Pedro Eduardo Guerrero was born to Pedro W. and Rosaura Castro Guerrero on September 5, 1917 in Casa Grande, Arizona. His blue-collar upbringing subjected him to the ugliness of discrimination that was prevalent throughout the United States. Because of segregation, he was relegated to a school for Mexicans, and he was prevented from enjoying a neighborhood swimming pool because of his ethnicity. Financial conditions improved for the family when Pedro W. Guerrero gave up sign painting to start his own Mexican food business, the Rosarita Company, in Mesa. Pedro Junior could now pursue his artistic inclinations by attending the Art Center School in Los Angeles However, his hopes were quickly dashed when he discovered the courses he had wanted were already filled. But when a photography curriculum was suggested instead, Mr. Guerrero decided it was a preferable alternative to returning to his bigoted hometown. It would also give him an opportunity to use the box camera he recently won in a sweepstakes.
After attending a 1939 architectural exhibition, Mr. Guerrero saw some photographs of Fallingwater, the house designed by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright. His father suggested he visit Mr. Wright at Taliesin West, his art school in nearby Scottsdale. After brazenly introducing himself as a photographer, Mr. Wright countered with, “Come in and show me what you can do.” He obviously liked what he saw because Mr. Wright quickly hired the 22-year-old student as his official photographer. Mr. Guerrero embraced his photographic assignments, treating buildings as if they were sculptures and mastering the challenging long-shot. He progressed from using a single-lens camera with no shutter (requiring him to use his lens cap to make exposures) to a twin-lens reflex camera. For special assignments he confidently wielded a Hasselblad.
His two decades with Mr. Wright (who he never addressed as “Frank”) were years of frenetic activity – interrupted only by World War II, where Mr. Guerrero served in Europe as a U.S. Army photographer – that produced works that even impressed his stern employer and mentor. After Mr. Wright’s death in 1959, Mr. Guerrero embarked upon a successful career as a freelancer, with his images being featured in such diverse publications as Architectural Forum, Harper’s Bazaar, and House and Garden. A chance meeting with sculptor Alexander Calder, whom he affectionately called “Sandy”, led to another lengthy and fruitful collaboration. The rigid order of Mr. Wright was replaced by the disorganized chaos of Mr. Calder’s workspace. A year after Mr. Calder’s 1976 passing, Mr. Guerrero met wood sculptor Louise Nevelson, whose studio offered the photographer yet another layer of compositional contrast. As Mr. Guerrero later recalled, “Louise’s workplace completely contradicted Mr. Wright’s ‘Form and Function are one’ and Calder’s ‘Function follows form’... In Louise’s world there was no functional intent, just spontaneity and mystery.”
In the twenty-first century, 90-year-old Pedro Guerrero was stunned to find a renewed interest in his work, with the photographer and his portraits featured in a PBS documentary and in the publication of his autobiography. Mr. Guerrero’s first wife, Barbara, the mother of his four children, had died in 1976. He married Dixie Legler in 2008, and enjoyed his twilight years with her in Florence, Arizona. Five months after a Hollywood exhibition of his works entitled, “Pedro E. Guerrero: Photographs of Modern Life,” its 95-year-old subject died peacefully at his Arizona home. Editor Martin Filler penned a fitting tribute to his friend when he observed, “Few photographers have recorded the environments of more than one modern master as thoroughly and perceptively as Pedro Guerrero.”
2008 Dwell (San Francisco, CA: Dwell Media LLC), pp. 128, 130.
2007 Frank Lloyd Wright in New York: The Plaza Years, 1954-1959 by Jane King Hession and Debra Pickrel (Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith), p. 29.
2015 Meet The Photographer Who Immortalized Frank Lloyd Wright’s Architecture (URL: https://www.fastcompany.com/3051216/meet-the-photographer-who-immortalized-frank-lloyd-wrights-architecture).
2012 Pedro Guerrero, 1917-2012 by Emily Bills (URL: https://archpaper.com/2012/10/pedro-guerrero-1917-2012).
2007 Pedro Guerrero: A Photographer’s Journey by Pedro E. Guerrero (New York: Princeton Architectural Press ), pp. 17-19, 31.
2012 Pedro Guerrero, Who Captured Art in Photos, Dies at 95 by William Yardley (New York, NY: The New York Times/A.G. Sulzberger), p. A25.
2012 Pedro E. Guerrero: Photographs of Modern Life by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp (URL: http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/drohojowska-philp/pedro-guerrero-photos-of-modern-life-4-5-12.asp).
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