With beautiful, stylized group shots, soft embraces, and supple skin you want to reach into the pages and touch, Catalan photographer, videographer, and art director Carlota Guerrero’s stunning debut photobook is Tengo un dragón dentro del corazón – The Photographs of Carlota Guerrero, which translates to ‘There is a Dragon in My Heart’.
It feels as if the world has long awaited the release of this publication, which is out now via Prestel Publishing. Shot predominantly on medium format film, the celestial body of work combines photography and filmmaking with Guererro’s own unique art direction, with movement and choreography heavily influencing each considered frame. Groups of subjects are often posed in a dancer-like fashion, interconnected through limbs, objects, or braided hair. At other times, her models are featured alone and nude, exuding divine feminine power and sexual confidence; they are inspiring shots for many women looking to celebrate their own power. With muted color palettes and an ethereal visual quality, what lies at the heart of Guererro’s rich portfolio is the ability to subvert the male gaze, and transform the female nude into what she refers to as a “spiritual force”.
“My body is the body of a woman, and, in the bodies of other women, I find a union”
Despite her superstardom, the 31-year-old photographer is unpretentious and relaxed. Born and raised in Barcelona where she is currently based, Guerrero had humble beginnings, first taking photographs as a young adult, a process she hid from her family for some time out of fear they would not understand. She quickly rose to fame thanks to her collaboration with Solange on the singer’s ‘A Seat At The Table’ album artwork, which included contributing strong imagery to the singer’s 112-page conceptual digital book. Among the shots is the iconic album cover, a portrait of Solange gazing at the camera, her hair natural and set in place with blue and red hair clips. It is both vulnerable and strong, and is inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, and the stateliness that her presence has.
It was after this experience that the photographer began collaborating with global brands such as Nike, Givenchy, and Dior, and now regularly contributes to titles such as Vogue Spain, Numero, Porter, and Fader. The publication’s title, ‘There is aDragon in My Heart’, brings to mind the term ‘dragon lady’, which the Merriam Webster Dictionary refers to as either an overbearing or tyrannical woman, or a glamorous and often mysterious woman. Whether Guererro intended to refer subtly to either of these meanings of the phrase is unclear, yet what remains true is the feminine and feminist energy that has enveloped her life and defined her work, is proudly exuded through the pages of her book. The personality of her subjects and their playful inner nature is revealed in a refreshing manner that goes beyond merely aesthetics.
In the opening pages of the publication, the photographer explains that for her entire life, she has been both a friend and an enemy to her own physical form. “My body is the body of a woman, and, in the bodies of other women, I find a union,” she writes. In tandemto the photos are pieces of writing contributed by an impressive list of artistic collaborators who have supported Guerrero’s debut, and whose portraits also feature in the book. They include the Barcelona singer Rosalía, who writes of spending time together in the Poblenou neighborhood and Ciutadella park; the fashion designer Paloma Lanna, the writers Alejandra Smits and Leticia Sala, and global star Rupi Kaur, the Canadian-Indian poet who describes Guerrero as the “antidote to our male-gaze problem”.
The personality of her subjects and their playful inner nature is revealed in a refreshing manner
For Guerrero, challenging the patriarchal gaze upon womens’ bodies relates just as much to the woman being photographed as to the person creating the image. Speaking to AnOther Magazine about how she works with her subjects, Guerrero explains: “The important thing is that the woman herself decides. It’s not about what the image is like, but who takes the decision to represent the woman in this way.” The resulting images clearly take on this ethos: diversely beautiful women come together, jumping around in groups against fields of brilliant flowers; or in ‘La Danse’, a modern reinterpretation of Matisse’s 1909 painting ‘La Danse I’, where a quintet of nude women bring to life the vibrancy of Matisse’s iconic artwork, holding hands as they dance around in a circle. The imagery speaks to the unbreakable bonds between women, and offers a view into Guererro’s vast and layered vision of femininity.
In 2019, just before the pandemic wreaked havoc on the world, Guerrero premiered her performance piece El Beso (The Kiss) at Art Basel Miami, for the Spanish fashion brand Desigual. It included 30 performers dancing, touching one another, kissing, and removing their garments, until they became one pile of naked bodies, eliciting the theatrics of what Guererro wanted to be a “huge orgy, because, why not?”. The piece came about because the photographer said she had looked back on her earlier work and had realized that she had been unintentionally portraying women as virginal. Speaking to Itsnicethat, Guerrero says: “Women are ethereal, but they’re also super sexual. And both things are equally respectable,” she explains. “I’m not trying to be controversial or polemic, I’m just trying to portray the beauty and the dignity of women being hypersexual, without having to be apologetic.”
Her imagery speaks to the unbreakable bonds between women, and offers a view into Guererro’s vision of femininity.
From her majestic scenes and unwavering devotion to both the body and the natural world, as Agnish Ray writes, “it is no surprise that her artistic approach is influenced by her interest in the mysticism of ancient goddess religions. For Guerrero, these photo sessions are spaces of healing, in which her female subjects can be vulnerable, loved, and respected. ‘They are rituals of acceptance,’ Guererro continues, ‘I believe in the powers of ritual and magic.’” Tengo un dragón dentro del corazón – The Photographs of Carlota Guerrero is available here and at selected bookstores.