We all know who Frank Lloyd Wright was. He was a brilliant American Architect, Interior Designer, Educator, and writer around the turn of the last century. He died in 1959, leaving behind a legacy of beautiful and influential buildings. He designed over 1000 buildings, with around 530 of them actually being built. You can read more about him at Wikipedia.
But my interest is in someone else affiliated with him. Pedro E. Guerrero. Frank Lloyd Wrights official photographer.
In 1932, a 22-year old photographer traveled from his home in Mesa, Arizona to an architectural school in Scottsdale. He had just finished art school and was looking to start his career. His father suggested he speak with the head architect and ask for a job. The architect was Frank Lloyd-Wright and he liked the young man’s images of nudes in the desert. Pedro fell in love with the architecture at the school and a friendship was made.
The relationship between architect and photographer represents the coming together of two creative visions. This can be a fruitful exchange, and the savviest architects cultivate a partnership with a single photographer so there is consistency between the imagery over time. Wright was keenly aware that, far more than the experience of walking through a building, it was visual representation reproduced and distributed that defined how most people would engage his creations. Guerrero’s technical skill and sensitivity to site and environment did much to make Wright’s projects recognizable, but he never rested on the repetition of a singular compositional approach. Instead, he allowed unique building elements or local conditions to shape his photographic interpretations.
From the very beginning, Wright expressed a generosity of spirit toward the young photographer. He gave him free rein to explore the property, allowing him space to photograph whatever moved him. Wright’s only request was that he wanted to recognize the buildings as his own, which mandated a particular perspective. The two men were about three inches apart in height, and Wright told Guerrero he shouldn’t think of himself as short but liken taller people to overgrown weeds. He asked Guerrero to capture the work from their shared vantage point, the perspective from which he designed at his desk.
Perhaps more significant to Wright than perspective, however, was Guerrero’s remarkable technical ability to express the desert’s extreme conditions, with which Wright had been intently preoccupied. While the architect was new to Arizona, Guerrero had an intuitive understanding of the harsh light and didn’t shy away from it. As seen in his photographs of the David & Gladys Wright House, he often foregrounds the cruel sun, the severe shadows, and the way these conditions can reduce structure to mere abstraction. In a highly composed shot of Taliesin West, an elongated roofline and diagonal strut are rendered as a tight geometric frame, a dark barrier boxing the viewer into a space of shelter. A building section juts out in mid‑ground, just before the image releases us into an expanse of light and desert brush. It’s a masterful exercise in depth of field.
I love the starkness of the desert photographs, and Pedro’s composition and control of light, but what strikes me the most is the relationship that was built up between the 2 men. It goes to show how great a partnership in this field is. By getting to know each other’s wants, needs, preferences, and quirks, you can make beautiful art. It’s quite different from many peoples views today of a discardable society.
A lot of the text was lifted from this brilliant article by Emily Bills, an architectural and history scholar.