This Renowned Photographer Pulls Back The Curtain On Instagram Fame

In this day and age, careers can be made on Instagram. A certain look, feel, or hashtag might be all you need to get picked up by some advertising director or launch your “digital platform.” In an increasingly competitive marketplace, technique-driven, old school photographers often try to draw a clear line in the sand between themselves and pro “Instagrammers.” 32-year-old Polish native, Magdalena Wosinska, fearlessly straddles this line and thrives on both sides of the divide.

Her Instagram handle and hashtag, #TheExperienceVol1, act as a curated travel gallery — full of beautifully honest, visually poetic self-portraits — while her commercial and editorial work are a little more polished and clean cut. Living in a time when “everyone is a photographer,” means that even established pros have to adapt to social media, but Wosinska has proven up to the task.

In this week’s #TheMadOnes, the art star lays her feelings on the table. She talks freely about how it feels being mistaken for an “Instagram sensation”, what it means to be a creative person in 2016,  and how skateboarding got a camera in her hand.

How did you develop your particular style?

As far as what I’m shooting, I feel like I was always just curious about [showing] part of the adventure. It seems like you see a lot more people doing that kind of stuff nowadays because its accessible to showcase what peoples adventures are because of things like Instagram and such. But there have always been travelers and wanderers… either they write about it or take a picture of it. I just happen to be one of those people.

Is it a generational thing to share our adventures or are we just utilizing available technology?

It could be a little bit of both. It’s a generational thing but we’re also just utilizing technology, because now we have the access to show it. Also it might stimulate other people, because when you see other people’s work going on an adventure then everything is little more accessible and you can be inspired by it. Like, people didn’t even know some places existed couple years ago until they were easily and freely able to view them on the internet. The nice thing about Instagram is it’s all put in front of you, people don’t have to research it. If you’re following these travel guys and don’t know what to look for, flashes of these places are available to you.

What are your feelings toward he accessibility of photography now? 

A lot more people who weren’t visually capable to showcase their adventures, now can — because the fucking iPhone was invented and it has an amazing camera on it. Technically, everyone is a photographer, which is awesome. People who weren’t creative before now have this tool. People can use filters and make their pictures unique. People are more motivated to capture the moments around them and capture the lifestyles going on around them. All that helps other people learn from it. It’s an amazing time.

That, for sure, is a generational thing.

It’s insane how fast work is getting pumped out there —

It’s kind of crazy, you’ve gotta be up on your fucking game, man. There’s a huge difference though. I know a lot of great photographers who don’t have a huge Instagram following but they’re respected and more iconic than that. There are also the people who make a ton of money in advertising, they need to pump up their following. The one thing that really bums me out is when you’re classified as an Instagram photographer and it’s like “Jesus christ, I’ve been doing this for 15 years!” Thats so degrading for someone to say. I was on a conference call the other day and the creative director mentioned other times they’ve worked with “famous Instagram photographers…” and I was like, I’m sorry you need to stop. My rep had to step in (laughing).

I take my job seriously and I get paid for it and I take pictures because it’s fun but when it crosses over and it’s my profession that’s getting belittled, that’s kind of fucked up.

There seems to be a clear divide between what you have on Instagram and what’s on your site, is that intentional? Dividing up the aesthetic?

Oh yeah, you have to make it as different as you can. The advertising work, the fine art work, the fine art book, the prints, the Instagram stuff, personal work and side projects. There are so many different genres of a photographer’s life and ways that you can shoot. You have to be relevant in all of them. If you’re too commercial, you may make a lot of money but you’ll get lost in it, you’ll get bored. If you’re a fine art photographer, unless you’re incredibly lucky, you’re gonna be broke all the time. If you’re an Instagram person, you might get classified as an Instagram photographer.

