Photographer Carlota Guerrero has a vivid memory from her early childhood. In the introduction of her new photobook, she recalls “sitting at my desk during school, fantasizing about climbing up on the teacher’s table and taking off my clothes.”
“The teachers try to stop me, but I flee and run naked like a gazelle, through the corridors, the courtyard of the school and the gymnasium, and through all the public spaces. I feel terribly guilty for having imagined it.”
This fantasy of escape and liberation remains the central thread of her photography. The self-taught photographer, who is from Barcelona, has been exploring these themes of femininity, body autonomy and exploration for a decade. After being gifted an Olga film camera as a teenager, she started out capturing her friend group’s blissful, naked afternoons by the Mediterranean, and the freedom they felt in each other’s company.
She credits an LSD trip for furthering this idea of female interconnectedness. “When I bring women together in one place and photograph them, I am creating new organisms… as if each woman were an organ or a cell that, by joining the others, makes up a whole being,” she writes.
She was in her mid-20s when she got her big break. Musician Solange Knowles contacted the then-unknown photographer after seeing her work on Instagram. Guerrero captured the musician in her trademark soft earth tones, hair full of colourful clips to hold the waves of her hair in place, for the cover of her 2016 album Seat at the Table.
It was a meeting of minds – Knowles’s wistful, dreamy vision which exposes the awkward hidden details of womanhood dovetailed perfectly with Guerrero’s own offbeat exploration of sensuality and healing. Guerrero would go on to collaborate with Solange on music videos and shoot her next album cover, When I Get Home.
Since her fruitful collaboration with Knowles, Guerrero has become one of the most in-demand photographers working today. She has photographed musicians Arca and Rosalia and the poet Rupi Kaur. She’s worked with fashion royalty, from Helmut Lang to Dior to Philip Lim. During 2019’s Miami Art Basel show, she caused a viral sensation with her performance piece “Love Different”, in partnership with Spanish brand Desigual. The performance ended in a writhing mass of 30 bodies which included Lourdes Leon, Madonna’s daughter.
Her work to date is now collected in Tengo un Dragon Dentro del Corazon: The Photographs of Carlota Guerrero, a new photobook from Prestel, showcasing her distinctive low-contrast tones, seen with a warm and tranquil eye. Guerrero has said in interviews that her aesthetic vision stands in contrast with her own restless, anxious personality. She is also constantly working to see women’s bodies in a different way, from a point of view of joy and camaraderie free from the male gaze.
In the book’s introduction, Rupi Kaur recalls a shoot with Guerrero in which she “ended up naked in a bed of pink rose petals at her Barcelona studio.” She points out that Guerrero’s fixation on the female body is an attempt to reframe and reclaim them in popular visual culture. It goes beyond representation, even though the women she photographs vary in shape, size and skin tone. Although they tap into a raw sensuality, they are a million miles away from the women offered up for consumption in the pages of magazines Guerrero and her generation grew up seeing.
“Carlota’s work is the antidote to our male-gaze problem,” Kaur writes. “In an industry dominated by men shooting women’s bodies, Carlota’s vision is refreshing. As a woman, I’m not interested in looking at my body through the eyes of a man anymore. I’ve done that my whole life. I want to see and be shot by a woman whose images are celebrative, not exploitative. Sexy, not voyeuristic. In a world where the feminine is violated, the femininity that Carlota captures is honest and empowering.”
Carlota Guerrero’s debut book Tengo un Dragon Dentro del Corazon was published on 27 April by Prestel, available here