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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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62 thoughts on “irina werning – back to the future”

  1. It’s rare that I find myself laughing out loud at a photo essay, but this one caught me more than once. What an original idea and fantastic execution. So glad it’s one of this year’s EPF finalists. Hey, we needed this!

  2. hahahahahahahahaha

    well, that’s not really a comment but…


  3. This is just brilliant, ..and hysterical.


    As hysterical as this is, it also is a powerful reminder of the passage of time, and ultimately I suppose, our own mortality.

  4. hey that’s my old school tie!

    norbury manor…

    seen this before somewhere, great to see it here, not just funny

    but also fascinating – a nice twist in the epf…

  5. JOY, PURE AND UNADULTERATED JOY! :)))))))))))))))))))

    i’d normally write a long, ponderous comments on it’s photographic merits, but what’s the point: this series does it all for me:

    the beauty and magic of photography, the beauty and magic of the face, the beauty and magic of the life lived and moving….

    the picture harnessed to the back of forward-moving face…..

    and god damned, one of those head-slapping moments, at the brilliance of the concept…:))

    oh, and what GRACIE said!….

    i hope this develops into a book, very large book….

    i’m willing to volunteer to be a subject, and i hate being photographed by other photographer s;))…

    it takes a brilliance of head and heart to conceptualize, execute (hunting down all those old cameras, equipment and constructing everything) and realize this…with so much LOVE LOVE!

    congratulations Irina! :)))))

    LOOK forward to seeing much much more of this!



    smiling..”we needed this..” well, yes of course..i am sure you can imagine that we try to choose a wide variety of work being done today…and of course doing the sequencing here is just like doing the sequencing on an essay itself…a bit of a roller coaster ride for sure and often controversial for sure , and totally intentional for sure, as i also am sure you may imagine..stay tuned…

    cheers, david

  7. Yes interesting and very original idea, an artist working within the snapshot aesthetic and very successfully. Jim’s link is similar the only difference is Irena’s work has authorship as it’s all done by the same photographer, “Young Me/Now Me” is different as each person, couple or group submit their photo. This changes all the meaning as far as I see it.
    There is an initial wow factor involved, although I do hold doubts we will all be looking at this with the same reverence in a year’s time – Irena must go deeper, further with this essay to create a body of work which can really can hold the test of time.
    The whole concept of fun and innocence in this essay distorts into something very “a la Diane Arbus” if you cover the left photo in each portrait…


    My thoughts exactly. Maybe a better question is, “WHY would anyone want to beat this?” As Patricia and David already said, we needed this.

    With surprises like this, I can’t wait to see the rest of the finalists!

    On the essay, I’m extremely impressed by the technique. If it weren’t spot-on, I feel like I’d spend more time looking at the differences in the photos-as-artifacts than at the people-as-humans. Wonderful, compassionate, thoughtful work.

  9. The ‘feel good’ essay of the summer and, as well as being a great concept, is executed to
    near technical perfection. The hard work applied going in shows in the results coming out.

  10. We’ve all seen set of images comparing old and young, but I haven’t seen this twist on the idea. Absolute pure joy.Lovely idea that’s well executed. Congrats and good luck.

  11. Lovely, Irina, just brings a smile – and I love the dog! Everyone has said how much they enjoy the essay: I’d just like to add that the technical proficiency you have shown in matching the new photographs to the old is very, very good indeed. Congratulations on being a finalist: very well deserved.


  12. I care that it’s been done before. Am curious about timeline/provenance. Sorry.

    And I think I prefer the work at Jim’s link. Great example of conceptual art, if I understand it correctly.

  13. I immediately thought of the “Young Me / Now Me” project that Jim mentioned, but was blown away by the amount of work done by Ms. Werning and her dedication to achieving the same “look” as the original photo. Not just the lighting and post-processing, but the clothing and location details, as well. I am curious to know if the artist was aware of “Young Me / Now Me” and decided to take the concept a step further, or is this is a case of parallel evolution. Great fun either fun way! (No. 24 was totally unexpected and had me cracking up)

  14. I LOVE this!
    what really works for me is that your subjects seem just as determined to duplicate the shot, as you, the photographer are!!!!
    am curious to know how many shots it took? I’m sure each was different… but did you just take a few? or LOTS? :)
    my guess would be a few…….

