Alejandra Guerrero, whose first monograph Wicked Women is published by Circa Press this month, made her public debut as an erotic photographer in Chicago in 2003, in an exhibition themed around eroticism and technology.
Since then, she has acquired a long list of publishing credits ranging from magazines in Colombia (her home country) to international titles like Bizarre, Leg Show, Penthouse, Revolver, Skin Two and Von Gutenberg.
In the last decade she has featured in half a dozen erotic photo-book anthologies, and 2020’s Wicked Women will be not only her first solo book project but also the first of three editions from Circa covering different aspects of the Guerrero oeuvre.
Alejandra’s work has been compared to that of late greats Helmut Newton and Bob Carlos Clarke, both of whom she cites as important influences. She says:
“I hope Wicked Women comes across as a delightful erotic, fetishistically charged mono-graph with a stylish vision of unapologetic female sexuality, with pages full of intoxicating women, each exerting their sexual power.”
And, she adds, “done by a very passionate female photographer determined to make her mark in the world of erotica”.
Leading female sexuality commentator Violet Blue, who provides the book’s foreword, is confident that aficionados of erotic photography will find it “a different book from those they’ve known”.
“Wicked Women is highly stylised, sexualised fetishism,” Blue writes, “yet at the same time it is a manifesto. This manifesto is articulated by every image.”
But, as I soon discover, it’s a manifesto that began to formulate in Guerrero’s thoughts long before she started on her journey as a photographer.
Alejandra Guerrero grew up in the Colombian capital Bogota, educated from ages six to 17 at a British school where many of the pupils were the children of diplomats and the like.
“Most of our subjects were taught to us in English, our textbooks were mostly British, and in elementary school the math textbook had us learning to count in pounds instead of pesos, which, now that I think of it, was funny,” she recalls.
During her school years there were regular family holidays with an uncle who lived in Chicago. So the city was already a significant part of her life by the time she made her first solo visit there in 1998, while studying Fine Arts at Colombia’s Los Andes University.
“This time it was different,” she says, “because I made some friends of my own and was more attuned to my own personal interest and the subcultures that were of significance to me.
“Prior to my trip I had connected with some people online who had made some recommendations for places to check out.
“I followed one of those recommendations and made a cousin take me to a bar which, randomly, was having a goth/fetish night. I was blown away by what I saw that night and felt I wanted to experience more of it.”
Alejandra returned to the city for a “break” in 1999, and, in her own words, “ended up continuing where I’d left off”.
“And here I am almost 21 years later in the place that I call home and which made me much of who I am as an artist…”
She agrees, though, that the seeds of her erotic and fetish sensibilities — and of the manifesto Violet Blue refers to — were almost certainly sewn before she left Bogota.
Although the school she attended was non-religious, Alejandra was brought up, nominally at least, as a Catholic — Catholicism being the religion of some 70 percent of Colombia’s population.
In her early teens she renounced the faith. “I felt this religion was oppressive,” she explains, “especially in matters of sex.
“When you are a true Catholic, the Church teaches that sexual intercourse has a purpose, and that outside of marriage it is contrary to that purpose.
“In no way can you express yourself sexually or in an artistic manner related to it without being thought of as some sort of heretic, or with grave moral concern.
“Maybe unconsciously this fuelled my rebelliousness against all of these beliefs and led to finding my way of expression via erotic photography,” she muses.
“Though I attribute it more to being raised in a very sexist society — one with a lot of gender disparity and the double moral standard for men compared to women.
“There is a strong celebration of ‘machista culture’, in contrast to the attitude towards women who are looked down on for following their desires and not wanting to be subjugated by society.”
Even in high school, she reveals, she was exploring eroticism through art — albeit only in a “mild” way.
“When I was doing the IB [International Baccalaureate] with art in high level, I painted female bodies,” she says. “So I guess from then, the body was something I found interesting to express myself with.”
After moving to Chicago in 1999, Guerrero took a job in a photo lab — an experience that convinced her photography was the career she wanted to pursue. So in 2000 she formally transferred to UIC (University of Illinois Chicago) to study that subject.
“When I started studying photography,” she says, “my first models were friends and the photos had a bit of sexual tension.
“But this took off definitely when I was part of the Fluxcore Turn On show about sex and technology in 2003.
“It set me off on a path where things started slowly happening for me to continue in the genre.”
Her first magazine appearance came a few years later in 2007, in a Colombian magazine called Don Juan.
“They published this very fetish-oriented editorial, which was very different to the photos they usually had.
“That led to a lot of interest in Colombia. I got published again in that magazine, as well as in a controversial article in the main newspaper El Tiempo about myself and my work, which led to more articles in magazines and even a radio interview!
“It gave my work a fascination in my country because of my unique occupation, but I think more so because I was a woman, doing something considered very risqué.”
The first book Alejandra Guerrero’s work appeared in was 2010’s The Mammoth Book of New Erotic Photography, a compilation edited by Maxim Jakubowski.
The following year she made her debut as a Taschen contributor in its tastefully-titled anthology The Big Book of Pussy. How did that come about?
“One of the first big models I shot, the lovely Julie Strain, took a fondness to me and was encouraging of what I was doing at the time (I was more of an amateur!).
