Danika Magdelena: “As long as we’re vibing” – Rising photography star shares her story

FSC Interview – Danika Magdelena

Whether you’re scrolling through your Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook nowadays, it’s easy, in amongst the odd double tap, like and follow, to miss some posts which just fail to catch your eye. More than ever it takes something special to draw your attention, and your following.

Over the last year, photographer Danika Magdelena has shown that something special time and again. Through her @sirius.film Instagram and @MaddoLuu Twitter, Danika has shared her unique style: a candid, behind the scenes look to every shot, with the added style that comes through only on film cameras like her Nikon SLR.

In 2020, Danika captured the likes of Maya Jama and J-Hus regularly, as well as brands like Gucci, Reebok and Nike with her signature style. But what really caught our eye at FSC was her move into football photography, with shoots for teams and brands like Arsenal and adidas, as well as individual shoots for Héctor Bellerín, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Jill Roord.

We were grateful to get the chance to chat with Danika about her style, her work and her future projects in football and beyond, talking via Zoom just days after another football-related launch in the shape of a facetime shoot with Tottenham’s Davinson Sánchez. But despite the success Danika is experiencing right now, photography was not always necessarily her original career plan.


Forging a path one connection at a time

“I’ve always had an interest in taking photos and I was always into art when I was in school, but, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I used to want to do fashion, maybe, and design and stuff. But I wasn’t even that good at it either. So I didn’t actually know what I wanted to do with my life.” But after taking a photography course at A-Level, and then an Art Foundation course, a career behind the camera began to take shape. Yet, Danika claims that while these courses focused her path towards photography, this is not where “I developed my love for it.”  

“I didn’t like the way that the courses were taught, necessarily. It was very like, ‘oh, here’s a photographer’s work from the past, copy it, and interpret it in your own way’. And I always thought ‘Okay, that’s not working for me, either’.”

So while undertaking these courses, Danika also began taking the initiative to organise her own shoots, photographing friends and family at parties, or reaching out to people on Instagram. 

In her own words, this experience was “trial and error” but it allowed Danika to hone in on her now signature style using a film camera. “I’d go to parties with my film camera, because I did like film from the beginning. I’d always taken family photos in film, and was always fascinated by it. I wanted to know, what is this medium of shooting, so I was always taking the pictures on film, and mixing in a little bit of digital photos for the cost. But overall, that was the aesthetic.”

“I was always developing my craft outside of education.” And in taking time to learn and develop outside of her courses, Danika also built connections with those she shot. “I feel like my relationships with people have definitely helped me a lot. Doing a good job is important, but I definitely think the connections that you make with people will stick in their mind more, like how easy you are to work with and just how you work in general. I think that’s important.” 

The connections Danika makes with all of those she photographs is clear, with the shots portraying an heir of confidence or ease within the subject. Having started by taking pictures of friends and family, it seems clear that this natural rapport carries over when Danika is taking pictures of Harry Kane or Pernille Harder. For her, it is all about “vibing” with the subjects of her photos. 

“I guess it’s just kind of making them feel comfortable enough to just be themselves because that’s what I really want from someone when I’m shooting them. Just be comfortable. Be yourself. I’m not really into like, ‘oh pose like this and do that’. As long as we’re vibing, I’m sure you feel comfortable enough for me to just get the shot in a candid way.” 

The modern footballer

And now working within the world of football photography, Danika making the players feel comfortable is an especially important skill. “Because footballers are athletes, they’re not models. So I feel like they get a little bit nervous. Like, they don’t really know what to do in front of the camera.”

One way that the players can also be put at ease is by following the example of their more experienced and fashion conscious teammates. On the Arsenal kit launch – Danika’s first shoot in football and one which came about as a result of the connections and Instagram messages she had sent out while studying – it was Héctor Bellerín who led by example.

“Someone like Bellerín, he’s used to being in front of the camera. Because I shot him before in LA on his own we were able to develop a friendship, so shooting him is easy I guess because we know each other now. I feel like he actually has quite a good influence on the team with his fashion and stuff from what I’ve seen in interviews, and how they act and all that kind of stuff.”

And from this, some of the players on the Arsenal shoot even began to take an interest in the photography itself, as well as their modelling duties. “I feel as though they have an interest in being shot in a way that is, like, more cool now, and I think they like film as well, because some of them have film cameras. And I do remember seeing some disposable cameras lying around as well. So I think now that they have this interest, maybe it’s leading them to feel more comfortable in front of the camera.”

As long as we’re vibing, I’m sure you feel comfortable enough for me to just get the shot in a candid way.

Danika Magdelena

Bellerín is amongst a host of players actively engaging in the world of fashion now, and while the Arsenal kit launch and pre-season tour was Danika’s first step into football, many of her shoots with players now have no football shirts in sight, with players instead opting to show off their own style, or the threads of a fashion brand. One player to do this with Danika in 2020 was Dominic Calvert-Lewin, or “DCL”, who was another natural in front of the camera for a @gauchoworld shoot.

“it was just really free. And I think it was because he has that fashion sense already, he knew what he was doing. And it made it easier to work with him in that way. He was super friendly and chill.” 

The photographs with DCL were also Danika’s first Facetime shoot, and she described the process as being “really free.”

Strength through adversity

Of course, the reason that Facetime shoots were even a thing was down to the COVID-19 pandemic. Reflecting on that period comes with mixed feelings for Danika, as alongside the hardships of lockdown, she was also able to pursue new projects and grow her following base.

