The beauty of Juan Guerrero

The last time I saw Juan Guerrero was at his home in the Singuerlín neighborhood, in Santa Coloma de Gramenet.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
02 April 2024 Tuesday 22:22
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The beauty of Juan Guerrero

The last time I saw Juan Guerrero was at his home in the Singuerlín neighborhood, in Santa Coloma de Gramenet. He showed me the laboratory he had in the basement of his house. A red light bulb hung from the ceiling, that light bulb that always accompanied the world of analog photography. Juan turned on the light and stared at it. “How many good times I have had here…!”

I remember my teacher when I was a kid. In the afternoons I came to see it revealed. He prepared himself a glass of cognac and a cigar and, with great patience, he prepared the liquids and opened the paper boxes. He was obsessed with the technique of printing his photographic copies. “I have been like a bumblebee, I have hit myself many times against the glass of a window looking for the exit, until he found it,” he explained to me.

Juan was still rooted in his native Cádiz, but he was proud to live in Santa Coloma de Gramenet and to be from Colombia.

He has combed the city thousands of times and has prepared a notarial record with his camera of the transformation process from the late Franco era to today. “I have always moved in Santa Coloma. This city is my workspace and when I go to Barcelona I don't even take my camera, I feel out of place."

Since 1969 Juan Guerrero published his works in El País, El Periódico, Diari de Barcelona, ​​El Observador and in the local magazine Grama. His style and way of photographing have been admired and followed by several generations of photographers who have discovered in Guerrero a way of photographing people's social lives from a poetic perspective.

“The difficult thing is to find beauty in misery, in suffering, in destruction, but there is, and a lot of it,” said the teacher. The photo that best reflects this reflection by Juan Guerrero is what I consider the best photo of all time: “Tomoko's Bathroom”, by Eugene Smith. Despite its crudeness, it contains great beauty.

The word beauty was always on Guerrero's lips. He found it in Ecuador in a girl who was inside a garbage can pushed by her mother. Or how a father took his three children in Santa Coloma. “To photograph you have to have a sense of beauty, feel free and find spirituality and humanism.”

Juan always looked through a rectangle, with the eyes of a photographer. He composed and framed mentally. He enjoyed scenes that he retained in his head as an image that life gave him. “Look, look, what a beauty!”

He defended imperfection in photography and regretted that perfection was sought too much. “Perfect photo, dead photo,” she said. “We are in a time when everything is honey and that makes you sick,” she added. On one occasion I asked her why she had a certain fixation on puddles. “Because maybe in the reflection of the water I will find the repetition of something that I like”

When Guerrero retired, he felt that the camera was no longer hanging from his shoulder and he was surprised by that sensation. “It was very strange, it was as if a part of my body had been amputated, I had to feel the weight of the camera on my shoulder again.”

He was always accompanied by his wife, Mari Carmen. Along the way she lost one of his children, her beloved Armesto, but Laura worthily follows in her father's footsteps.

I am convinced that now he will go for a walk, camera on his shoulder, alongside Eugene Smith, Doisneau or Cartier-Bresson. Surely they accept him in the group, because he is also one of the greats.

Juan Guerrero has turned off the red light in his laboratory forever. The old light bulb will no longer illuminate that place where he did so much magic.