“She said I should contact Dian Hanson, editor of Taschen’s sexy books, and she wrote down her info for me. But I didn’t contact Dian then, as I felt shy about it.
“Some years later, I saw that familiar name on an e-mail and gave a big excited scream! She was inquiring about photos she’d found on a site, and wanted to see what else I had that could work for this book she was putting together.
“I couldn’t believe it. I’d collected photography books for years and had many wonderful ones by Taschen, so being considered to be in one of them blew my mind.”
By this time her work had also begun to appear in international magazines such as Skin Two, Von Gutenberg, Inked and Bizarre.
But it was the exposure she received as one of 50 international contributors in Taschen’s 2012 anthology The New Erotic Photography Volume Two (also edited by Hanson) that finally established Alejandra as a world-class talent.
After this there would be appearances in magazines such as Leg Show, Revolver and Penthouse, and further book credits, starting with Volume 4 of the Mammoth New Erotic Photography series in 2013.
This would be followed by two more Taschen collections: Lesbians for Men (2016) and The New Erotic Photography (2017), a Bibliotheca Universalis compendium edition combining the best of both earlier NEP editions.
Under the circumstances, then, you might think the arrival of Alejandra Guerrero’s Wicked Women monograph is somewhat overdue.
But it’s quite a lot tougher out there than it used to be for photographers of erotica — especially fetish erotica — to get book deals.
Both Guerrero and her pal and Circa Press stablemate Steve Diet Goedde have benefited from deals that employed crowdfunding to raise a critical amount of upfront finance.
And when it comes to being able to make an actual living from this kind of work, that’s not easy either, however talented a photographer is. You would probably find that most of your favourite fetish ’togs have another job, either within our outside photography, that pays the bills.
But that was never Alejandra Guerrero’s plan. “I was determined from when I started doing photography that I would do so as my only occupation,” she says. “And so I invested a lot of time and effort in making sure this was it!
“I’ve been working as a freelance photographer since the mid-aughts [mid-noughties]. I’ve done other very minor jobs as alternative income, but most of how I’ve earned my income has come from my camera: I sell prints, and have an artist shop with shirts and other products with my art.
“I also shoot a bit of fashion and do a lot of private commissions in erotica/fetish. My dream was to live off my art and I’ve been lucky that I have been mostly able to do so.
“What I’m pursuing now is to do mostly Fine Art, since in these changing times, working with clients has become more complicated. So I’m going to be adding a dedicated print shop to my website.
“I feel that I should market my art more and do only my own vision. Wicked Women is a good appetiser of my imprint as an artist.”
And what of the question Guerrero says she is often asked — the one about ‘being a woman doing fetish photography’? Given that the majority of fetish photographers are male, does she see being female as an advantage?
And can the growing numbers of female fetish photographers influence the genre in the same way female latex designers have influenced fetish fashion?
“I think that having a feminine touch in fetish erotica is a wonderful thing,” she replies, “because women have different ways of expressing themselves and their sensitivities.
“So instead of only getting the male gaze, you can also get a feminine point of view. As you say, female designers started getting into latex and it became more chic and colourful, so maybe in the same sense you have a feminine outlook.
“From my own point of view I like making women look and feel amazing in photos. There is zero misogyny in my work; I’m all about empowerment via sexuality.
“I’ve gotten from models a lot that they enjoy shooting with a woman and feel more relaxed — they don’t feel ‘perved on’. Perhaps, too, because I style the majority of my work, I try styling models in outfits that work well with them and with what I’m doing, and put a lot of effort into this.
“It’s very much part of my aesthetic, and from my own personal experience in modelling, I think a lot of male photographers are less fussy about this.”
In a mission statement written a while ago for her Corporate Vampire website, Alejandra said she wanted to “add a new voice to erotica with a feminine point of view, depicting women as powerful beings”.
“When I wrote that I was working in the adult world in Los Angeles, and had a gig assisting a glamour photographer,” she explains. “So this came from observing that male-dominated world.
“I felt that the women were mostly portrayed as glossy sex-objects, with many clichés. Same poses, sometimes not even flattering, but the point was to get explicit or more graphic content.
“I didn’t feel that the way the women were portrayed depicted them owning their sexuality and looking powerful. To me a lot of the times they looked uncomfortable.
“I don’t know if this aim comes through clearly, but the philosophy behind my work still stands for that. I never put women in situations where they don’t feel and look like they are in control. They are not objects, they are playful characters enjoying themselves.”
Does she think people view an erotic image differently if they know a woman rather than a man created it?
“I think some people can view an image objectively for what it is and others like to analyse more into it — ‘Oh a woman shot that? Well look at that!’.
“I don’t know… at least I don’t navigate this world of images thinking of gender as my first thought when seeing something I like. To me it’s always nice seeing more women behind the camera doing wonderful erotic art.”
On her website, Alejandra also talks about the two sides to her work: the fantasies and alter egos she depicts through her models, and the self-portraits that are “more direct expressions” of who she is.
Since Wicked Women only includes one self-portrait but many fantasy scenarios, let’s focus on the latter here.
Specifically, let’s talk about the influence of Helmut Newton, which Guerrero confidently channels (while of course adding her own spin) in a number of our gallery images.READ MORE – GO TO PAGE 2 OF 2 H
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