Irina Werning

Back to the Future 2

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 few years ago, I decided to actually do this. So, with my camera, I started inviting people to go back to their future.

Back to the Future won the Burn Emerging Photographer Fund  2011. The EPF grant allowed Irina Werning to extend and finish the project. For Back to the Future, she shot 250 pictures in 32 countries.




• 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 the Joop Swart Masterclass (World Press Photo Organization), 2007

• Flash Forward, The Magenta Foundation, Canada 2011

• Winner Fine Art Portraits, SONY World Photography Awards 2012


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Irina Werning



61 thoughts on “Irina Werning – Back to the Future 2”

  1. That New Delhi couple in #17 looks the same as they did 25 years earlier.
    They must be drinking from the fountain of youth. What’s their secret?
    Fascinating comparisons all around.
    It must be a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun to see this.

  2. tonyhayesimages

    Liked this project from the beginning, and thought it was a worthy winner of the EPF in 2011. That said, I prefer the 2011 set of images to this current set. Overall though, great idea and execution.

  3. Seems like a one trick pony there has been no development of idea nor approach, it all smacks of same same not any different. It all runs out of steam very quickly a bit like Alejandro Chaskielberg’s stuff back in 2009

  4. Imants, I agree with you. I had seen this work several months before the EPFs. It was initially fresh and fascinating, but by the time it got here, it was D.O.A for me. At the time of the award, I wondered if others would be feeling the same way afterward.

  5. Yea it is about editing concepts and the works themselves series 2 why bother it only dilutes the impact even further ……… when is the app version out? There is a app for Alejandro’s miniaturization so why not a double take

  6. irinawerning

    yes, i dont know why i did so many, too many, no point. i was addicted. im clean now …anyway I had lots of fun shooting each pic and made many new friends and learnt about lighting so i don’t regret it

  7. Nothing to regret, Irina. Yes, this version did not come with the same blast of newness and innovation as did the first, but it was none-the-less fun to look at and ponder all the missing years in-between. Beyond that, it was a clever way for Burn to remind readers of the upcoming EPF deadline and maybe a prompt a few to meet it. I believe that was the main point in running it here today.

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  9. #6 – La Duquesa de Alba, 1938 & 2012, Madrid; is a brilliant find not just for the amount of years in between, but also for the willingness of the Duquesa to pose and just the contrast of this person then and now.

  10. IMANTS

    interesting point…yes, i loved loved Chaskielburg at first….and still do that initial essay…and yet i know what you mean…the “technique” after time begins to wear thin…and then you wonder…now what? i think it is really tough for these photographers who come up with something so totally unique and we all wonder what to expect next….both Chaskielburg and Werning are from Argentina….and both super creative people…and let’s face it, doing anything that makes a mark is no small feat….we are tough on people who get to the top of the mountain…expectations for others are few, and expectations for those who do manage to make a mark are high…human nature…

    anyway we wait and see…by sheer coincidence i will be meeting Irina on a mutual project in Jamaica in about a week…i have never met her….it will be interesting to find out what she has in mind for her next work…

    cheers, david

  11. Yes it all is a tough call indeed especially with when technical aspects seem override content. I guess it is about finding that little nuance within the vastness of sameness is where persistence and disciplined self editing pays off. It is a time thing in most instances.

  12. irinawerning

    very interesting discussion, i keep hearing stuff like this but i dont feel this way (that i have to do something as successful). Actually I know I will never do something as big as that. ill do smaller things, equally gratifying. i dont intend to compete with myself.
    I just finished a new project in collaboration with a friend but we need to edit it, I will show it here when its ready.
    Imants im addicted to refurbishing my house at the moment.

  13. Irina, please do not listen to the naysayers and critics. I love your work, and a second edition has not diminished it. Each photo tells a different story, and there are poignant surprises small and large to be found (such as the World Trade Center that appears only on the left side). I am fascinated by the details you recreate, which can be found only by visiting each photo unhurriedly. Smelling the roses.

    You could do ten editions and I would never tire of your work. It is like standing in an art gallery for me.