[Instagram] is a very curated gallery for me. You have to make an effort to make things look good and look polished. If you have a certain following and a fanbase, they only want to see what’s there. I can’t post a picture of me and my friends hanging out because no-one’s going to like that. Not that I can’t but I don’t want to. That’s what a personal account is for. But at the same time I don’t want to post commercial work because, it’s a different thing…

I like having a series, it’s the most consistent series I’ve ever done.

I’m sure if you’re bidding on a job and trying to appeal to a certain client you direct them in different ways, right?

Everyone pretty much goes to my Instagram these days. But people care a lot about how many followers you have and it’s like…really? how does that judge how good I am at what I do? It’s a fucking popularity contest.

It’s social currency. If you see some Instagram celebrity at a party it’s hard not to be like, “Oh shit that dude has 500k followers.”

AND THEN YOU START RESPECTING THEM MORE! It’s so fucked up. You know what’s fucked up? In real life, I only have three friends. Three people I trust, beside my parents. Everyone else is just an illusion.

Does it feel like a façade?

I feel people that are adventurers, they make an effort to go there [unique places], but its weird now because people go places just to take a picture and put it on Instagram. I definitely take advantage of taking that picture but I’ve always been like that. I’m addicted to taking pictures, I always feel like I’m missing a moment. But 12 years before Instagram existed I was hyperactive like, “Oh fuck I need this photo.” Now people are putting too much emphasis on it.

But there is amazing work out there. Some people you can tell it’s authentic and it’s been their way of life for a long time and they never needed to prove that they were there, but now they started posting it and they have like a million followers. Seeing accounts like those make we want to go out there and do what I do. The people who would be doing what they’re posting anyway.

You have guys out there living in a van who would be doing it regardless. It’s a crazy collection of people but they’d be doing it anyway.

I wanna be part of a 69’ chenille car club. Girls that don’t know how to fix their own cars but pretend too (laughing).

It’s cool to be a part of these groups, it’s a crazy community. If you’re riding your motorcycle cross country and you breakdown in the middle of nowhere –– post that shit on Instagram and someone will probably come to your aid with a part that you need.

You might get some creeps though, I got my first dick pic the other day.

(Laughing) First ever? I’m surprised it took that long.

First ever. I’m surprised it took this long too but some dude sent me a picture of his boner. It’s so invasive. I don’t do anything vulgar or flaunting. It’s a different thing when some girl is naked with a little piece of lingerie like she’s got this look like she’s trying to fuck. It’s so different than taking a nude picture in a landscape in the middle of fucking nowhere.

At least that inspires people to travel. This vagabond mentality is huge these days, did you just tap into that or was it always you’re aesthetic?

I just can’t sit still because I’m too hyper, so I love traveling. I get bored to easily and I need to constantly be stimulated and so the reason why I wanna travel all the time is to get motivated and stimulated enough to take a picture. I’ve been taking pictures in L.A. for 11 years. I’m bored of taking pictures in L.A.. I’d rather go on a day trip or go on a road trip. Also there’s this urge, the more we know the world exists the more we want to explore it.

I wanna touch, taste, smell, eat, understand the culture. meet the people. Go to a weird land. See a new landscape. See what it’s like in different season. There are so many places I’ve been, but I just want to go back to see new parts of them or see new seasons there. I’ve had this desire since I was little, to explore. Often times you’re scared of what you don’t know, and so I feel like it started with wanting to know what I’m not comfortable with… but also when I was like 12 years old I started skateboarding and that culture revolves around travel to different spots.

Once you skate the spots in your neighborhood you go to the next town over and then the next town over from there. When I was like 13-14 I was saving up for gas money to go on skate trips with friends of mine that had drivers licenses. I eventually just started shooting photos of my friends.

So skating is what gave you the travel bug?

One of the first trips I went on was to go shoot skateboarding in Spain or France when I was like 17. That was amazing. I had my own apartment in Barcelona, taking pictures. After that it was like, “I guess I’m going to travel.” It all happened from skateboarding. Since then it was always, “Where do I go to next?” I also tend to hang out with like minded people that have that urge to travel. We combine our ideas and that’s awesome.

