Carlota Guerrero could have remained anonymous outside her native Barcelona during the early years of her career as a photographer and art director. But instead she is proof that a little collaboration can go a long way. The artist, as she considers herself, has been influencing contemporary creativity for some time, and it has recently led her to the spotlight.
Solange’s A Seat at the Table (Saint Records/Columbia) has been one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the past year. The double release of the Cranes In The Sky and Don’t Touch My Hair music videos filled the internet with praise and aesthetic delight. Beyond the music itself, the album’s visuals are an integral part of the work as a whole. The eponymous inventive, even avant-garde eBook made it a substantially more tangible body of work. The cover is a powerful political statement, yet playful in its beauty: Solange with her hairclips, highlighting the process of transition involved in black female beauty. And the fashion from the videos, in striking looks like Solange sitting in a concrete landscape, wearing the now famous puffy pink jacket. Allow us to introduce you to the other mastermind behind all of this: Carlota.
A quick look around her Instagram feed confirms that her aesthetic is addictive, and suggests that Carlota Guerrero and Solange are a match made in heaven. Personal snaps represent a continuum of intimate glimpses into the life of a creative soul. Carlota’s work is as beautiful as it is strong, giving a subtle but accurate definition of what it is to be a woman, evoking a proud fragility at times. There are no filters or make up, only natural beauty, raw skin, nature, strong femininity and friendship. Far from the current aesthetic tendencies of contemporary visual culture – far from normcore, androgyny or shaved heads – her work feels like liberating fresh air, like the sense of empowerment that comes with self-respect. In Carlota’s hands, glamour feels raw. Womanhood is celebrated in a way that feels solid and humble.
Who are you?
I am Carlota Guerrero. I am a photographer and an art director. I like putting my finger on different means of expression, going from performance to art direction, photography or, all of a sudden, music. What I am trying to do is to make a project out of my life – something that is coherent with the way I am, the way I live, the way I interact with people, the way I express whatever it is that I want to express. My first pictures were pictures of the real around me. From there I started to develop a language that felt true, a language that reflected the events that were happening.
How did you start out in photography?
My friend Olga de la Iglesia gave me a camera. I had already been taking digital pictures and, even then, I was searching for a certain aesthetic; I looked for specific patterns and already had clear preferences for certain colours and shapes. But when I developed my first roll I was shocked. It had nothing to do with what I had previously experimented with. Digital photography doesn’t really say anything to me – you make a mistake and it turns out ugly. Also, it’s for free, sort of, so you forget about what you’re doing. Film is so different – it requires some thought, it’s an object you can touch, any mistake is tangible.
You liked that…
Yes. I was so amazed. Also, I overexposed everything because I didn’t really know how the camera worked. All the pictures were veiled in grey and blue tones. They looked like paintings. It was then that I understood that photography is not just documenting; you can also generate a representation, something very experimental. That’s why I got deeper into it – the beauty in the error.
How has your language evolved since you started?
There’s a certain innocence that has been lost, and that’s very sad. The more we work in fashion, the more the purity from the beginning is lost. My friend Paloma Wool and I are part of a group of girls that have been friends for a long time. Every one of us had something to say as artists, and each of us said it without us being aware of it. It’s something that I’m never going to be able to do again, the same way that I’m never going to be a kid and play with toys again. Yet I am also happy with my language now. I think it’s something much more coherent, thought through, and mature that has evolved with time and effort. But my earlier work feels purer. I look back at it with nostalgia.
How is the dynamic in the group?
We are like a family. We support each other so much. [There is often] this idea about women being obstacles to other women – women mistreating or criticising other women. But our friendship has always been built around this process of growing up together. That’s probably what’s made us very confident about ourselves. We’ve always had and understood each other. We have always collaborated, there’s always been a lot of creativity and inspiration around us.
So all your careers started from personal interests and projects?
