What does it take for a 22-year-old art school drop-out to start a lifelong professional relationship with "the greatest American architect of all time"? Originally published by Curbed as "How a 22-Year-Old Became Wright's Trusted Photographer," this article reveals that for Pedro E. Guerrero, it took some guts and a lot of luck - but once they were working together this unlikely pairing was a perfect match.
When Frank Lloyd Wright hired Pedro E. Guerrero to photograph Taliesin West in 1939, neither knew it would lead to one of the most important relationships in architectural history. Wright was 72 and had already been on the cover of Time for Fallingwater. Guerrero was a 22-year-old art school drop-out. Their first meeting was prompted by Guerrero's father, a sign painter who vaguely knew Wright from the neighborhood and hoped the architect would offer his son a job. Any job.
Young Guerrero had the chutzpah to introduce himself to the famous architect as a "photographer." In truth, he hadn't earned a nickel. "I had the world's worst portfolio, including a shot of a dead pelican," Guerrero said later. "But I also had nudes taken on the beach in Malibu. This seemed to capture Wright's interest."
As it happened, Wright had just lost a photographer. It was another in a series of coincidences that catapulted Guerrero into modern architectural history: when he'd tried to enroll at Los Angeles's Art Center School on his 20th birthday, he'd been told it was too late—all the classes were filled except photography. When Wright and Guerrero met two years later, Wright hired the young photographer on the spot. "Photograph anything and everything," Wright instructed. The pay was minimal. Guerrero was thrilled.
"I had finally found complete happiness–studying shadows, patterns and angles, noting the time at which the sun would give maximum definition to the myriad elements," Guerrero wrote in his memoir.
"Cortez could not have been more startled at finding the world of the Aztecs than I was when Taliesin West opened up before me," Guerrero wrote. "I realized that it was sculpture, a sculpture of redwood and stone rising out of the desert."
While most Americans know Frank Lloyd Wright, few can name the photographer with whom he worked for the last twenty years of his life. That may change soon. In January, Guerrero's book Picturing Wright will be reissued with an extra chapter and additional photos. Later in the spring, PBS will air a one-hour documentary about the photographer.
After Wright hired him, Guerrero worked unsupervised and met with Wright to discuss which photos the architect liked and which were to be destroyed. Destruction of a photo would include destruction of its negatives, so some of Guerrero's earliest work has been lost. Wright's ideas about photography were as fierce as his ideas about architecture. He instructed Guerrero to avoid shooting from above or below his natural line of vision and to remove any and all elements which Wright regarded as "unauthorized." In this regard, Wright was a renegade. He thought nothing of re-arranging furniture in his clients' houses, or even disposing of it, if it conflicted with his "organic" aesthetic.
Read the rest of the article at Curbed.