Piotr Degler Jablonksi is the creator of the Degler Calendar, an automotive-themed calendar that for 2015 presents a series of glorious images from Cuba. I recently spoke with the 29-year-old photographer about his project, his art, and his pursuit in Cuba of one special vehicle.
A: I was born in Poland and have some German heritage as well. Both of my parents are musicians, and when I was two we moved to Spain. I grew up there and studied at the German School. My interests have always been cars and photography.
At age 19 I moved to Italy to study car design and I then worked for several years as car designer. In the meantime I also worked as a car photographer for different car companies and magazines worldwide. Today photography is my full-time life.
Q: How did the Delger Calendar come about? Was the Pirelli Calendar an influence?
A: The initial project was a book featuring 100 unique cars, but I thought a calendar in the meantime could be quicker to create. Obviously Pirelli is a great calendar, but focused esentially on women’s beauty. If you think about a car calendar, nothing very strong comes to your mind. There are a lot of car companies producing their own calendars, but those can look nearly the same year after year. I wanted to create something different, a calendar that every year explores a new and exclusive automotive theme. Even if you are not familiar with the theme, you will discover something new.
The goal as well was to offer something very special — that’s why you can choose between the Standard (without frame) , Exclusive (black anodized alluminium frame) and Collector’s Edition (rusted alumium frame and numbered plate).
Q: Why Cuba as the 2015 theme?
A: The 2014 theme was “Concept Cars by Bertone”; 12 prototypes designed by the famous italian coachbuilder, photograhed in the dark in different studios around the world. For 2015 it was nice to find a completely different theme, even changing the style of photography from studio work to reportage. I always wanted to visit Cuba, as I am a big fan of 1950s American cars. I thought this contrast from last year’s edition would work well, and I also thought it was the right moment to do it.
Q: How long were you in Cuba, and how many images did you take?
A: I spent one month on the island looking for the most interesting cars. I wanted to show not only the American classics but also what can be hidden from tourists’ eyes. Visiting Cuba from Viñales to Santiago de Cuba, every day in a new location, was an experience I will never forget. In total I took about 25,000 images. It was not easy to summarize all of this project with only 12 snapshots. On the one hand, photographs showing the human side, the people, the environment, cars maintained with inventiveness and necessity for decades … on the other, obsolescent cars showing what they once were and dreaming of what they could be again.
Q: There’s an honest, even vernacular sense to your Cuba images. How important was it to avoid overly staged scenes and after-the-fact manipulation?
A: I am accustomed to offering a commercial look for my clients. Most of them seek a brochure-like image for their latest commercial campaign, so there’s usually a lot of postproduction work required. I try to get the right balance avoiding over postproduction – a very diffused look nowadays. “Carros de Cuba” was a chance to show the purity of photography. You don’t need to sell anything, just show the reality as it is. For me it is a documentary work, I wanted to show how Cuba and its cars appear in 2014. Natural and improvised photographs, no forced elements placed in the frame for the occasion, everything happening by chance, natural colours, unretouched photographs …
Q: What was your biggest surprise about Cuba and its cars?
A: My first surprise when I arrived at the airport at night was seeing the large number of classic cars on the road. I really didn’t expect to still see so many of them. I felt like a little boy on Christmas Day! Every day was a big surprise in Cuba.
Q. Tell us about photographing Cuba’s famously derelict Mercedes Gullwing Coupe.
A: I’ve heard about the Gullwing before starting the project. I thought it would be great to show it in the calendar, as you can’t find a unrestored Gullwing anymore! It took nearly four weeks to find it; nobody really knew about the car. After travelling the whole island from west to east and asking everybody I met on my way, I finally found it just a couple of days before I was to leave. I first saw it during the day, sleeping under a banana tree, rusted, almost gone … I thought, “It deserves to be photographed by night, it would look nice for the December month.” So that’s what I did.
Q. When will you return to Cuba?
A: I hope soon. I encourage every car enthusiast to go to Cuba.