Gerardo F. Kurtz
An Introductori Text
José Guerrero - Photographer
Granada - 1979
José Guerrero is a photographer that I have known for many years now, and have been a direct witness of his progress from almost the beginning of his career as a photographer. His work is one that is not easy to comment, basically due mainly to the fact that the intricate and rich clues that make his work both exceptionally interesting and artistically relevant, are far from apparent and very often lie far from the apparent surface of his images. On the other hand, and directly evident in his work is its very high quality, both in graphic nature and in the photographic craftsmanship. His photographic proposition is complex and interesting, and Jose goes to great extents to master the aspects of the material finish of the “objects” he produces. So his production is one of merit and well worth being considered with careful attention.
Exploring Jose’s work, as so happens with so many contemporary artists, requires of the viewer much more than the simple and easy approach. To fully grasp and understand the scope and reach of the value of his photographic work, one must establish a careful relationship with his images, but it is an effort that soon provides with insights and clues that should allow us to grasp the substantial photographic nature of his work.
Once we accept Jose’s challenge to explore his graphic world we discover that even when he prefers to use what might seem (“seem” being the key word) like simple notations for his images, at the same time he requires that each image be a fully independent piece of his world, each one of them must have a rich poetic nature, be highly intent, and is always to be essentially related to a coherent and consistent photographic effort. A subtle relationship between the evident and the profound is a true joy to discover in each of his images. But so much more so when we discover that these images are part of a complex and fertile photographic proposition.
Jose’s artistic and creative proposition persists after one puts one of his images behind. The next one we encounter, be it the one Jose directly proposes as this “next one” or not, pretends to be linked to the one we just left behind. It is a sort of serial construction, but never one with a closed set of paths and rules. Jose works very hard in combining the efforts put into a single image with those he puts in matching each image into a very specific seriation. His work is not really about the seriation itself, but about each image related (via this seriation) to a complex outer world. His groupings of sets of images (portfolios) will work as a single and coherent graphic reality, yet there is not always an evident correlation between the images, and more often than not, there is not even a direct narrative that really links them. Subtle elements exist that relate the images, we can hardly grasp what they are, yet the transitions between the images are there, very much like a musical composition where transitions and constructions of sounds and form obey and submit to a mysterious order.
There is a labyrinth game somewhere in Jose’s work. Once one ventures into the paths he proposes there is no real escape from it. Each picture reveals a world, and the sets of images brought to us in the portfolios set twists and changes of direction into that world.
His photographic constructions, considered individually are extremely interesting, but they acquire a special quality when put forward in their associative structure.
The focus and consistency in his work is impressive. The determination and solidity of his proposition, of his personal view, is well developed and it is surprising to see such a young artist working with what seems to be a doubtless language. Even when there is a language in his work, there is no real message. If one were to see one in Jose’s work it is none other than the essential fact that the world of present day mankind is but one. There is a universality in his views were we discover a persistency and uniformity in modern urban life, in urban reality, downtown or in the outskirts. In any of his urban and not so urban views, it is human action on our surroundings that defines the essential aspect that interest his. The universal reality of our nature permeates through the views and finds it way into Jose’s images.
Looking at (what is to me one of his masterpieces) his “Alcalá la Real. JAÉN 2007” from the series Andalousie one sees just how complex his images are. Using iconic landscape references that do in fact point our eyes to the expected Andalusian scenery, it is the structure built into it that scenery that arguments in favour of a visual proposition. Without using any “counter_icon” dialog, and still depicting so well a characteristically Andalusian scenery, the universal “factor” has become the grounds of Jose’s visual argument, very much like a popup magic trick.
His landscapes are really always "humanscapes", his inner town views often (almost always) provide clues to references to where they were taken, but at the same time none of his images depend on the localist content, no landmark intervenes in building the images, at most they become an accidental reference in the image. It is the direct space depicted that is of interest, the “sense of place” in itself is what leaps out of the picture and allows us to discover both the fascination of the instant and universal reality Jose is experiencing, and later – once the print comes to life - sharing with us.
Just look at one of his more successful pair of images (also belonging to his portfolio “Down-Town. London, Moscow, Cairo, Paris, New York, Teheran … 2008-2011): “Krasnosgardeskaya. MOSCOW 2008” and “Dar El Salam. CAIRO 2008”. These are images that must be experienced in a closed set of time, in one viewing session, and in doing so, they become the very same image. No tricks and no visual “artefacts” to perform the trick, no direct visual construction, just one set of careful eyes discovering the essence of a place, of an urban experience, and coming up with a visual representation of it.
This type of simple pairing reveals Jose´s labyrinth game, one where lax seriation make images interact with each other and provide a meaningful poetic experience. At times the visual experience develops with just simple set like this one of the 2008 of Moscow and Cairo pair, but in others it is in a more complex and almost whispering way. Once one accepts Jose’s invitation to join his proposition, his world both puzzles and attracts us, and
it soon is clear to us that his images will provide an interesting and meaningful ride. Slowly leap down his corridors, up and down his paths, back and forth from place to place, and one will end up wondering just how this given set of images trap you into the game. Jump into the whispering subseries proposed in “Down-Town” in two groupings of nine images each depicting corners Tehran (2011), into the whole series of Orbigo, or Desertica, any of his, and there is no tourist ride, it is all just pure travel, sublimated poetic discoveries that sets us for a while into a higher sphere of observation. To me a real joy, it is well worth the time taken in exploring Jose’s work.
All of his images, all of Jose’s work (not always with the same success of course), will also depict a sense of beauty that arrives from both the image and from the object that contains it. To view his originals is a must. Take his 2008 “Thames” for example. Here he will be using his usual visual skills but this time using – almost accidentally - the sempiternal (yet almost forgotten now!) “foggy London” theme.
In this series he manages to create a set of images of incredible beauty, a beauty that prevails and is immediately apparent not like in other of his work where this beauty is not as direct or so apparent. In this series the material experience of working our eyes through Jose’s photographs, the objects themselves, gives us a sense of something like a “tactile view”. One where image, subject and object come in direct and intense harmony
Each one of Jose’s images stands for itself, each one with clues to its proper location, but always truly devoid of any artifice that would build an easy and conventional path to an icon, each image belongs to the world, to us, and Jose manages to build a personal speech where each location he works at is represented as one that is in his and our world, yet, and this is one of Jose’s main achievements, each and every image is subject to a process of creation that converts it into an independent photograph, into a subtle poetic reality, one that even when it belongs to a bigger picture, to a simple or complex series it still prevails as a true photograph linked to the artist’s effort and talent.