Screening of “Pedro E. Guerrero: A Photographer’s Journey” at Fordham Law School


The documentary film included an exclusive interview with Pedro E. Guerrero before his death in 2012. (COURTESY OF BARBARA VILLENA)


The screening and panel discussion of the American Masters film, “Pedro E. Guerrero: A Photographer’s Journey” took place on the evening of  Tuesday, Dec. 1 at the Fordham Law School.

This event was sponsored and brought to Fordham University by the Latin American and Latino studies department, the visual arts department and the communication and media studies department. The documentary film included an exclusive interview with Pedro E. Guerrero before his death in 2012.

American Masters Series was launched in 1986 and focuses on producing and creating documentary film profiles. Such profiles have included some of America’s renowned writers, musicians, artists and even filmmakers who have made a significant impact in the U.S.’s cultural landscape. Some include, tennis player Althea Gibson, entertainer Bing Crosby, novelist Alice Walker, and composer Marvin Hamlisch.

“I’m 92, I’m [of] Mexican descent, [I’m] still around and I have had a fantastically glorious life, and it continues to be that way” Guerrero said in the documentary before his passing.

Pedro E. Guerrero was a Mexican-American living in Mesa, Ariz. who was not sure what he wanted to pursue in life until discovering photography at the age of 22. “The minute I developed my first roll of film and my first print, I said ‘this is mine. This is for me’ …I’m still amazed at what could happen with just a click of a shutter.” Guerrero said in the documentary.

Unsure of what he could do with his photography skills, Guerrero’s father told him to go up to the mountains where Frank Lloyd Wright was building Taliesin West. At the time, Taliesin West was one of Wright’s most decadent architectural works. Today, Taliesin West is a historical landmark located at the foothills of Scottsdale, Ariz.. It is also home to the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and The Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. When Guerrero first arrived at Taliesin West, he noticed that even in the Arizona heat, while everyone else was shirtless, Wright dressed in full suits to his construction sites. He told Guerrero that he needed a photographer, owned a camera and could start at any time. This was the first time Guerrero tackled on architectural photography and unknowing captured the creation of what became known as Wright’s greatest architectural developments.

Throughout the documentary, viewers can see the relationship between Guerrero and Wright and how well they understood each other.  In a state like Arizona, where underlying prejudice existed amongst  Mexican and Mexican-Americans, their relationship was particularly unique. “What kind of pencil do you use, Mr.Wright? And he said, ‘my dear boy it’s not the pencil—it’s the man.’ And when Mr.Wright came over and asked me, ‘my boy how come you’re not using my camera to take pictures?,’ I said, ‘Mr.Wright it’s not [the] camera—it’s the man.’ Mr.Wright laughed and walked away, and that’s the kind of relationship we had,” Guerrero said.

Guerrero became one of the most sought after photographers in architectural photography after his close work with Frank Lloyd Wright. “I knew there was something special between the camera, the shutter lens and my head, and that has guided me ever since,” Guerrero said.

During World War I, knowing it was his duty to serve, Guerrero decided to join the Air Core where he photographed bombings and even ran a photo lab inside a chicken coop in Italy. After the war, Guerrero went to New York and decided to continue to explore in his photography and expand his portfolio.

“I worked for Vogue, I worked for Harper’s Bazaar, I worked for Good Housekeeping—almost every magazine that existed at the time” Guerrero said. “I did interiors, I did kitchens, including Julia Child’s Kitchen.”

When World War II came along, Guerrero was highly opposed to it. “It didn’t make sense to me that we should go to war 10,000 miles away.” After House and Garden magazine read of Guerrero’s opposition to the Vietnam War in the New York Times front page article.They decided that Guerrero was to never do any work for them again, even after their 20 year relationship. “That was a big blow, and that was one way they could get to me, destroy my ability to make a living” Guerrero said.

The documentary film goes on to showcase the relationship that existed between Guerrero and Alexander Calder—an American sculptor mostly known for the mobile, or a type of moving sculptures—as well as, Louise Nevelson, who was known for her monumental, monochromatic sculptures that were very difficult to photograph. “You know, Louise almost had to make me start studying photography again, because you don’t do black on black without losing any form or any shape” Guerrero said.

Michael Kantor is the executive producer of the American Masters Series that is sponsored by PBS.While the film started to develop in the year 2000, “the documentary film took a total of 4 and half years to make,“ Kantor said.

Kantor said that American Masters decided to focus on the life of Pedro E. Guerrero because “it was the first time that American Masters could partner with another minority group” that is present in the U.S., He added, “American Masters is at its best when it’s combining great stories about people that we know we don’t know the story behind.”

“What seems most striking to me, is the way this film shows Guerrero’s ability to collaborate. Guerrero deconstructs the work of [the] artist and finds what moves the work of the artist … What he is doing is finding the way the artist’s work makes sense, but does so in a way with such respect” Arnaldo Cruz-Malavé, director of the Latin American and Latino Studies department, said. The documentary film also“encapsulates history around Mexican-American activism and traces segregation in Mesa, as well as the use of military service as a kind of way to justify demands for social equality,” Cruz-Malavé said.

An audience member added, “One of the most important elements that Pedro had … was his charm and wit.This was his elixir of socialization—to put people at ease, and he is the reason why I am [an] artist today.”

Susan Guerrero, the daughter of Pedro E. Guerrero, said, “Had he not been an artist, my father would have loved to be a senator. He was fascinated by politics, and he was frustrated by politics, so I often think that.”

“Pedro E Guerrero: A Photographer’s Journey” is available on the PBS website for free. “To help reach those who are not able to participate in our in-person events, American Masters launched an Instagram campaign asking viewers to take to the streets and take their architectural and sculptural photographs with the hashtag #PedroPBS,”  WNET Education Producer Amanda Granger said.