It seems now that everyone is into this wanderlust-adventure thing but I don’t think it’s just now. I think people that travel…travel. Theres still so many people that are like “Oh, I can’t” or “I don’t know what to do” but those people are not fucking resourceful. It doesn’t take a lot of money to travel. If you’re resourceful, you can make it work.

People are always like, “you’ve gotta be rich to travel.” Maybe, yes. If you want to go sailing on the Amalfi Coast. Yeah, you’ve gotta be rich for that. But if you’re not, you can look for deals online and stay in a hostel or camp. If you get to a certain country, bring a cooler, go to a grocery store, and get your own shit. You don’t have to eat out.

I did all of Iceland on a couple hundred dollars for two weeks. I just camped and ate a jar of peanut butter and paid for gas and a rental car. It was totally do-able. My flight was $160 round trip. You’ve gotta be good at it. Figure it out.

You’ve gotta be savvy for sure. But there’s no reason not to, I’m very big on that.

Some people have never left the state they live in. In Poland you drive a few hours and you’re in Germany. It does take a while to get anywhere from here. I think we’re just now recognizing this wanderlust because so many people have gotten so good at showcasing it.

Does Instagram help you travel?

Now? Sure. But as a photographer you can’t be scared to approach people and talk to them and ask them where to go and where to stay and where to eat. I’ve been doing all of this 12 years before I joined Instagram.

I’ve been taking nude self portraits wayyyyyy before Instagram. Some people think I’m just this model Instagram chick but do you know how fucking hard I try to get on a bridge and get butt naked and tell tourists to move only to have them call the cops because they think I’m going to commit suicide? It is a composed and curated situation, every time. You’re freezing, you’re in public, it’s not easy. It’s because I care. It’s for the book. It’s much bigger than Instagram.

What’s been the response to that work? Instagram puts everything out there. Commenters can be brutal, how has that affected your work flow?

Well people will always bash on anyone doing anything, especially when they can just hide behind their words and computers. I’ve had plenty of really negative comments directed to me or at me, but I just laugh it off and feel bad for that person for being so angry.

Do the guidelines of Instagram — rules and regulations surrounding nudity — affect how you shoot?

Of course. Instagram says no nudity so I can’t ever show too much. But it keeps it PG that way, which I don’t mind. Also you have to remember: I’m a photographer. I do this for a living. This is what I get paid to do, to live my life. I am NOT an Instagram photographer. There is a huge difference, so at the end of the day who cares about rules and regulations on an app for an iPhone? Those limits only come with this little application we call Instagram. The rest of my livelihood and work has no boundaries.

You’ve shot a Springsteen cover, you’ve shot Dave Grohl, David Lynch, Sasha Grey, John Baldessari… it’s an unreal list. Does it feel like you’ve made it?

No one ever “makes it” in photography. There is no such thing. You get different and new opportunities. Also shooting people with certain talents is not a means of making it. They are just people who happen to be good at something. You and I are also good at some things so maybe people should shoot us too and then we can ask them if they feel like they made it?

Is “The Experience Vol 1” an outlet for creativity to balance advertising work?

No, its just a fun side project. If you go to my site you will see there is a tiny tiny section called “advertising.” That’s the only place where my more commercial work goes. The rest is just me capturing real moments in my life.

You told me before that you’ve been doing that body of work for a long time and that you’d be doing it no matter what. Does it ever feel like work?

Well, sometimes it becomes difficult knowing that I’m addicted to this certain composition and how I view a nude form in a beautiful landscape and then I feel like O have to take the image. Not sure if it feels like work but it does feel like a need now.

How does travel play into what you do?

It’s everything. It inspires me.

The Mad Ones is a reference to a famous quote from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road: “…the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’”

Watch this series for interviews and profiles with people doing big, wild, bold, creative things with their lives. #TheMadOnes