Everything emerged during our little escapes to nature. We’ve spent a lot of time in the Balearic Islands. Every summer, these kind of hippie vacations in Mallorca and Menorca – we forget about clothes, the city and the concrete. Instead, we’re just present. All these inspiring situations happened. Those are my moments of reality, to get in touch with the animal within me. Those moments were always so precious, and there was a need to collect them.
Quite different to Taylor Swift’s girl gang…
Everything is different. Their profile is a consumerist, unreachable stereotype. Our discourse is always feminist. It is not very political, but it is implicit. I speak about it through my images. I am trying to destigmatise the sexy character of nudes. My work is often misunderstood, because a lot of people read it as erotic but, 95 per cent of the time, what you see in the pictures is what is actually happening. For me it is about the search for real experiences, about showing the body in a much more natural way. A celebration of natural beauty, which is something very strong here in Spain.
How is the creative process when all of you collaborate?
We tend to laugh our asses off. We’ll tease and make fun of each other. Paloma knows what doesn’t look flattering on me, and she’ll force me to wear it – that kind of thing. After a while we get serious. But to have fun is so important for us to produce good work. She knows when I find myself pretty, what I feel comfortable with. I find it extremely beautiful to photograph a girl that I have a beautiful connection with. If I like the way she thinks, what she says, how she lives, if she’s wearing clothes designed by my friends or somebody I admire, if it’s a project that I trust and understand, it will feel close and immediate to me.
What was your reaction when Solange contacted you?
Her manager wrote to me after Solange discovered my Instagram account. I never realised that she followed me. I stalked my own account later on, and I found out that I had likes from her and I hadn’t even noticed. I was very excited – I am a huge fan of hers, she’s one of the artists I admire the most. I think she’s a genius.
What do you think made her interested in you?
I guess it was the use of colour, the use of organic materials, my repre-sentation of women. She’s very natural. But I also think it was because of my innocence. She works with a fantastic stylist but that stylist, of course, attends all the fashion weeks and works with all the big brands. To pick a girl who comes from Europe and has no idea about Solange’s discourse, that’s very different. I was someone who came from nowhere, and that can be something very strong.
How was it to work with her?
Very intense. We spent two weeks together in New Orleans. Solange is glad to accept any kind of proposal; I could just tell her to wear a plant or put whatever on her head. She is totally open to any idea outside the box. And that is incredible, since people tend to be sceptical towards that kind of creativity – there’s always a but or an obstacle. So it was a dream to me. She was still very much in control, but she trusted me.
It’s quite remarkable, since she art directs everything she does.
Yes, it is very impressive. But she gave me a lot of creative space. There was a lot of dialogue between us. We spent a whole month in two vans with a crew of around 30 people shooting every day. Then we went to New York City and did the shoot for the cover. Afterwards, we went back to where we started for a second road trip with a smaller crew of five people, including her husband, her assistant and me. It was like a road trip with friends.
Was it planned beforehand that you were going to shoot the cover?
She wanted me to supervise all of the art direction. I also did the book, together with a creative studio from Barcelona, Querida. She wanted coherence, and everything was pretty planned, even if there was also a lot of improvisation.
How did this project affect your career?
I’m represented by an agency in London now, We Folk, which represents some of my favourite artists. So, yes, this project has opened many doors. But I’m trying to remain calm, with my feet on the ground. If I got to this project it’s because I was doing what I was doing.
When I saw Cranes In The Sky, I thought it conveyed a femininity that feels fresh, natural, raw, but at the same time glamorous and sophisticated – very subtle, but strong and beautiful. It felt like a new form of glamour, more coherent with what it is to be a woman today.
If you see it like that, I love it. I wish glamour was that. Glamour, to me, even when it’s the stereotyped version of it, reminds me of jewellery, luxury. But I love the idea that glamour could get to be something like this.
Carlota was photographed in Barcelona in January 2017 surrounded by objects and drawings from her own collection. All clothes are by her friend and collaborator, Paloma Wool.