In 1939, Guerrero was a 22-year-old amateur photographer looking for a job. He heard about an architect in Scottsdale, Ariz., where Guerrero lived at the time, who might have an opening. He introduced himself, got the job, and then found out what kind of celebrity he was working with. "I had no idea who this man was," Guerrero told ARCHITECT in April. "If I had known, I probably wouldn’t have gone."
How Pedro E. Guerrero became Frank Lloyd Wright’s favorite photographer is now a story of legend.
Guerrero developed a relationship with Wright and photographed most of the architect’s work for the next 20 years, until Wright died. Guerrero went on to photograph the work of Eero Saarinen, Marcel Breuer, Philip Johnson, and Alexander Calder. He died at 95 in his home in Florence, Ariz., on Thursday.
Guerrero was born in Casa Grande, Ariz., on Sept. 5, 1917. His father owned a sign-painting company, and then a Mexican foods company called Rosarita Co. Guerrero followed his brother to the Art Center School of Los Angeles as a young man, but only took a few classes in photography before dropping out and finding work with Wright.
Later in his career, he moved to New Canaan, Conn., to be near his work in New York, where he photographed for magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar and House and Garden. There he met the Harvard 5, a group of architects who worked in New Canaan in the '40s, made up of now-luminaries including Philip Johnson and Marcel Breuer. But he always made sure he was available whenever Wright called. “I didn’t want Mr. Wright to call and say, ‘Bring your cameras. I want to see you in Wisconsin next week,’ and to have to tell him, ‘I can’t. I’m doing a job for Philip Johnson,’” he said. “Out of loyalty to him, I tried to avoid getting involved with anyone else, unless a magazine called me to photograph, say Marcel Breuer or Edward Durrell Stone, or any of those people, which I did for assignments, but not the way I worked with Mr. Wright."
While Wright is known for his ego, Guerrero said that Wright showed him a different side. “We had our little jokes,” Guerrero said. “He was very playful. ... I was not always standing in awe of him. ... He was just another friend. And a good one. At one time I thought that maybe every 22-year-old man had a Frank Lloyd Wright helping him get by, and advising him, and getting him work, but it turns out that it wasn’t true.”
Wright liked Guerrero’s work because the photographer tried to let his subjects speak for themselves, as if each building were a piece of sculpture. Other photographers would take photos of details in projects, but Guerrero stuck to capturing the entirety of his subject in the lens. Approaching Calder’s work required something different of Guerrero, though, as Calder was chaos to Wright’s order. Guerrero also put his skills to work in World War II, developing pictures that were taken during Army Air Corps bombings. But, as he told ARCHITECT in the recorded Q&A back in April, “I don’t imagine that anything could be better than working with Wright.”