Surfing the Canary Islands. Photo: Guillermo Cervera
Guillermo Cervera first fell in love with photography when he discovered a box of Playboys his father brought home from the United States. “They were beautiful color pictures, and I looked at them when my father wasn’t home,” he said in an interview published by The New York Times Lens blog in 2011. “Then my father learned what I was doing and he emptied the box of Playboys and replaced them with National Geographic.”
Photography was his father’s hobby, and Cervera took to it. “I used to cover all of my books for school with National Geographic,” he says. “I always wanted to be a photographer, but I studied engineering in the United States.”
His father pushed him away from chasing a career as a lensman. “His way of thinking was, if you don’t study something important, you will be nothing," Cervera says. "Photography is nothing, so that’s how he thinks.”
Libya, 2011. Photo: Guillermo Cervera
A girlfriend bought him a camera in college, and, against his father’s wishes, he followed his passion. In the last two decades, he hasn’t stopped shooting. He's taken assignments in Afghanistan and Sudan, and was not far from photographer Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington when a mortar shell exploded and killed them in Libya in 2011. At least once a year, he takes a break to shoot surfing and refresh his mind. To find out more, I called the 43-year-old in Spain a day after he flew home from a two-week surfing shoot in Indonesia, an assignment he took after working on a much longer project in Afghanistan.
How did you get your first job?
I was probably 22 or 23. I had a friend who really wanted to do a story for a magazine about the war in Bosnia. It was 1992 or '93. One day he called me in the morning and he told me, Oh, you know how to take pictures. Why don’t we go together to Bosnia and do a story—freelance. We were really young. Nobody wanted to write us a letter to get into this area, but we made the trip. One magazine told us if we could get in, they would buy the story, so we went to Bosnia. That’s the first thing I did.