  15. I really like #1, #5, #9, #15, #19, #21, #22, and #25 — and there are others I like, but these are the best examples. These don’t feel as forced (obviously posed and visibly acted out) or gimmicky in my opinion. The result is less distraction (from the obvious intention and effort) and more pure humor and connection. Something like that.

  16. BTW, the “Young Me / Now Me” photos bored me within three clicks. I enjoyed this better, probably because of the authorship (style, consistency, intention, real humor). In fact, that site makes me appreciate more what this photographer has done.

  17. This is an essay, one has to fall in love with. What a great idea. I wonder how much effort it actually was to gather the people and convince them to join. I also like the consistency in photography between the early and the current picture.

    Well done and congratulations being selected as finalist.

  18. Wow, absolutely fantastic. Esp as I peer across the room at my 2 1/2 year old slumped in his mini chair watching an Elmo movie with snack in hand – just like the teenager I envision him to be in 15 years from now. It’s amazing how much of “us” are in there from an early age, and the photos don’t “lie” so to speak.

    Really fun – yes we needed this.

  19. Cute and funny. Reminds me of another essay I saw a few years back (wish I remembered who did it) where old Edward Curtis images of (Native American) Indians were recreated beautifully but instead of Indians the subjects were Indians (from India) in the same poses but in their own native attire, etc. I’ve never forgotten it.

  20. I saw this on a blog at some point, too. Loved it then, love it even more being reminded about it now, it really is fantastic!

    On first viewing, beyond loving it, I thought three things…
    (1) Why didn’t I ever think of this?!?
    (2) Thank go I didn’t think of this and get halfway through doing it when I cam across this wonderful project
    (3) I hope that image of me as a kid in an Everton kit never sees the light of day. I still don’t know how the hell that happened… (PANOS ;-P )

    Brilliant project, and so glad to see this in the EPF finalists list.

  21. Happy! Thanks for all the feedback.
    I discovered zefrank some months ago, i love and respect his project.
    I have lots of fun doing these pictures and now I feel very honored to be up here!

  22. Really enjoyed this when I saw it some months back – and I don’t even need to look here to summon up all that it evoked. Spot on conceptually and in execution.

  23. I am stunned at the talent and the professional work involved. It is not only quality photography same light and focus but reproducing the same atmosphere and even the feelings. It takes a special sensitivity to attain this. Congrats Irina! Isa

  24. Felicitaciones! Otra argentina en el EPF!! Espero que tengas la misma suerte que Alejandro hace dos anos atras! Hermosas fotos y una excelente (nostalgica) idea.

    Keep in touch,

  25. Ricardo Vasconcelos

    I can not translate in a few words how brilliant this is.
    It’s like looking to a personal photo album; the poses, the smiles, the age, the look.
    It’s how we saw ourselves in other people albums. Love this socialogig view. Very nostalgic also.
    Beautiful execution.
    Glat to see this work in the finalists.
    I Love it Irina.



  26. Most enjoyable essay. I’ve been laughing out loud – and what could be better? Certainly a fascinating perspective on life and time as well. Very refreshing.

  27. I think this is fantastic. Yes, similar things have been done before, but not just like Ms Werning’s work. To start with the subjects and situations she chooses are both funny and light, but also meaningful, and depict situations which can remind us of childhood or long-ago situations. Also the detail to which she recreates them, clothes, location, lighting (lighting!!!!), print type, colour…

    Love the project. Congratulations Ms Werning!

  28. so heres the thing. I dont like the work!
    Thats not a critique, how can it be? I just do not inhabit a space/time that cares about viewing this kind of work. The fact that most of the planet seems to react positively to it is of no consequence at all.

