09/22/13 - Torrington Register Citizen - Cuba: A Country 'Open and Eager'
Rich Pomerantz is not afraid of change. The lawyer-cum photographer-cum
real estate agent is always looking for the next opportunity. Thus, it is
not surprising that he and his wife, Celia, have become enamored of Cuba,
a country on the cusp of a new future.
Pomerantz, who has made two recent journeys to the United States nearbut
long-forbiddenneighbor, will describe his impressions of this lovely
island in Cuba Through a Modern Lens, an illustrated talk, at the
Woodbury Public Library Sept. 26 at 7 p.m. The library is located at 269
Main St. South.
Pomerantz says he has been interested in photography since childhood and
that interest has carried him through a diversified profession as a
photographer. I have pictures of myself as a 9-year-old with a camera,
he said. I was the kid with the camera in high school. In fact, I met my
wife in a photography program at the University of Vermont.
His career in law was undertaken at his familys urging, he said. My
family never thought of photography as a credible profession. I am both
right-brain and left-brain, so I can do photography, but was also
reasonably successful as a real estate lawyer in New Milford.
He was successful enough to have taught law as an adjunct professor but
hated it. Most lawyers do, he said, But I had something else I could
do. So I created a five-year plan to get out of law and into photography.
By 1998, he had stopped practicing law entirely and had taken his position
behind the lens of his camera. He said the move is not as unusual as it
sounds. In fact, I have met a few lawyers who have done this, he said.
Before his five years were up, he noticed an advertisement for a freelance
photographer posted by Housatonic Publishing editor Norm Cummings. They
needed a photographer on weekends. Norm looked at me and said, Whats the
worst that can happenI might get few bad pictures, and gave me a chance.
But I gave him good stuff.
Soon he was shooting regularly for publications and his list of clientele
continued to grow. Housatonic Publishing had a monthly magazine and I
start to shoot that. Then I started shooting for White Flower Farms
catalogue, which led to Horticulture Magazine. I got into garden
photography, which moved me into Shelter magazine. I did a book on
horseseverything was growing and I finally quit law.
But, he noted, his photographic career also had its twists and turns. I
got a real estate license a couple of years ago so I can be more selective
about my photography. The industry of professional photographerseven at
the highest levelis a shrinking industry. Because of the new technology
[which lets many more people take quality pictures], it is a much smaller
pie with more people wanting to eat it.
He has recast his photographic career to encourage that growing cadre of
people who are taking pictures and want to do it well. He is a lecturer
who speaks frequently and conducts workshops for garden clubs, botanical
gardens, horticultural societies, corporations, non-profits and other
groups seeking inspiration from the garden and farm.
I love photography and love that it is becoming a vernacular that we use
to communicate. We use the camera so much more and technology has made
people much freer to use their brains to create art. It is how we tell our
Oddly, that led to his latest enthusiasm. Thats what led to Cuba, he
explained. He had gotten in touch with a landscape designer who leads
trips to Costa Rica. Pomerantz was asked to be a workshop leader on one of
the trips and reported that it was very successful and great fun.
At the same time, Mr. and Mrs. Pomerantz were planning a trip to Cuba.
U.S. citizens are not supposed to travel there and spend money, he said.
Many people go illegally by going through Canada or Mexico and there is
a people to people program through the U.S. government. And lots of
universities, religious organization, NGOs, etc., take groups there. Celia
and I contacted the Center for Cuban Studies. We had gone to China years
ago and it was fascinating to see China as a third-world country, open and
eager and ready for an explosion of growth. We wanted to see another
country that was so ready, so we took a trip to Cuba and we were totally
enrapturedtotally fell in love with it. Everyone does.
What the couple found was a welcoming populace and a beautiful island that
has suffered severe economic hardship over the decades of the U.S.
Its sad in a way because of what went on there, but the culture and
people are so, so wonderful, he said.
That first trip left them with a taste for more, so they asked the Center
for Cuban Studies if they could put together a photography-based trip last
The wonderful thing is Cuba is so small, he said. There are only
something like 11 million people and everyone knows everyone. So, if you
want to meet Castros photographer, its, Okay, Jose can make that
happen, and that afternoon you are meeting with him. Everyone is a
primary source and people will tell you the stories. You can meet a
government leader who marched with Ché. Its very easy to meet with just
about anyone except Fidel. At this point in time, they are really eager
and open to having us come and spend our money.
While the infrastructure has been undermined by decades of Communism and
the U.S. embargo, the circumstances of the people are getting better, he
reported. They have one of the highest literacy rates in the world. They
have free education through college. The people are very articulate and
they know whats going on in the world and want to participate in it. The
buildings are run down, and they may be jam-packed into them, but now they
can buy and sell homes and cars and can have small businesses.The Cuban
population believes Americans know little about their country or the
revolution that brought Castro to power. They say that we dont know
anything; that the revolution actually started in 1835 when they tried to
expel the Spaniards.
In 1898, they made a deal with the U.S. Oliver Platt, who was a U.S.
senator from Connecticut and who lived in Washington, Conn., introduced
the Platt Amendment, an appropriations bill to fund an incursion into Cuba
to throw out Spain. But Platt wanted to insert in the Cuban constitution
that America could intervene in Cuban affairs. That was in their
Constitution and in the 1940s and 50s Americans spent a lot of time there
intervening. By the 1950s non-Cubans owned 95 percent of the land in Cuba.
Then in 1959 they had a revolution.
Today, the Cubans are courting foreign investment again, but no one will
be able to assert control. The Cuban government will always own 51
percent, Pomerantz said.
There is much foreign interest in investment and Pomerantz cautions, We
need to be there in a big way. If we want to influence what happens down
there, we need to be there.
He said, Castro had his own ideasa lot which were not very good. It is a
police statethere is no question about that. But Cubans have very much
more of a we are in this together attitude. [As things change], they are
trying to balance that against initiative. There is not a lot of
He said the country is run down, but safe. A lot of neighborhoods feel
like slums, he said, but they are notthey are just run down. It is
very, very safe because it is a police state. The police were not really
watching usthey are happy to have tourists there, so they were not going
to bother us. There are zillions of Canadians there and lots of Europeans.
They have wonderful beaches.
With two visits behind them, the Pomerantzes are planning yet another
group excursion this winter. My wife is critical to the success of these
trips, he said. She is Puerto Rican and in marketing and sales, so she
is great at getting us in to meet people. And, she speaks the lingo.
The group will leave Jan 25 from Miami and will visit with photographers
and artists in Cuba. It will spend two days in Vinales, a UNESCO Heritage
site on the western side of the island and will also visit an urban farm.
The trip is photography-based, so there will be coaching and workshops,
he said, adding that the eight-day excursion is $4,075 per person, double
occupancy and $4,250 for a single room.
He said anyone interested in the trip can contact him directly at his
They should do it soon, he said. We need to have a minimum of about six
people to make reservations.
Pomerantz talk at the Woodbury Public Library is free. For information
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