Interview: Photographer Carlota Guerrero Reclaims the Female Form

In her new book, Tengo un Dragón Dentro del Corazón (Prestel), which translates to I have a dragon inside my heart, photographer Carlota Guerrero presents a breathtaking monolith of femininity, beauty, and strength, via 260 images from her archives. She captures the female form at its most powerful: bearing life or bound to one another through braids and the bondage of generational wisdom, suffering, and survival. 

“I feel what I’m really doing is changing the narrative from the inside,” Guerrero tells us in a phone interview from her studio in Barcelona. “For me it’s like, if women have been so objectified and so sexualized, at least let us decide how we are doing that.”

Guerrero’s images vary wildly, taking place in monochromatic studio settings, on busy city streets, in front of monuments, in fields bursting with wild flowers. Models wear oversexualized, black mesh bodysuits or shimmering red body paint or beige trenchcoats or soft muted pastels or nothing at all. Bare skin juts up against the crude textures of nature: clay, dirt, sand, salt, brush, grass, air. Bodies are staged meticulously into shapes, or let loose, nude and uninhibited. And yet there is a common thread weaving them together. Indeed, Guerrero’s singular aesthetic binds the images visually together…and the underlying theme of reclamation dominates every frame.

Writer-artist Alejandra Smits, also based in the Catalan capital, calls Guerrero “one of the great artists of our time,” in an intro at the front Tengo un Dragón… . “She has ushered in a distinct style, while inspiring a generation of young photographers to see in her style and color. The photographs in this book are a peek into the imaginative mind of a young genius.”

This distinct style has led her down a prolific path. Her work has been featured in the pages of Vogue, New Yorker, Playboy, Numero, and The Fader. She has worked with her close friend, poet Rupi Kaur, on a live performance of Kaur’s poems in New York; she documented the transgender community in Cuba; she staged a 30-person performance at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2019; and she even recreated La Danse by Matisse. She has photographed feminist icons like Emilia Clarke, and in 2016 shot the iconic cover of Solange Knowles’ album A Seat at the Table, where the singer sits gazing at the camera with her hair cascading softly down her shoulders, sectioned by colorful clips.

“I’m a hair person,” says Guerrero. “Once I cut my hair and I cried for a year. I hold a lot of my strength in [my hair] and I feel like we save our memories and intuition there. I feel like we get some ideas at the ends of our hair – like little antennae. They get signals, they perceive information. There’s a lot of myth around hair and I’m very, very interested in that, and in learning how we’ve considered it in history and nowadays. It holds a lot of power.”

Guerrero credits the women in her life – her mother, sister, and childhood friends – as her most important source of inspiration. Growing up in Spain, Guerrero and her friends (including Kaur and Smits) spent ample time basking in the waters of the Mediterranean and honing their creative aspirations. 

“Growing up, I didn’t have references of female artists living around me,” she says. “So my friends who decided to take an artistic path were those references. We were making up everything. We didn’t have a real guide. We would have just us supporting each other in our projects, and most of my performances and my shootings are with friends; so they do inspire me a lot.” 

Guerrero has spent the last year at home in Barcelona, revisiting all of these works, compiling and organizing them for their collective presentation in the book, which is breathtaking in its visual scope. While the pandemic halted travel, Guerrero used the time to reflect. 

“I think I’m lucky,” she says, “For me, it’s been a year of introspection and coming down and getting perspective after all these years of [focusing on] career. So it’s been a blessing.”

She plans to remain in Spain for the time being, working in her studio and working on an upcoming collaboration with the Barcelona-based fashion brand Paloma Wool. As life regains its momentum, so does the work, of course. And Guerrero’s long and extraordinary creative journey, and her reimagining of the female form as artistic masterpiece, has undoubtedly just begun.   

“I am a channel and sometimes a vessel,” Guerrero writes in the book’s introduction, “My mind is a raging river that splashes with ideas…I have been a friend and enemy of my body for thirty years, and my body is the body of a woman, and, in the bodies of other women, I find a union, a fractal, an organized composition of similarities that make me feel I am where I need to be.”

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