Tribute to Javier Fergo (1980-2022)
- Posted by membership
- On March 2, 2023
Tribute to Javier Fergo (1980-2022)
A prize-winning Spanish photojournalist is remembered by his sister Laura Fernández-González, a member of the BritishSpanish Society
Javier Fergo was an internationally acclaimed photojournalist: winner of the 2021 Getty Images Editorial Grant, the 2020 Imagenera Photography Award, and the 2020 Siero International Photojournalism award. He was 1st finalist of the Premio Luis Valtueña for Humanitarian Photography (Médicos del Mundo, Spain), and won the equally prestigious 2019 British Journalism Awards for Photography: the only freelance photojournalist shortlisted that year. Javier’s work has received many other prizes and accolades, one of his portraits made the shortlist for the most recent Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery in London.
This list of accolades is both impressive and extensive, given that he passed away aged only 42, with a bright professional future still ahead of him. He was also excited about his forthcoming wedding plans with his partner Teresa Almagro. Family and friends were too looking forward to the celebration, some of his old friends from his Bristol years were planning to attend, and many others and it promised to be a wonderful reunion.
Javier Fernández González was born in Jerez de la Frontera, Cádiz, on 20 May 1980. He studied photography in the United Kingdom and upon returning to Spain in 2005 he collaborated with several newspapers. Since 2013 he had worked on a freelance basis both in photography and video for Spanish and other international agencies and outlets. Javier was a regular collaborator of The Associated Press news agency. He died on 6 September, 2022, after experiencing some heart issues.
Javier travelled earlier in 2022 to Ukraine, and one of his last photo essays came from this trip. Ukraine Refugee Animals shows the toll of the Russian invasion on the helpless animals of Ukraine; Javier told me that he wanted to show how dependant animals are on the whims of humans, and honour the brave volunteers who risked their lives saving them. When he showed us the photos at our parents’ home, for example, he told us about a woman who used to keep horses and was now trying to save lions and other poor beasts that had been abandoned with the advent of war. A selection of these images, with accompanying text, also appeared in the Guardian.
Javier loved nature from his earliest childhood, a love that was fostered by our parents. In his free time he was happiest when travelling to the sea or the countryside with his partner and their two dogs, a couple of cheeky beagles called Lolo and Laila (a cute cat had joined the family recently, too, but she had not been invited to these adventures yet). Javier’s wonderful reportage entitled Mugeres showcases his sensitivity for the natural world. The title ‘Mugeres’ plays with the term for women in Spanish, by substituting ‘g’ for the ‘j’ in mujeres — a reference to ganaderas, or stockbreeders, a traditionally male-dominated profession. This series showcases one of Javier’s great assets; an excellent portraitist, he portrayed the ganaderas with a dignity that equals the impressive landscapes and magnificence of the beasts.
Javier’s work has focused on migration and refugees, especially in Europe’s South Frontier. For example, he accompanied expeditions to the Mediterranean with Open Arms, an NGO that works with refugees arriving by sea, and he was preparing the publication of a book on this long-term project.
Emilio Morenatti, in his obituary for Javier for The Associated Press, quoted Ryszard Kapuscinski’s words: ‘To be a good journalist, you have to be also a good person’. The constellations of words that soon after Javier’s death were published in press notes, newspapers, and appeared in social media, echoed this sentiment. Javier had a big, generous heart, which showed everywhere in his work, whether focusing on humanitarian issues, everyday life, or art. He was an excellent colleague, a wonderful partner, a loving son, the best brother one could have and a lovely friend. He was a witty, at times shy man, with great skills of observation, capacity for empathy, and a fine sense of humour. His laughter was contagious.
His interest in images began early; our parents took us regularly to museums, archaeological sites and to visit palaces, churches or any small town with cultural interest. He loved contemporary art, from the work of Pepe Baena or the collages of Rafael Doctor. I visited El Escorial back in 2019 with my brother. He was most impressed by the illusionistic perspective employed in Luca Giordano’s fresco in the royal staircase, and loved seeing the statue of St Michael by La Roldana which was still found at the time of our visit in the choir of the basilica. However, Javier’s favourite painter was Rembrandt; he had been fascinated by his use of light and especially his portraits since he was a teen. These artistic affinities shine through his photography. His portraits of refugees, flamenco artists, or everyday people reflect the way he saw portraiture, in the classical sense of term. Javier was able to capture the soul, the temperament of the portrayed and the afflictions of the person in front of him. His contributions to the Covid-19 Photo Diary project during the pandemic were above all, a portrayal of human misery. I recall his haunting portrait of a homeless man, and the way he captured the quietness and solitude of the worse days of the pandemic.
Javier was a multidisciplinary photographer; his work as the official photographer for the Festival de Jerez and the Flamenco on Fire festival produced extraordinary photos and videos that have been published in national and international outlets for years. Friends of the British-Spanish Society and readers of La Revista may recall Javier Fergo’s photographs of flamenco that appeared in the magazine. La Revista also published a review of ‘Quelo’, his exhibition on baile flamenco. The Festival de Jerez has just opened an exhibition entitled Javier Fergo, 1980-2022, that will be on show at the Claustros de Santo Domingo in Jerez (Spain) from 24 February to 26 March.
Rest in peace, querido hermano. I will always miss you.
Note on the author: Laura Fernández-González
Associate Professor in Art and Architectural History
University of Lincoln, UK.
Portrait of Javier Fergo taken by Teresa Almagro