"My work with Solange was something really influential," says Carlota Guerrero of the cover art for 2016’s A Seat at The Table. "It changed my career." The image, which was lauded as iconic almost as soon as it premiered on social media, shows Solange from the shoulders up, hair full of brightly coloured duckbill clips, eyelids lightly glossed. Released in late September, the album announced a new phase for the recording artist – sonically, aesthetically, politically – and Guerrero’s stirring portrait signalled the beginning. Now, the picture forms part of a conclusion, featured alongside 250 other images in the multidisciplinary artist’s first monograph: the epilogue to eight years of her career. "It was very important," Guerrero explains, "for me to present this book as the finishing time of a cycle of my life."
Titled Tengo un Dragón Dentro del Corazón – "[It] translates to ‘I have a dragon inside my heart’ and means perseverance, persistence and initiative. The dragon that lives inside my heart is this infinite force where I get my strength and ideas from. It’s a wild version of god" – the book foregrounds the intimate tableaux for which Guerrero is otherwise best known. Photographing women of different shapes and sizes, heights and skin tones clustered often in busy arrangements, marching through Barcelona (like in this red story she shot for Playboy), standing in formation, their bodies warped in post-production (as in this editorial she lensed for Numéro) or echoing Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus (loosely channelled in several projects), Guerrero’s work predominantly deals in varying iterations of the female form. Scroll back far enough on her Instagram page and you’ll find an early influence in the work of the late American artist Bridget Polk: shapely stacks of balancing rocks. Neutral in palette and of differing configurations, they share a commonality with the figures in Guerrero’s pictures.
It is the broader theme of nature, though, which most informs Guerrero’s work. "I get all my information from opening my channel and receiving all these ideas and information that are floating in the air, the trees and sea," she tells R29. "I open myself and I get images and scenes – I cannot rest until I portray them." This preoccupation with something more profound than surface-level aesthetics is what separates her work from that of her contemporaries. Explicitly feminist in her perspective and with a hazy accent to her photos shared by others, Guerrero leans away from subversive girlish characteristics in favour of tones that better serve her visual objectives. Ruminating on a duality of strength and vulnerability, the result is a body of work which has been significant in reshaping the creative landscape of recent years.
An obvious consequence of her attraction to nature, the nudity that permeates her work is a central component of her practice and online profile. "Clothing is something that separates my lens from the subject that I am portraying," she notes. "It adds a layer of information that sometimes I do not want to decode. If I want to portray somebody’s essence, the easiest way for me is naked." Nevertheless, this forceful disposition has only furthered Guerrero's profile in the fashion industry: last spring she shot Chloe x Halle over Zoom for Balmain, and she’s been tapped for campaigns by Helmut Lang, Dior and Zara too.
Living and (sometimes) working in her native Barcelona, Guerrero’s rise has coincided with that of her close friends from the city. "We were all investing our energy in the arts and now we dedicate our lives to them," she says of her community, 'fashion project' Paloma Wool (Paloma Lanna and Tana Latorre) and photographers Camila Falquez and Olga de la Iglesia. "They are my sisters, supporting one another and sharing our experiences of growing up as female artists in Spain – which wasn’t an easy path – so for me [the Spanish arts scene] means sorority." Alongside Paloma Wool, with whom her collaborative relationship is longstanding, Guerrero has helped to define an aesthetic that speaks to the laid-back nature of the Catalonian capital, an environment Latorre referenced in a conversation with Vogue earlier this year.
While this sense of sisterhood is not a prerequisite for the artist (in 2017 she shot Stormzy for the cover of The Fader), the people she feels the greatest affinity with are those who identify as women: Naomi Shimada, Sita Abellán and Arca have all been immortalised by Guerrero in projects that underscore this intimacy. "It was an unconscious decision that became extremely conscious. It is something genuine and instinctive. Being a woman is my condition and starting point. I start exploring from what I know, from what I am most familiar with – myself," she asserts, alluding to the self-portraits in her oeuvre. "I feel an infinite admiration for the woman’s figure; her power and presence fascinate me to a visceral extent. To me, to photograph is to honour, to celebrate and to thank everything that I learn from them. And the stairway, the idea of the infinite stairway of women being carried by other women from immemorial times, transmitting and passing on knowledge and intuition."
With the book – which includes accompanying texts from friends and collaborators such as Rosalía and Rupi Kaur – marking the closing of an extensive personal and professional chapter, today Guerrero is looking forwards. Already immersed in the pool of live performance – the "orgy" she curated for Desigual at Art Basel Miami in 2019 is one of her proudest achievements, she says – she hopes to delve further into the discipline when the universe next allows. "I am hugely attracted by the performance world. It is where I find most of my references," she offers. "It has been so important in the path of my career – now, more and more I give importance to what is happening in real life than to the documentation itself. The connections the women make between them."
This transition to the kinetic feels wholly natural for the artist, whose stills already boast a physical quality (reinforced by the breadth of work on her Vimeo page, where you’ll find Solange’s "Almeda" video, which she art directed). Summarising how she arrived at TUDDDC, Guerrero describes a process that will inevitably continue to feed her work. "I photograph similar compositions, subjects and scenarios over and over, without almost thinking about it, they keep coming to me," she says. "This behaviour makes me think of a blooming orchid that doesn’t know she is doing so. I make compositions when I am thriving, I am those compositions – and many times I feel like I do not choose them but they choose me. This book is an essay about my repetitive patterns; I curated it by tracing a map of them."