Buenos Aires-based artist, Irina Werning, organises long hair competitions for her ongoing photography series Dear Long Hair. She travels around her native country of Argentina, exploring towns in the mountains, small villages in the rural countryside, and its major cities to find anonymous women to photograph. With their backs to the camera, exhibiting their beautiful sheaths of long dark hair, Irina attempts to decode why Argentinian woman keep their hair so long.
“I search for them everywhere,” the photographer tells It’s Nice That. “I travel to forgotten towns, I put up signs and organise long hair competitions until I find them.” From countryside settings amidst green fields and rural classrooms, to a balcony in the city, Irina captures the one thing that these women have in common. Regardless of their age, community or environment, each of them cares for their hair that often tumbles down past their knees.
“Why do women in Argentina wear their hair longer than in most Western countries?” asks Irina. On her research-based journeys, she’s learnt about the overlapping indigenous traditions and communities that are still very much alive today. As she works on the ongoing photography series, she always asks her subjects “Why do you have long hair?” and often receives rather arbitrary replies such as “because I like it”, or “because my dad looks after it”, but Irina has also made her own deductions.
“The true reason is invisible,” she adds on the phenomenon that also extends to other Latin American countries. She believes that the tradition of growing hair in this unfettered way has been passed down from generation to generation. In indigenous traditions, cutting hair represented “cutting one’s thoughts or even falling into disgrace or near death.” The ancient mindset has been passed down over time, mainly through daughters and remains at the forefront of Latin American culture today; as seen in Irina’s photographs that capture this tradition across the country.
“Our ancestors believed that cutting hair was like cutting life. The hair is the physical manifestation of our thoughts, and our souls,” Irina says on her series. Continuing to document women far and wide in a mixture of styles depending on their context, Irina continues to capture the variety of women carrying on the traditions of their ancestors that consider hair as a holy life-force.