Ernesto Javier Fernández, An essential Photographer
By: Joaquín Molinet
He tries to tell stories with his photos, understanbly resorting to journalistic or even publicity-type methods to do so. He captures the same reality that his contemporaries see, but he insists on using a different angle, to highlight aspects that others fail to notice. And he does so with a good dose of humour and the conviction that life, at which he also laughs, does not have just one interpretation. His photos don't always have to be framed, either. Sometimes he places them “screen-style” in empty boxes that call to mind a TV set, or he inserts them in openings that he makes in what look like drain pipes or ventilation shafts. The spectator then does not see the photos; through those holes, he or she follows the details of the life that breathes behind them.
The winner of a number of major awards, including one from Harvard University, Ernesto Javier Fernández Zalacaín, 50, is now an essential Cuban photographer and one of the most sought-after. As the son of a well-known photographer who won Cuba's National Visual Arts Award a few years ago, he had the good fortune to grow up rubbing elbows with other outstanding photographers on the island, people who were able to capture the experiences of their times, Life-magazine style, and who were less interested in being part of history and more interested in arriving on time to document it.
With the exception of his father, Ernesto Fernández, all of these great photographers are now dead. Their legacy, which marks a certain period in the history of this country's photography, can be found in the pages of magazines and newspapers. The days of major photo essays and two page spreads are over. As Ernesto Javier says, it was like a farewell to the camera. He says there are many good Cuban photos from the 1960s, but few if any from the Mariel exodus in 1980 or the early years of the economic crisis that we Cubans know as the “special period.” Therefore, since the mid-1990s, Ernest Javier Fernández has sought to capture everything he can with his lens.
Before that, he wrote stories—which didn't go very far—and chronicles for youth magazines, which he later compiled into a book. One person who was decisive to his efforts was Guillermo Cabrera Álvarez, a cutting, irreverent journalist who infused every single page that he wrote with his battle against insensitivity, prejudice, apathy, lack of motivation, selfishness, vanity and intolerance.
Years of many films and lots of reading went by until Ernesto Javier realized that, in the end, photography was his destiny. It is an art that has allowed him to live comfortably and that has provided him with quite a few satisfactions, as well as the opportunity to have fun.