Bits 'n' Pieces: Island stay inspires art exhibition

By Ashley Swanson, Columbian features news coordinator

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On the small Caribbean island of Guanaja, Battle Ground High School student Deja Rupp did not let her first trip out of the country slip by her.

"I heard there has never been a photographer there. I just brought tons and tons of film with me; I was going to capture everything I could," she said. The results are now part of her first solo art exhibit at Gallery 360's student hall.

Relatively unknown compared to the more prominent Caribbean islands, Guanaja is part of the Bay Island chain off the coast of Honduras. Rupp visited there with her family last summer, staying more than a month and taking 200 photographs of the island, best known for its coral reef diving.

"I heard a lot about how kind the people were there. I got see how different life could be in a different country," Rupp said. "They're just kind and loving and beautiful people."

The island has about 8,300 people, most of whom live in Bonnaca, the main town on the cay (better known as a "key" or "quay" in the U.S.).

The 17-year-old spent the past year narrowing her trip down to just 32 photographs and developing the black-and-white prints in the high school's darkroom.

"I fell in love with the hands-on experience of film. I love the process of print and the quality of work (it produces)," she said. While Rupp said she might go back to taking digital photos one day, "film will always be a part of me."

"With my pictures, I really like to tell stories," Rupp said. "People will inspire that feeling more in me, but I also like to go to old buildings."

Her art exhibition highlights the people of Guanaja, from old to young.

She's also found inspiration at home, often visiting the older buildings in Portland. "I always seem to find different places and people, you don't always have to leave the country."

The exhibition is a step towards realizing her dream to become a professional photographer. She already has her sights on publishing a book of her photos from Guanaja, along with pursing a photography scholarship at Clark College.

Rupp hopes that when others view her work, they'll empathize with the feelings that compelled her to capture the shots. "I want people to just fall in love with it."

The images of Rupp's trip to Guanaja are on display through Sept. 1 at Gallery 360, 111 W. Ninth St. The exhibit is part of the city's Art in the Heart celebration, running from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. today. The gallery's hours are noon to 5 p.m., Thursday through Sundays. Call 360-693-7340 or visit http://gallery360.org

Bits 'n' Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story you'd like to share, email bits@columbian.com.