“It’s been strangely good. Not the pandemic itself, which is obviously completely awful. But in terms of work, surprisingly, it did help me a lot because it felt like everyone was just online during this time, because obviously there’s nothing to do so. I felt like a lot of people were starting to pay more attention, I guess, to the art that they were seeing. At first I was only even releasing old work. I couldn’t do any shoots on film, because there was no way to really develop photos at first at the time. So yeah, I just had to wing it.”

“And then slowly my followers were just going up. Then obviously the Black Lives Matter movement took off at one point in the summer and I think from then as well, people were trying to make more of an effort to highlight black creatives. My work was just getting shared all over the place, and I just started to notice different people coming in. Then as soon as I could work again, things were just getting good. Like my first shoot was with J-Hus, so that was a good way to come back.”

As Danika brought up the Black Lives Matter movement, and the push for more black creatives to be recognised that this created, it is hard not to address the fact that she is now working in an industry – football photography – that is heavily dominated by white males. 

“Yeah, I noticed that,” she replied laughing. So as a black woman progressing in this industry, does Danika see what she’s doing as trailblazing a path for other young women? “I guess so. I mean, because I didn’t really know at first what the football industry was like, because I had never been in it. But when I was working around it, I did notice there were a lot of people that, yeah, don’t look like me in these positions. It’s cool though, because everyone’s treated me with respect and everything. But it would be good to see more representation and opportunities for everyone to be shooting like this.”

But a clear barrier to these opportunities appears to be the lack of a clear path into the industry, which makes Danika’s example all the more important. Her story of reaching out to people, taking chances and creating a unique style has shown that it can be done. But that does not mean that it cannot be made easier. “I don’t even know how you gain access to this industry? If I didn’t do it the way I had done it, I wouldn’t know how. So I guess it’s about making it more accessible for people, and I do think it’s good to be able to be some kind of inspiration to people.”

Girls Don’t Cry

One way that Danika hopes she can continue blazing this trail is through her Girls Don’t Cry project. The project began in 2017 with the aim of providing a platform for women, creatives and the discussion of mental health. With much of it’s work put on hold as a result of 2020’s lockdown and a rapidly increasing work schedule, Danika hopes that she can return to the project and incorporate her growing popularity within the music, fashion and football industries. 

The idea of empowering women is also something that Danika brings into her photography. Within the world of football, many of her personal shoots have been with players from the Women’s game, including Arsenal’s Jill Roord and Leah Williamson. On Williamson, Danika notes that she’s one of her favourite footballers to shoot with. “In terms of footballers who have been lovely to work with, I really like Leah.” And on those within the women’s game as a whole, she describes the shoots as more “chilled”.

This perhaps makes her work with Arsenal all the more relevant given the club’s recent history of promoting the Arsenal Women’s team alongside the Men’s team, both financially and in marketing promotions. Last month’s ‘Then and Now’ campaign with adidas, for example, included Vivianne Miedema, Sophie Cately and Daniëlle van de Donk alongside Thomas Partey, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and David Luiz. 

“It was nice working with both teams [Arsenal Men and Women]. I like that about Arsenal, because obviously, they’re promoting the Women’s team, and they are, like, so good! So I feel like it is important for them to get that shine as well.” But while Arsenal lead the way in this respect, more clubs need to follow in their example. “Hopefully I get to do more shoots like that, with the Women’s team. I guess all teams need to do better with incorporating their women’s team.”

The dream

And so beyond shooting more women’s teams alongside their male counterparts, we wanted to know what else Danika was aiming to achieve this year and beyond in the world of football photography.

“I think definitely the kit launching is good, and it’s got a really good reception. So I think it would be nice to keep having the opportunity to capture that. But it would also be nice to maybe capture some games as well. I would love to capture a cup game or just some home games. The players always do those interviews, fun gaming kind of things and it would be nice to capture something like that, I guess. I’d love to shoot more footballers and whether I can create a book from that or something that would be a dream. But right now just having more opportunities to shoot in football would be great.”

And when it comes to individual shoots, Danika seems set on shoots for England’s emerging generation of ballers. “I’d love to shoot Rashford properly, because I got a photo of him once, but I’d like to do something with him a bit more personal. Sancho too, I guess. Just all the cool ones.”

And when it comes to her dream shoots outside the football world, the answer is almost instant. “Rihanna. 100%.” The singer has been pictured at several tournaments in the past, most memorably cheering on Germany during their 2014 World Cup win, so if there is some way of combining Danika’s history in football shoots with a session with Rihanna, then FSC are onboard with that!

In the meantime, though, she is keeping her future prospects more general, and linked to some of her lockdown inspirations. “It’s funny, I’ve been binge watching all these Netflix shows so I’m just obsessed with actors and actresses at the moment. Like, I really want to shoot like cast members from stuff like The Crown, that would be cool. I’m always just down to do anything. I don’t feel like I have one particular industry that I’d want to stick to, I just like shooting whatever. I’d love to travel more as well, and get shots in nature. I’m down for anything and I don’t know what the future will hold.”

We’re really excited to see what the future will hold for Danika. Whether that comes in the form of matchday shoots at the Emirates, or capturing Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho for a book composed of her work with footballers, there is no doubt that Danika’s rise in the industry will continue, and that her signature style will only continue to be seen by more and more people via @sirius.film.

But before we ended, we couldn’t let Danika leave without telling us what her favourite football shirt was. “I really love the old Highbury kit, the burgundy coloured one. I remember when it came out, when I was in school, and I was like, ‘Oh, I really want that kit’.” A classic shirt, and if it ever does make a comeback at the Emirates, we sincerely hope that Danika will be the one capturing its launch and its outings on the pitch. 

Matt Leslie

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.