  14. tonyhayesimages

    As with DAH, I too loved Chaskielberg’s work that won the 2009 EPF, bought the book etc, but have seen photos of his since from other projects and, yes, the impact is much less than in 2009.

  15. John, it costs me a whole lot of money, but I make certain every frog that donates to my addiction is fitted with a new set of bionic legs. These legs allow them to jump higher, leap further, and catch more mosquitoes and flies than the frogs ever thought possible. In a survey conducted by the Rand Association, 100 percent of participating frogs attested to the fact that they prefer their new, bionic, legs to their old, natural, flesh, bone and blood legs.

  16. Imants; It’s funny how you mentioned Mike Brodie; I loved his series (very heartfelt work…) and am VERY tempted to get the book…. However UPS postage is going to cost a whack….

  17. Yea I saw his stuff a while ago and it seemed apt to link his bio here even if it is only to indicate that good photography is not always created from a lifetime commitment.

  18. Well, I enjoyed the first set and this one. Yes, perhaps I was moved by the ‘idea’ more the first time around, but these provided just as much visual enjoyment. Photographs as objects, commentary on time, memory and change/(or lack of). And there are some wonderful details that provide insight into possible life events. Much room to wander for a creative and voyeuristic mind. (#11 is hilarious, then and now.)

    Also I am reminded of those ‘what’s different’ cartoons I used to devour as a child….

    Thought-provoking and joyous work.

  19. There is an emotional component to this body of work that I feel with nothing else. I can’t really put a name to it but it’s really wonderful. I love this stuff.

  20. This stuff is just as much fun, just as well done, and just as profound as it was the first time. The constant demand for new and different is tiresome and shallow.

  21. It’s very interesting to compare award-winning work of an individual to their past efforts; is it a natural progression or a come-from-nowhere leap into another realm? A slow simmer or eruption? This is something usually easy to do nowadays on the internet. Just looking at a photographers website can show me this. Whether the authorship has grown slowly and strongly, or lands loudly and suddenly as if from another galaxy, guages my scepticism regarding their future growth.

    It’s a worthwhile experiment to map the past and present work of the EPF finalists as it allows a differentiation between what the photographer is saying, versus how they are saying it. I believe David has stated in the past that the EPF judges are looking for the new and original voice that rises up from the others. In a way, for me it is as much about making book on the judges, as it is the finalists themselves.

  22. John, while tongue in cheek, and entertaining, these photographs remind us of our own mortality, and that try as we will to hold on to things, we will continue towards our inevitable demise. They also show us how even after the passage of time, there is a continuity of spirit. The same people re-appear changed, but somehow the same. These photographs are fun to look at, but at the same time very moving and provocative. They are a good natured poke at our affectations, and at the same time are tender and humanizing.

  23. Sorry, this essay, exactly like the first part does absolutely nothing for me at all. I’ve always suffered and intense disliking towards the whole concept. But anyway my sincere congratulations to Irina for being published twice on Burn.

  24. Imants…

    Great to see Mike Brodie. Been following his work way back when he was some mysterious kid who every so often posted a couple of photos on his blog and then would disappear. I love his attitude letting his camera follow his life instead of having his life follow the camera. Something I should learn to do…

    Q…”Anything else you’d like to add?”
    Mike Brodie… “Yeah, I’m looking for a job. So if you’re a reputable diesel engine builder or work in the human resources department for a Class 1 railroad, I need a job as a diesel mechanic or an engine assembler. This would be long term, and hopefully a union gig with benefits. Thanks.”

  25. Paul. my middle brother Donald has been a diesel technician all his working life. the guy can strip a caterpillar, or a JCB down to nuts and bolts and re-build it. My other brother is an electrical mechanic and can do ditto with just about any electric powered industrial vehicle and any Motorcycle. They both seem to love what they do.

