Carlota Guerrero on Capturing Femininity

Self-portrait. Courtesy of Carlota Guerrero.
Self-portrait. Courtesy of Carlota Guerrero.

If I had a shrine dedicated to the Woman, it would be made exclusively of images by Carlota Guerrero. The photographer and mother has made a name for herself over the years having captured the likes of celebrities (Emilia Clarke and Solange Knowles) for various projects that fall along the spectrum of album covers to public orgies. Her fleshy, beautiful silhouettes and figures have historically demanded a double-take— and now, they have been aptly compiled into her first book: Tengo un dragón dentro del corazón (approximately translated as There is a dragon in my heart).

The collection of transgenerational photos is certainly my best coffee table accoutrement (the index alone presents as a work of art). Its 180-plus photographs are sandwiched between words by poet Rupi Kaur, musician Rosalía, fashion entity Paloma Lanna, author Leticia Sala and creative Alejandra Smits. Guerrero’s work is reminiscent of Céline Sciamma’s 2019 film Portrait of a Lady on Fire: an ode to the female gaze, excluding the salivating heteronormative onlooker who misinterprets the power of the feminine. Engaging with her debut book requires interrogation—of the diverse physique, the range of gender performance and an inclusive perception surrounding sexuality.

Carlota Guerrero
Sacred Bond for Chantelle, 2019.

Abigail Glasgow: How would you say you identify as an artist?

Carlota Guerrero: I am a very emotional person and most of the time I am trying to deal with my complex emotions while portraying these images. I use art as a healing process, making an inventory of images with all the things that give sense to my existence.

As a photographer, I would describe my art and approach as trying to create timeless images that portray the things that touch my heart, things that I think are important and the energies that make me feel inspired. My work is an inventory of images that come to me. I cannot rest until I make them happen.

AG: So, why photography in the first place? How did your love of the medium start?

CG: It just happened. It was a natural tendency, ever since I was a teenager. At this point, if there is something I conceive as a total truth it’s that I came here with the mission to communicate through images. I photograph similar compositions, subjects and scenarios over and over. Without thinking about it, the subjects keep coming to me like a blooming orchid that doesn’t know she is blooming.I make compositions when I am thriving. I am those compositions. Many times I feel like I do not choose them, but they choose me.

This book is an essay about my repetitive patterns that I curated by tracing a map.

AG: How has your work evolved since you first began?

CG: I’m doing the same work as eight years ago but with less fear of darkness and sex. My interest in performance increased more and more—now, I lean towards what could happen in the physical scene instead of the photograph itself. I am hugely attracted to the performance world; it’s where I find most of my references. It has been so important in the path of my career. Now, I put more emphasis on what is happening in real life rather than the documentation itself.

AG: Not everyone has a roster of subjects that span Solange Knowles to Emilia Clarke. How did you get involved with these projects?

CG: Solange and I spent months working together traveling from New Orleans to New Mexico, Austin, Dallas in a van, shooting for A Seat at the Table—and we went to New York to shoot the cover for the album. I was very inspired by her way of working from the beginning. She is such a strong, talented, hard-working woman. She had a very clear vision, but also gave me the space to have my own. I’ll be forever thankful to her.

Working with Emilia Clarke, Rosalia, Rupi Kaur, Naomi Shimada, Madonna’s daughter Lola Leon—all of these women are big personalities and have been a part of crucial moments in my life. When I connect with someone with a lot of power, together we create something bigger than we could have done in separate and individualistic ways. Each time it has been a very beautiful—and sometimes very challenging—learning process, but I am proud to have found these brave situations—they’re always where I learn the most.

It is very important for me to click with a collaborator and thus, better understand myself. It does not matter whether they are a major artist or a young up-and-comer. For me, the important thing is that they understand the arts and the world in ways that allow us to add to each other.

Solange, A Seat at the Table, 2016.

AG: Why did you decide to launch a book of your works now?

CG: I always wanted to stop and collate my own body of work. So when my now editor Ali Gitlow wrote to tell me Prestel was interested in publishing a monograph with me, I thought it was a sign. It was very important for me to present this book as the finishing time of a cycle of my life.

The book’s title translates to “I have a dragon inside my heart.” It means perseverance, persistence and initiative. For me, it conceptualizes this infinite force where I get my strength, my drive and my ideas. The dragon is a wild version of God.

AG: Why do you think it’s important to center femininity and gender in your work?

CG: I am very focused on women; it’s something genuine and instinctive for me. Being a woman is my condition and starting point. I start exploring from what I know, from what I am most familiar with: myself. My self-love does not differ (or shouldn’t differ) from my love for other women. I feel an intimate admiration for a woman’s figure; her power and presence fascinate me to a visceral extent.

To me, to photograph is to honor, to celebrate and to thank women for everything that I learn from them. I invoke the stairway—the idea of the infinite stairway of women being carried by other women from immemorial times, transmitting and passing on knowledge and intuition. It is most important that my work inspires others to be brave and persistent. To not lose motivation, even if you fail. To wake up every day and try and create, even if you are not sure about what you are creating. Trust the process; trust the energy that is driving you. Trust these things more than the judge that lives in your head.

Craving more culture? Sign up to receive the Cultured newsletter, a biweekly guide to what’s new and what’s next in art, architecture, design and more.