In ‘Las Pelilargas,’ Irina Werning Celebrates the Impeccably Long Hair of Latin American Women and Girls

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#hair #Indigenous culture #Irina Werning #portraits

In ‘Las Pelilargas,’ Irina Werning Celebrates the Impeccably Long Hair of Latin American Women and Girls

a black and white photo of a young girl whose hair is taped to a wall in a star-like shape smiling for the camera

All images © Irina Werning, shared with permission

For the last 17 years, Irina Werning has traveled throughout Latin America photographing women and girls for her ongoing series, Las Pelilargas, or The Longhairs. Shot in color and black and white, the portraits document a distinct cultural practice through an incredibly alluring, even surreal lens. Many subjects are camouflaged behind their cascading locks, their identities obscured by hair that sometimes even appears to consume their bodies whole.

Werning began Las Pelilargas in 2006 when people connected with one another primarily offline. “Back then, in the absence of social media, I would travel to mountain towns and stay there for months, putting up signs in markets, schools to find them, and even organizing long hair competitions,” she tells Colossal.

For many Indigenous communities in Argentina where Werning is based, and throughout Latin America more broadly, hair spiritually tethers women to nature and larger practices advocating respect and care for the earth. As she recently wrote in Vogue, “A leader of the Kolla community (Argentina’s largest Indigenous population) once told me: ‘Your hair is important; that’s your connection to the land. It’s the teaching that’s been passed down from generation to generation.’”

two young girls masked by their hair sit back to back on a locker room bench

While her approaches to identifying subjects and pinpointing unique ways to share their stories have shifted since the project started, Werning’s intent has remained constant: to honor and celebrate “their long hair, the patience and love and dedication of years of growing it.” Her photographs feature an array of settings, from desert landscapes and equestrian training facilities to locker rooms and theater balconies, and each has an element of play, whether it be two young girls sharing a hairstyle with a horse or another with strands taped to a wall like a pinwheel.

Werning was awarded this year’s W. Eugene Smith Grant, a significant award that will allow her to return to the towns and people she’s photographed over the years. She plans to explore how globalization has impacted hair traditions and produce a book to wrap up the series. She explains:

What makes Latin America distinct is the fusion of these Indigenous traditions with the waves of immigration, creating a remarkably hybrid population. For me, this project is an anthropological study to help me understand the origins and cultural identity of Latin America today: a story of cultures mixing and old traditions bumping into new ones.

Find more from Las Pelilargas in Werning’s portfolio, and follow her on Instagram to stay updated on the project.

two young girls with their hair down to their calves stand next to a horse's tail. All three have single braids down the center

a woman stands bent over with her hair pooling on the floor. a colorful puffy installation is above her

a group of woman with incredibly long hair, their backs all to the camera

a woman masked by her hair, which hangs from a hanger and camouflages her entire body

two women rest their chins on an ornate theater balcony with their hair hanging down

a black and white photo of a young girl whose hair goes to her knees and covers her face

#hair #Indigenous culture #Irina Werning #portraits

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