    The pictures are fine, the technical execution is fine, the concept is good and they are humorous.
    I just do not find in it something I am interested in looking at.
    So, once again, I thought about that.
    The nearest I can get is that:
    They occupy a single dimension…..there is only surface
    They are far less about the pictures than what the pictures say about peoples need for nostalgia.
    They are all also the same picture. ……homogenised.

    and….I just do not have any desire to look at them again.

  29. Irina I love your work! The Damned and the Beautiful is so great too.

    I’ve already wished that one of the other finalists would win but I’m going to break my rules and wish that again. Maybe there can be a draw?! Bravo.

    All the best in the competition,


  30. Like others I saw this essay some months ago, and was equally impressed with the novelty contained. But upon revisiting it here, the wind has left my sails just a bit. Maybe the issue has more to do with humour and its lack of staying power in art, because there is no faulting the brilliance of the concept or execution.

    In regard to the issue of plagiarism being discussed under Dialogue, I hold to Picasso’s motto: “I do not borrow; I steal”. This has been around forever – think of Picasso’s obvious theft of Velásquez’s “Las Meanings” in his later years, and how he was going “back to the future”. Or less readable, the incorporation of Caravaggio’s composition, human forms and facial expressions contained in the “Deposition of Christ” used in Picasso’s ground-breaking “Guernica”. If my masters can do it, then I have no issue.

    Another association: just last night I was researching migrant worker documentaries, and was struck by how much James Nacthwey resembles Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Woman”. Had I not seen Werning’s essay, I doubt I would have made the connection!

  31. I´ve seen this a few weeks ago, I´ve also seen the “Young Me / Now Me” project that Jim mentioned, some more that I´m trying to found and the Chris Porsz´s one:


    Just going through the Web, we can also find much more examples like Cheryl Jacobs:


    For sure, this it´s not new but I don´t really mind who inspired who, as Andy Grays said:
    “BTW, the “Young Me / Now Me” photos bored me within three clicks. I enjoyed this better, probably because of the authorship (style, consistency, intention, real humor). In fact, that site makes me appreciate more what this photographer has done.”

    Same for me.

    Porsz´s project has the goal that he had taken both the past and current pics. Anyway, there are some more similar essays I´ve sawn during past years but the fact is that Irina´s is the one I enjoyed most. I find it much more funny and powerful than others, probably because of the fine technical execution, the big work behind each pair, the funny point and aesthetics or the flow with the people.

    If we are talking about photo storytelling, I understand that both,technique and aesthetics are just some resources of our own photo language we put at the service of the story to be told. As Mtomalty said “the ‘feel good’ essay of the summer…” and of course, as Patricia said “”we needed this…”, but the key for me is that I find it more as a funny/humorous series than a documentary essay.

    I´ve always believed in the power of portrait series as a documentary way but I can´t find something more than a funny reflection about the passing of time. I use to share with family and friends some issues, Irina´s one make laughing everyone but nobody seems to find more than a humorous serie instead of a documentary way for reflection. IMO a project works better if you can get the idea without reading the statement and for sure Irina´s does, but which is the story?…or just as Patricia said we need this kind of things? Sure I need it!…but it doesn´t sway me as I expected from a documentary essay.

    If I think on the essay as humouros serie, I believe it should be stronger just by using the most powerful/funny pairs.

    Anyway I´m glad about checking that some people is trying to use portrait series in documentary purposes.

    Congratulations Irina!

  32. Pingback: Back to the future. | vida breve

  33. WOW!!!!!!!
    I haven’t been in Burn for loooooooong time, and I could not find a better welcome-back of your essay Irina!!!
    You are truly AMAZING!!!!!!!! No Words to be added, other than Your Work Is GREAT!

  34. 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!

  35. 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.

  36. 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!

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

  38. 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.

  39. 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.

  40. Pingback: Processo de construção de Irina Werning « OLHAR CONSTRUÍDO

  41. soledad aznarez

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

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