Featured photo: Pedro E. Guerrero at home, by Marilyn Szabo. Courtesy of Tilt Gallery in Scottsdale.
Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum has once again filled all five of its galleries with attractive shows this season, including dozens of vibrant works by Chicano artists from the collection of actor Cheech Marin. Complementing the Latino theme is the mini-exhibit “Yonder Peasant … The Photography of Pedro E. Guerrero,” which throws a much-deserved spotlight on an Arizonan best remembered for his intimate images of Frank Lloyd Wright, Alexander Calder and Louise Nevelson.
Guerrero (1917-2012), who grew up in Mesa and retired to Florence, started working for Wright when he was just 22 and barely familiar with cameras. Through the years, he took photos of Wright that remain among the most iconic images of America’s preeminent architect. In addition, Guerrero’s intriguingly composed shots of Taliesin West in Scottsdale play up its timeless design. After his service in World War II, Guerrero moved to New York, where he garnered assignments from major magazines seeking interior shots of architecturally significant mid-century Modern homes. Later in his career, he comprehensively documented the lives of Calder (throughout the ’70s) and Nevelson (the early ’80s), gaining the kind of access that is a photographer’s dream. The MCAM exhibit (through January 17, 2016) includes several of Guerrero’s best shots, along with Guerrero family photos.
Here are several interesting tidbits about Guerrero from the documentary “Pedro E. Guerrero: A Photographer’s Journey,” a production of American Masters and VOCES that recently aired on Arizona PBS:
— He took an instant liking to photography, calling it “magic that I could control.”
— Working with a 4 x 5 camera, Guerrero found that he could bring out the lines, textures and surroundings of Taliesin West, even in the strongest desert sun.
— Wright was somewhat of a father figure to Guerrero, once advising him not to enlist in the war.
— “If we think about the way Frank Lloyd Wright looks, we think about the way he looks in Pete’s photographs.” (From Guerrero’s widow, Dixie)
— His wartime service in Italy included aerial battlefield photography, and his darkroom was a chicken coop.
— In 1962, Guerrero traveled to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to photograph Julia Child’s kitchen for House and Garden magazine, and was treated to her duck a l’orange.
— With Calder, Guerrero captured both the artist’s kinetic outdoor sculptures and his chaotic studio, filled to the brim with components of his work.
— The challenge with Nevelson was capturing her matte black-on-black sculptures, but he found a way. In addition, he took classic photos of Nevelson scavenging for materials at industrial sites.
— Guerrero says in the documentary, “Fate gave me these three people, and I treated them the way they had to be treated, the way nobody else could do it.”