Before Mexican-American photographer Pedro E. Guerrero died in September 2012 at age 95, he agreed to be filmed by filmmakers Raymond Telles and Yvan Iturriaga. Their hour-long film profile, incorporating Guerrero’s gracious commentary, American Masters–Pedro E. Guerrero: A Photographer’s Journey, finally debuts on PBS tonight, September 18, 2015, 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET/PT. (Check local listings for air times in your region.)
A timely fit for National Hispanic Heritage Month, the film is a co-production of THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET and Latino Public Broadcasting’s VOCES. It is quite a revelation.
Guerrero was born and raised in Arizona, where his family lived for generations. Despite a financially comfortable upbringing, he was forced to attend “Mexican only” segregated schools. To escape the intolerance that he faced on a daily basis in his hometown, he bolted for Los Angeles at 20, where he planned to sign up for an art class at the Art Center School. The art classes were filled, so he signed up for the only class that was still open…a photography class. The rest is history.
Serendipity seems to have followed Guerrero throughout his photographic journey. At 22, he connected with legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who, seemingly on instinct, took the unseasoned photographer under his wing and assigned him to photograph his winter home, Taliesin West, in the Arizona desert.
After his service as a war photographer overseas during W.W.II, Guerrero continued to photograph Wright at work and at ease until his death in 1959. Guerrero went on to develop similarly close working friendships with the sculptor Alexander Calder and, after Calder’s death in November 1976, sculptor Louise Nevelson, until her death in April 1988. In all three cases, Guerrero photographed the masters still engaged and productive until the days leading up to their deaths.
Guerrero additionally built a notable niche as an architectural photographer for major magazines. He shot international interiors and exteriors on-assignment for magazines like Vogue and House & Garden; lived for 50 years in New Canaan, Connecticut, an enclave of mid-century modern architecture; and enjoyed the high life in Mad Men-era New York City… until his anti-war efforts during the Vietnam War cost him his lucrative publishing assignments.
Pedro E. Guerrero was a spry 92 when he sat for filmmakers Telles and Iturriaga and recalled the three masters who consumed his life and work–architect Frank Lloyd Wright and sculptors Alexander Calder and Louise Nevelson. The film is profusely illustrated with Guerrero’s striking black-and-white and color photos documenting the construction of Wright’s, Calder’s and Nevelson’s masterworks. Guerrero’s second wife and archivist, Dixie Legler Guerrero; Nevelson’s granddaughter, sculptor Maria Nevelson; and a handful of articulate architectural photographers, critics and historians also share insights and recollections.
American Masters–Pedro E. Guerrero: A Photographer’s Journey provides a tantalizing taste of Guerrero’s phenomenal body of work, and hopefully will bring him the long overdue national attention he so richly deserves. Watch it tonight on PBS, September 18, 2015 , 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET/PT. (Check local listings for air times in your region.)
The broadcast film and a Spanish-captioned version will be available to stream on September 19. Check out http://www.pbs.org/americanmasters for more info on streaming, community outreach screenings and the DVD release scheduled for November 17, 2015. Picturing Wright: An Album from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Photographer Pedro E. Guerrero, originally published in 1994, has also been updated in a striking new edition published in 2015 by The Monacelli Press.
Pedro E. Guerrero: A Photographer’s Journey will be an evergreen addition to programs in schools, universities, libraries and museums focusing on Hispanic-American photographers and architectural photography in general. It will also be an enlightening supplement to programs and exhibits featuring the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, Alexander Calder and Louise Nevelson.–Judith Trojan