    As for mike brodie..he puts a whole bunch of pseudo celebrity up their own arse art wank contemporary photographers to shame without any seeming effort at all….and then walks away….props for that. his work kind of reminds me of Tarkovsky’s polaroids somehow. (if you are not aware of these you should check them out)

  26. Hi Irina:

    I am not one that was jaded after the first time around for the simple reason that i had only the slightest exposure to the first project. Still, i can see why this project would be wearing on some. I even found myself after so many images wondering “how many more?”. But then i discovered i liked VERY much the authentic snapshot of the first image versus the staged, heavily photoshopped second image. This is actually what fascinates me the most with the project. Not only, as Gordon noted, do these photos give a sense of mortality but traditional analogue techniques bridge, connect and metaphorically shake hands with the new. There is a very surreal, humorous and disquieting balance in the photos that is interesting and very satisfying on multiple levels. It will be fascinating to see where you go from here, Irina. Good luck!


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  28. “I think certain types of processes don’t allow for any variation. If you have to be part of that process, all you can do is transform—or perhaps distort—yourself through that persistent repetition, and make that process a part of your own personality.” ― Haruki Murakami

    Well, call me simple-minded or call me easily seduced, but I loved ‘back to the future’-1 and i love ‘back to the future’-2….this version is just as fun and interesting (and yes, challenging, or rather a kind of sluthing game of Clue) as the original version and in fact, i don’t see this so much as a continuation so much (though it is, because Irina has expanded the geography actually, and that kind of expansion has added a lovely depth to the kind of almost anthropological/cross-cultural exploration that even version 1 didnt quite have, given the subjects in Version 1 vs. Version 2) as an addition, or rather the 2nd half of the same book…part 1 being more ‘intimate’ culturally/cultually/geographically and part 2 an extension of that same ‘sameness’ only crossing cultural/geographic boundaries that often the ‘documentary’ world tries to show as ‘unique’ (cultural studies for example as unique iconography)…i mean, the brilliant humor (and depth) in all this is its SAMENESS culturally, existentially of course, which gets played out in its basic technique (sameness, reproduction, facsimilie etc, only its not just about the pics themselves and their reproduction/assimilation but also about the cultural sameness of family portraits)….now, as a book, i’m totally in love with the entire concept…did originally, and that hasnt diminished at all in this version…

    its both hilarious and insightful and, above all, just reproduces (for me) the JOY and LOVE of construction and play…something that seems missing in so much phootgraphy, especially conceptual work…i mean, its like making up castles in the bedroom with blankets or drawing imaginary houses as a kid, or just all that damn great stuff we all did in elementary art school that fueled our imagination and heads…and one just cant escape, or i cant, the sheer joy of this project! :))….version 2 still kills me with both its joy and its incredible craft (i mean, the making, the finding, the putting together.)…anyone who likes to work with their hands (i do), whether that art or working a garden or building a wall or renovating, whatever, surely has to see the great underlying joy in that and what this body of work represents…and the fact that the dips themselves are just so interesting (the transformation of the subjects and often the statis (or change) of the environment…heady stuff, but above all filled with so much humor :))))…i’ll take this kind of humor and workmanship over 90% of the world’s documentary of misery any day of the week! :)))

    and a quick word about finding a brilliant ‘idea/concept’…that is SO over-rated…it consumes the art world today…and young artist work hard to find that ‘one think’ that will kick ass or call attention…but that’s ok too when it happens…but i think too that work entails not the concentration of this idea and that new idea and than that, but something simpler…some underlying reason to just keep making shit…and that is less about ideas or the need to make something important, but to understand what it is and why it is we slog year after year making stuff…some artists’ work seems the same over the entire life and that works…some artists work constantly change, that’s fine too….for me, i just look for a simple thing: does the work speak to me, move me, or inspire me, whether that’s one project of a life’s work….regardless, this project inspires me…

    did originally and still does…then again, i love people making shit (that’s why i still do it)…and it puts a smile on my face…

    and a word about Brodie…yes, love love his work and of course the course his entire life has taken…(saw his pics a bunch of years back, before the huge recent acclaim in the last year) but comparing his work to irina’s work is silly, completely silly…

    both are interesting image makers…Brodie’s work is married to journey, external journey and intimacy of the lives he spent time with as a way of sharing his own life….authentic story telling as a song of love and celebration…irina’s is about the love and celebration of both construction and how we construct ourselves and families and how time does the more elemental construction as well…

    this gets made into a book, brilliant :)))..and if the next version is similar with difference, cool too…if she moves in an entire different direction, that’s great too…

    we get bored because the eye, as auden reminds, tends to get bored…well, i only have 1 eye, so i guess i get bored less (or take in less) or maybe i just love when good/interesting ideas still make me smile…


  29. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed looking through a series of pictures this much! So glad you all funded this project, it’s fantastic!

