When we think of American masters, who comes to mind? Andy Warhol, maybe? Leonard Bernstein? Billie Holiday? Without a doubt, all are unequivocal members of the United States’ pantheon of great cultural figures, so it’s fitting that all three have been profiled at some point by the Emmy Award-winning PBS documentary series American Masters. That’s because over 28 seasons, the program has been bringing American audiences extended biographies of some of our country’s most influential artists and thinkers, living and dead. But unlike Warhol, Bernstein, Holiday, and others, not all of our true American masters are necessarily household names.
Take, for example, photographer Pedro E. Guerrero. Ever heard of him? Chances are that the answer is no, but for many photography and architecture aficionados, he is a revered figure known for collaborating with some of the world’s biggest names. Included amongst those close collaborators is architect Frank Lloyd Wright, with whom Guerrero had an extended working relationship dating back to Wright’s earliest designs. You can also throw in renowned sculptors like Alexander Calder and Louise Nevelson, who trusted Guerrero above anyone else to translate their works into powerful two-dimensional images.
But Guerrero is not what you would expect of a typical art world scenester. He was not born on the coasts, nor was his family particularly wealthy or well-connected. In fact, Guerrero grew up in a modest, one-bedroom house in the segregated city of Mesa, Arizona, where he suffered endless discrimination on account of his Mexican heritage. After chancing into a photography program at a Los Angeles art school, he fell in love with the medium and eventually secured a gig photographing Wright’s vacation home, Taliesin West, in Scottsdale. The rest, as they say, is history, and Guerrero quickly became one of the most sought-after architecture and design photographers of the 1950s and 60s.
But don’t take our word for it. American Masters has put together a worthy biography of the recently passed photographic pioneer, including an exclusive interview with Guerrero along with reflections from close friends, family members, and collaborators. Directed by Raymond Telles and Yvan Iturriaga of the Latino Americans series, Pedro E. Guerrero: A Photographer’s Journey will also be accompanied by a national community engagement and education campaign that includes photo workshops, a companion website, and even an Instagram hashtag campaign (#PedroPBS), all with the noble intention of giving one of the U.S.’ great artistic minds his rightful place in our popular consciousness.
American Masters – Pedro E. Guerrero: A Photographer’s Journey premieres Friday, September 18 at 9 pm on PBS.