london and paris to show the book to po-
tential clients. “i stayed up until 3 or 4 in the morning before my trip to london, just
cold calling [photo editors and creative directors],” she says. she had trouble getting
meetings “because people didn’t know who i was. i couldn’t get an e-mail back.”
she ended up just leaving copies of her book with receptionists, pleading with
them to show it to creative directors. “you have to be pushy,” she says. “i couldn’t
get a meeting with Dazed & Confused, so i left my book there, and lucky for me, they
called a couple hours later and said, ‘we like your book, come on in!’”
soon she had an assignment, and some photographers she had been assisting
stopped hiring her as soon as they found out about it. “i was like, what do i do? how
do i pay my bills? i’m not cold calling people to assist for them! that put a fire under
my butt” to find clients of her own, wosinska says.
it took six months before she started getting advertising jobs. wosinska says she
survived the financial drought because “i never spend any money when i make money.
My expenses are food, gas, mortgage, my phone bill, health insurance and that’s it.”
to get the advertising jobs, she continued cold calling. she also printed promo-
tional mailers and sent e-mail blasts. “there are so many people shooting right now.
you have to work for it, and i still do that every day,” she says. (wosinska posts her
work on instagram, but shuns facebook and other social media to avoid comparing
herself to others and feeling inadequate, she says.)
she got an assignment for lee on a recommendation from a friend, Jen Jenkins
of the rep firm giant Artists. (giant doesn’t represent wosinska, however.) she had
connections at Converse through a modeling agency, and through her ex-boyfriend
ethan fowler, who skated for the shoe company.
© Magdalena Wosinska
Magdalena Wosinska’s photograph of some skater friends hanging out with model
Abby Brothers appears in her new book, The Grass Is Electric.