  30. Bob Brodie was mentioned but it was not in reference to comparing work. He was brought into the fray in terms of a work ethic and how photographers work with a narrow concept.

  31. Bob:

    That is a good and considered defence of the essay, although I don’t think it’s necessary to do as a rebuttal against the criticism. This isn’t just any BURN published essay, but the one whose first phase won the EPF grant. As such is it any wonder we go over it with a tighter-toothed comb? The issue isn’t about Wearing’s work as a stand-alone – I can appreciate the novelty, the originality, and the freshness of vision. That holds for today’s Top-Ten music we hear on the radio as well. Give us a hook that stays in our mind, which quickly, quickly penetrates it; how soon until we get tired of it, get past our addiction, and then move on? It was something about comparing my first impression of the essay (now that I remember, it was through Magenta); thinking how quickly it got to me, only to look at it somewhat jadedly when it was first shown here. It was simply a case of easy-come, easy-go. For me, an effective work grows in my appreciation of it – in the very same way my appreciation of a particular artist grows – over time, when viewing their development.

    Some of the commentators have sustained their interest in the work and others haven’t. That’s human nature too, I guess. Yet just that separation among us goes to show the aesthetic effectiveness of the essay. It is the judgement over time that gels the artist’s stature; the reference to Chaskielberg’s work since his EPF win is the proverbial cautionary tale. What is so weird to me is that the the EPF judges make their selection based on the freshness of eye and originality of the essay, when it occurs to me they should spend some time – maybe an equal amount – in viewing the photographer’s work from the past. In this way, they can get a firmer feel for the power and sustainability of what is emerging.

  32. hi jeff :))

    will make this quick, just got up and must dash to the water with Dima :))…i agree, for sure, with the assessment of the EPF vis-a-vis Alejandro’s work…i made the point actually when it won, that while i loved the ‘technique’ i was worried at the time (given prior work) that it may turn out to be all about the tilt perspective (a technique that many were exploring prior) rather than a sustained personal vision, it’s turned out that way…Irina’s is much more interesting, because it isnt really about ‘technique’ at all, but a deeper, richer, more playful (and much harder) act to pull off…and the results still make me happy..while the ‘surprise’ of viewing specific photos/projects surely lessens (true with all work upon repeated viewings), the idea enlivens and questions and leads the viewer (me) to constantly consider the act of making…then again, i prefer to have this question at the center of everything i do anyway: not just seeing and snapping, but actually trying to reconstruct what it is i saw/felt/imagined as well as to try to reconstruct a photo to begin with, or rather deconstruct it….

    and yes, i wasnt so much trying to counter as to just say that we have to realize that all work bares exhaustion and that i think the richer consideration is to take or try to see why it is a particular artist does something…sometimes it is interesting to see someone work a concept to death and then string it out…sometimes its interesting to see restless change…it all depends, or rather, it all depends to me on the ‘richness’…sometimes it works, sometimes not….Irina’s project continues to work for me..and i do see possibilities for his slight change forward using this basic framework (for example, trying the reverse, shooting young folk and trying to reconstruct their older selves, using others)…but, that’s up to her…
    anyway, must run…too beautiful a day

    hope to see u soon

  33. I have read a lot of the comments here, and re-read several, specifically Bob’s and Jeff’s..I like Irina’s work. I don’t love it. It’s intriguing, well crafted, poignant and if it was a book i might buy it because over time i might even grow to love it.

    But a couple things caught my eye in Bob and Jeff’s comments. Bob..i disagree with you that this project is not about technique. I think it is very much about technique. i doubt there is a single person looking at this essay who doesn’t wonder “Wow, how’d she do it?” And that’s fine because it’s one of the ironies of the essay, it represents new digital technology and the artfully crafted image vs. a simple lo-fi analog snapshot.

