Emerging Photographer Fund – 2011 Recipient

[slidepress gallery=’irinawerning_backtothefuture’]

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Irina Werning

Back to the Future

play this essay

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).

Editor’s Note:

Irina will receive $15,000. from Burn Magazine through the Magnum Cultural Foundation to continue her project.

The EPF 2011 judges:

Trent Parke – photographer, Magnum Photos
Narelle Autio – photographer, Agence VU’
Maggie Steber – photographer, editor, teacher
Barbara Stauss – photo director, Mare magazine, Germany



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

Related links


Emerging Photographer Fund – Finalists:

Dominic Bracco II
Michael Christopher Brown
Zhe Chen
Laura El-Tantawy
Daisuke Ito
Tushikur Rahman
Benjamin Rusnak
Daria Tuminas

Emerging Photographer Fund – Honorable mentions:

Walter Astrada
Victor Cobo
Maurizio Cogliandro
William Daniels
Marc Davidson
Alvaro Deprit
Rian Dundon
Matt Eich
Ryan Gauvin
Robin Hammond
Tom Hyde
Sebastian Liste
Alberto Lizaralde
Nicola Lo Calzo
Guy Martin
Gabriele Micalizzi
Karen Mirzoyan
Jane Moriarity
Isabelle Pateer
Emily Schiffer
Valerio Spada
Andy Spyra
Anastasia Taylor-Lind
Munem Wasif

70 thoughts on “EPF 2011 Winner”

  1. Congratulations, Irina!

    And thanks to all who are/were part of this (photographers who entered, the Burncrew and the jurors), was interesting to follow and see the work so far.. looking forward to see more of ‘almost in’..

  2. I absolutely love this project. It is incredibly compelling. The subtle differences in the backgrounds and props (the pack of LM cigarettes) adds another dimension to an already magical group of photographs. Definitely deserving work. I’m excited to see what you produce with the fund. Congratulations!

  3. burning*michelle

    thrilled that this essay is the recipient of our EPF grant… brilliant idea! congrats irina!

  4. irina–

    congrats! i really enjoyed this essay, laughed my way through it, and marveled at your attention to detail and ability to recreate the feel of each original photo. you definitely have some mad skills, girl.
    are you still working on the “Damned and Beautiful” project?
    would like to see more work from that. it’s a scene i know all too well
    and you are nailing the feel of it.

  5. Not the newest idea ever, but beautifully well done. I can only imagine the hours of work involved in this project. Worth it though. Congratulations Irina!

  6. Congratulations Irina! Your essay made so many of us smile. You did it!

    As Eva has said, thank you, also, to everyone involved with the EPF and Burn. We love you all.


  7. a civilian-mass audience

    you are the winner
    I am bringing wine
    and yeap…
    you will be …back to the future

    What not to Love!!!

  8. Bravo Irina!! Contento que hayas recibido el premio!!
    Excelente idea, espero que puedas seguir con el proyecto!
    Glad that an argentinian photographer won the 2011 EPF! Hope it will be every to years…

    1st Alejandro (2oo9)
    2nd Irina (2o11)
    3rd …… (2o13)

    Vamos Argentina

    Abrazo a todos

  9. a civilian-mass audience

    PATRICIOM…please,can 2013 …go to grecoland?
    hope u understand:)

    well,all good…VIVA Argentina…and the BURNcheck goes to IRINA!!!

  10. The craft in making this essay was superb, the idea of it and its realization touching upon so many elements and issues central to Photography, which includes humour too. The best has won. Bravo, Irina!

  11. YES YES YES! :)))))))))))))))))))




    so happy for irina!

    more words later :)))…back to sleep )))


    really happy too to see Narelle’s name: a great great photographer who deserves even MORE recognition! :)))

    more in a couple of hours


  12. Ricardo Vasconcelos

    Congratulations Irina!

    This work is fabulous!
    I particularly like the documentary sense that emerges from this series.
    The humor and nostalgia are present throughout the work in a mix of feelings.
    It is clearly a return to our roots, deep down, its a return to our street, our childhood and to our past.
    I also denote a refined aesthetic in your creation bringing your work beyond the documentary function. He reaches a full aesthetic function turning this series into a contemporary creation.

    Congratulations to all finalists.
    Well done Burn.



  13. i just want to say that this was the most unanimous jury we have ever had for a recipient..Irina received the top score from each juror independent of the others…

    after the initial scoring we did allow a discussion among the jurors and with their permission we will publish here their conversation…we will also list the top 30 from which the finalists came and the top 150 out of the 1000 entrants as well…surely all of these essays will be published on Burn throughout the year…

  14. Irina,

    Very well done! This is a very intelligent set of photographs. I’m sure somebody has already said this, but it is extremely difficult for a photograph to make us laugh and smile, but your work does that with the highest integrity.

  15. Congratulations!!!
    Saw this story at some blogs before Burn and really liked it!
    Great job!

    All the best for you and your projects,
    Daria Tuminas

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  17. Irina – congratulations again, and this time for being the EPF 2011 recipient!!!
    I said this under your essay before – when it was posted 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 (under the finalist post), 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!

    Well, it seems like you united not only a lot of burnians but also the jury!
    All the best, and congrats again!

