The Promise | By Irina Werning

I met Antonella (12) four years ago because of my long-term project Las Pelilargas, where I search and photograph women with long hair across different Latin American communities, since 2006.

During lockdown I photographed her every week. One day in the middle of a shoot she told me “Hurry up with the hair-ideas cause last night I promised to cut my hair when school is back”. My heart stopped, she was my number one muse and of course, I adored her long hair. I went home feeling miserable, but it didn’t last long. I soon found myself daydreaming of the day she would get that haircut, put on a now dusty backpack and smile once again.

After missing 260 days of school (1.5 years), it was announced that schools would open. So we cut her hair with tears in our eyes. Antonella simply said “I always thought if I cut my hair something in me would go missing. But when school closed that’s exactly how I felt”. And like any 12-year-old she never looked back. Antonella’s promise was a testimony of the extraordinary value and expectations that kids have for a normal schooling experience.


While developed countries discuss the success of virtual education, this is not an option for most kids in Latin America, where lack of devices, connection or support from families is a reality. Before the pandemic, education was already a problem in Latin America, plagued by deep structural inequalities that mirrored the wide income inequality in the region. The pandemic has made this bad situation worse. Latin American children have lost on average around 4 months more of class time than students elsewhere in the world. Children’s future is under threat.



Irina Werning is a freelance photojournalist who focuses on personal long-term projects. She is based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Werning has a bachelor’s degree in economics, a master’s degree in history (Buenos Aires) and a master’s in photojournalism (London). She won the Ian Parry Scholarship (The Sunday Times Magazine and Getty) in 2006, the Emerging Photographer Fund – Burn Magazine (Magnum Foundation) in 2012, and a first-place Sony World Photography Award for portraiture in 2012.

Werning was chosen by Time Magazine as one of the nine Argentinian photographers you need to follow in 2015 and her book Back to the Future was chosen by Time Magazine as one of the best photobooks of 2014. In 2020, she was awarded the Emergency Covid Grant (National Geographic) and a Pulitzer Reporting Grant in 2021. In 2022 she won the World Press Photo Story category in South America.

Website: Irina Werning

Instagram: @irinawerning


Photo Essay curated by Diego Orlando.