An Interview with Cheryl L. Guerrero

Cheryl L . Guerrero is an exhibiting artist in PCNW’s 23rd annual juried exhibition, curated by Kris Graves.

Kickin’ It, 2019
Archival pigment print
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Tell us about yourself, where you’re from, and when you first discovered your love of photography.

I was born and raised in the Bay Area and live in San Francisco. I didn’t really have access to a camera when I was younger, so it wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I discovered photography. I think a few things came together to really fan the flame.

I had an anthropology professor at City College who had these amazing stories and anecdotes, but would show these photographs that you couldn’t quite decipher. I thought how cool would it be if she had images that actually conveyed the story or moment. When I started Cal, two things happened: a Sebastião Salgado exhibit and a fellowship that sent me to Guatemala. Right before I left I saw Salgado’s exhibit that included these enormous portraits. They were so beautiful and powerful and I think inspired me to want to create something that impactful. I took my first SLR with me when I went to Guatemala. I was there for 3 months and worked with a Mayan group. While there I made a portrait of an older Mayan woman. It’s not perfect, but when I looked at it, it made me think, “this is what I want to do”.

Tell us about the work that was selected to be included in Distinction by Kris Graves.

Kickin’ It is an image I made at a lowrider cruise in San Francisco’s Mission District. Lowriders are both parked and cruise up and down a section of Mission Street. I photograph the cars and details, but also like to focus on street portraits. I made a portrait of this guy next to his truck and talked to him for a minute, but right as I turned to leave I asked to take another shot. He nodded and then just kicked up. Totally unexpected, absolutely fantastic.

Is the selected work part of a larger body of work?

I’ve photographed lowriders in the Mission since 2017. Throughout the Bay Area, lowrider cruises are an expression of pride, aesthetics and Chicano culture. This is especially relevant in the Mission District in San Francisco, where gentrification has contributed to the displacement of the community and the erosion of the historically Latino neighborhood. I think it’s really important to document that pride and culture, especially in that setting. And personally, I love the feel of the cruises. The style, fashion and culture are all really familiar to me. It reminds me of family. My cousins still cruise in San Jose. I guess it just really hits home for me on a lot of different levels.

Who / what are your biggest influences?

I think one of the biggest influences on my work is my anthropology background. I chose to study anthropology because of my love of people and cultures, the beauty you find in the similarities and differences. For me it’s about connecting, both for me when I’m photographing and for someone who is looking at an image I made. It really informs the way I approach photography.

Are you making work in response to the current pandemic?

I actually returned from a trip to Cuba in mid-March, right as the situation really started to explode here. I basically returned to a different world than the one I left. Initially, I focused on going through and working on the images I had from my trip. Since then, I’ve made some images, but nothing cohesive.

PCNW’s annual juried call for entry provides exhibition opportunities for artists and directly supports our programs, scholarships, and labs at PCNW. This helps ensure access to photography for many future generations of creatives. We know you have many options for submitting your work, so please tell us why you chose PCNW? What are your thoughts and experience with submitting your work to different calls?

I chose to submit to PCNW for a few different reasons. Kris Graves as juror certainly played a role in the decision. I respect his work- his portraits and themes are really compelling- so to be able to put my work in front of someone like that is a driver. I also looked at jurors and winners from previous years- it’s pretty interesting and varied- so to be able to put my work forward and see if it resonated was also a contributing factor.

I didn’t start submitting to exhibitions until late 2018, so I think I’m still learning about what works for me and the process of curating my work. I really try to think about whether my work is a fit for a particular exhibition, in terms of things like venue, theme, juror, etc. I don’t want to just ‘throw a wide net’ and see what catches, I really want to think about where and what I’m submitting. Each call, whether I’ve been accepted or not, teaches me more about the process and what resonates in my work. That said, art and photography are subjective and something that resonates for one jury or call, won’t with another. In the end, it’s about putting out work that I’m proud of and believe in.

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