irina werning – back to the future

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EPF 2011 Finalist

Irina Werning

Back to the Future

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I love old photos. I know I’m a nosy photographer. As soon as I step into someone else’s house, I start sniffing for those old photos. Most of us are fascinated by their retro look but to me it’s imagining how people would feel and look like if they were to reenact them today… A year ago, I decided to actually do this. So, with my camera, I started inviting people to go back to their future.

It starts when I get together with my subjects and we choose the old picture. I go through their boxes and albums looking for an image that speaks about them. Next comes a bit of a photographic investigation: studying the lighting, the angle, the type of camera and lens it was shot with, etc. Then, from there, the search begins: internet auction sites, second hand stores, borrowing from friends wardrobes, cutting, dying, sewing, attaching, adapting, assembling, gluing, coloring, painting, renting rare and hard to find objects. This project requires a lot of improvising on the run and it involves searching endlessly for stuff in the streets of Buenos Aires. I guess I really like finding things. If I cant find something, then I make it.

Once I have everything I need, we are ready to go back to the future. I dress them up and put them either in the set I built for them or, when possible, back in the real location. Once I get the light right, I ask them to do that thing they were doing in the original photo. I am always amazed that they do it.

Its funny how what you do can show you who you are. I always thought of myself to be the opposite of perfectionist as I live in complete chaos most of the time. However, when I now look at these pictures and see the attention to detail in them, I have to question my self image…

This story has been published in Sunday Times Magazine (Spectrum).


Born in Buenos Aires
BA Economics, Universidad de San Andres, Buenos Aires, 1997
MA History, Universidad Di Tella, Buenos Aires, 1999
MA Photographic Journalism, Westminster University, London, 2006
Winner Ian Parry Scholarship 2006
Gordon Foundation Grant 2006
Selected for Joop Swart Masterclass (World Press Photo Organization), 2007

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59 Responses to “irina werning – back to the future”

  • Ahh… A breath of fresh air. I salute you on a great concept and superb execution. I very much enjoyed the humor of it. I too am a nosy Photographer as I immediately look at people’s photos when I visit a home, I’m always fascinated with their old pictures and always enjoy the stories that ensue. Again, I really enjoyed this and commend you on coming up with a fantastic concept. Keep up the great work!

  • Maravilloso trabajo, felicitaciones!!!!!!
    El premio debera ser tuyo!

  • Thumbs up on all counts (love the addition of the dog to the human gallery). Absolutely wonderful, full of humour and also, plenty to reflect about, as years (and a little more) went by.

  • Irina – congratulations on being published and chosen as a finalist!

    This is one special piece – and it made me laugh a lot!
    I’m not sure if you realized, but you managed to unite a lot of burnians who normally have different views on the published essays we find here on BURN. It is like putting in a Beatles tape in crowded bus – with all those different musical tastes… I thought about what John commented, and yeah, maybe nostalgia and our need for it plays a role. And yeah, maybe we all needed this! Yet I don’t think that it is superficial what I’m looking at. There is a story in every picture. And I like where those pictures take me!
    All the best, and congrats again!

  • Hi Irina,
    Very refreshed thinking…….The photographs are straight and simple and the overall representation is superb………..really a great thinking.

  • Light and funny and also not a little profound.

  • Hi Irina – sorry for the late response here, but I want you to know I have loved this work ever since I discovered it a few months ago. It’s exceptional. I even referenced it in one of my classes at the University of Westminster, where I know you studied.

    Congratulations for the EPF nomination & best of luck.
    Hugs ==> L.

  • something strangely sobering.. like meeting an identical twin realizing, no, we’re not the executioners of our own destiny but rather governed by something we dont understand.

    Brilliant idea.. profound.

  • me gusto mucho tu trabajo!! realmente fue una grata sorpresa encontrarme con una compatriota.

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