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  19. IRINA: :))))

    As i wrote on Sunday, big big congratulations. I’m very happy for you and for this work and i hope to see a big big book from all this someday. As I wrote when it was originally published, I not only love the joy and humor and power of the project, but I lvoe that this series is really a portrait of US. It isn’t really so much about the people in the project (though that too) but really is about the nature of our own change, faces, bodies, time, and how we collect and remember ourselves and our families/friends through pictures, albums…and now, of course, facebook. I also love that the project is really so much about the nature of photogrpahy and photography’s ventrioloquism (imitation) of itself and time past. but most important to me is that it honors the photographic practice and the effort to make something. In a sens the work is testament to the solitary detail and work of an idea and all the work that went into ‘constructing’ these pictures is really about the craft of searching and finding. That itself is truly extraordinary (i cannot imagine the effort to look/find/create all the details/clothes/’props’/settings etc….it is a love-letter to labor…and isn’t that what family albums are to begin with? :)))…big congrats…..a fine and deserving award

    Dorogoiya Daria, Benjamin, Zhe-Zhe, Sister Laura, Tushikur, Michael Dominic and Daisuke-san:

    As both a former EPF finalist and a Burn-Family member, I want to extend my deepest congratulations for your nominations and awards (it is indeed an award to have been chosen a finalist). All of you have produced exemplary and inspired work and I loved looking and thinking and writing about all of it. I hope that you do not feel disappointed at all but instead feel happy to be not only among a select group, but embraced by a great and caring and thoughtful community of photographers (here and broadly). Awards come and go, but what matters is both the work and the sustained belief in your life and life’s practice. To that, I salute and honor each of you. I hope someday, we all get the chance to meet face-to-face! Congratulations!

    David/Anton: Congrats gentlemen for again serving up such a class act for not only BURN but the entire photogrpahy community. Had marina not be leaving for Ukraine, i would have seen y’all at Look3, but hopefully next year…and better, hopefully we’ll hook up in nyc or nc before then! I love what ya’ll continue to do for us and the photocommunity and so happy you guys again pulled this off with success, love and humor. big thanks from me and marina and the rest :))

    ok, off to work on russia pics


    p.s. Herve ;)))))))))))))…nope, my house (apartment) is still as small as it ever was! :)))

  20. Fantastic – I LOVE it!
    Congratulations, Irina!

    Looking forward to having the discussion of the jurors up, too. What a great thing to do, David! I would generally welcome to have more juror discussions for finalists published. It would give a lot of insight to everybody. And it does not need to be written down either, which would be a lot of work. Just embed a video.

    Big hug to everybody.

  21. Congratulations, Irina. There is something hypnotic about these images, amusing — yet also jarring, a visual reminder of how we carry those past selves within us.


  22. Congratulations, Irina! Brilliant idea and greatly executed. The humour and joy; its play with our need for nostalgia, to relive our past; it all made my heart sing :-)))

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  25. DAH

    wow…totally humbled…honestly…

    these sculptures were always for sylvia but maybe now they can help others in some small way to put a human face on suicide and depression.

    i think she would be proud…

    and again to IRINA…


  26. Congratulations Marc, so glad that you chose to share your sculptures here, and agreed on the powerful effect they can have for others. My best wishes. Peace.

  27. Thanks for the list.. looking forward to see the work.. 14 of the names are not new to me.. one of them I was hoping would have been among the finalists, ’cause it’s the only one I know personally and of whom I knew would submit, not because the others’ work is less good or important..

  28. MARC…EVA

    as we wrote earlier, all of the 30 honorable mentions and quite a few of the ones who came close (about 50 others) are to be published on Burn…Marc, i would not have recommended a link here just because so much better for our readers to see it as an essay on Burn…kills the surprise….in any case, we will still of course publish…

  29. c.l.e,

    Are these two bodies of work really the same, though? Ms. Tibbs’ project is obviously a Photoshop cut-and-paste of recent self-portraiture into old photographs (not to diminish the work), whereas Ms. Werning goes to great lengths to actually recreate the physical scene in the original photograph.

    IMHO, the fact that Ms. Tibbs is using only self-portraiture suggests that it is more of a personal journey.

  30. I didn’t say they were the same. I said they are similar. Each artist presents a series of diptychs where the image on the left is a vintage photograph and the image on the right is a contemporary person in the same vintage scene. The effect, in my opinion, is strikingly similar in spite of the differences that you’ve mentioned. The projects have the same conceptual conceit and even share a number of graphic similarities. The link I posted is the original, the Burn EPF person is the late comer. This is like when a hipster band comes along and makes an overproduced cover of a classic. Does anyone remember when Alien Ant Farm covered Smooth Criminal? It’s like that- yeah, yeah the new one is more polished in a contemporary, digital kind of a way, but to say it’s better because of the studio work is, at best, a matter of opinion, at worst, an embarrassing example of our tech-loving disposition as photographers.

  31. SPOOKY…… So so spooky.. like ghosts rising from nowhere. all those questions we ask when we come face to face with identical twins… On the flip side .. So so BEAUTIFUL.. reminding us of our own individuality. of our preciousness. Works on so so many levels… Profound is how I found it on first viewing and profound it remains..

    May you come up with more ideas like this.. Move us more..

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