    I also think it’s wonderful that you are so enthusiastic and as usual, emotionally invested. But to mention that you prefer this project to “90% of the world’s documentation of misery” is to do an entirely different genre (photojournalism) a great disservice. This project is an escape into a surreal world while (and yes, i know you know this) photojournalism is pure raw documentation. You might occasionally prefer an essay like this to news coverage of a conflict zone but do you prefer a pretend world all the time? Really? If so, ok, we all have our ‘druthers. But i think it was something you said with your usual spontaneous zeal. And zeal is a good thing.

    Your observation that this project shows a love of play and construction and that contemporary photography so often lacks both is incredibly curious to me. Most contemporary photography i come across is ALL about construction, technique, contrivance, play, whatever you want to call it. That is its strength. It’s an imaginative (and labored) stretch of mental muscle versus the adrenalin fueled spontaneous decisive moment.

    Jeff, i think whether a photographer bursts onto the scene suddenly or has been slaving away developing a body of work over many years is immaterial. What matters to me is the project in front of my eyeballs right this minute. Robert Frank burst on the scene with The Americans. Had he had a website i am sure there wouldn’t have been much on it that would have predicted the enormity of this book. Its success was the result of the unique confluence of timing, talent, vision, technology, subject matter and financial backing as well as Frank’s experiences and observations in the USA as an immigrant. And while The Americans is what it is, did Frank ever again produce anything as powerful? Is a genius someone who does project after project that is world class or perhaps just one truly perfect thing? Can you think of a Fleetwood Mac album besides Rumors? I can’t. And i don’t think anyone cares. We have The Americans and we have Rumors and thank God for both.


  34. It all depends Kathleen if you are a Peter Green fan then the albums Fleetwood Mac and Mr Wonderful come to mind and Rumors is by that mediocre”other band”

  35. kathleen:

    maybe i should clarify. will make this simple, as i’m literally running out the door:

    1) by ‘technique’ i meant that this project isn’t about visual technique as the driving energy. of course it is ALL about technique: construction, appropriation, the technique of building together both a photograph and time’s rebuilding. it is not about the technique of a camera/light/style etc. that is what i meant, but wrote quickly. my assumption (poorly done) was that folk would understand that. but, of course, the project’s heart is all about building something from parts and labor from the smallest detail (clothes/props/framing, etc) to the largest, and the technique (finding the stuff/location/people etc) is at its heart, only the technique here is not about photographic techniques but about conceptual and physical technique. that is what i meant

    2) what i meant about the world’s misery journalism, what i suggest is that too much of the world of journalism (albeit important) is predicated on a kind of ‘invasion’ of the moment/subject for consumption with often times little invested in locale/subject etc. i, surely you understand, am not denegrating journalsim (it is part of the world i once inhabited) and there are documentarians whose lives are committed to more than just the splaying of images of misery (i was referring to a particular type of journalism, btw, not the field of journalism writ large). in other words, i was suggesting that the ideas here speak more to me over time, and of the moment, than much of which i see (past my initial emotional and visceral experience)….

    3) of course about construction. i’m not speaking of conceptual/art work, i’m talking about ‘documenting’ work. my world, generally, of the art practice is of course focused often on the notions of construction or appropriation of the image and its uses/commodity/application..and of course that navigational point is what i love to look at…so yes, its not absent in that world, i was referring to, again, the ideas of a different photographic community….

    in the end, its a simpler calculus, and i shouldnt have been so quick to write generalizations without being more precise….i guess summing up: either it works or doesnt for folk, and that’s i guess the extent to that one can hope to suggest…

    anyway, must run…cherry blossoms wait ing

  36. Not only that, Akaky, but as Bob ran out the door, typing, he was drinking coffee and reading the morning paper.

    Multi-talented man.

  37. Hi Bob:

    I was right with you until the thing about the “Navigational Point” and you lost me a bit. But generally speaking i get what you are talking about. I very much agree with you about misery photo-journalism.

    By the way, the photo in the Joe McNally Conversation should be titled “Bob Black, Running”. heh.

    Thanks for writing and clarifying..


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