BRATTLEBORO-- For Nick Grubinger, the main tools of cultural understanding are a camera and a skateboard.
Grubinger was one of four Vermont students to take part this summer in the In-Sight Photography Project’s Exposures program, a three-week cross-cultural immersion at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
For Grubinger, 17 and a junior at Brattleboro Union High School, the trip was an obvious extension of an interest in photography that began when he was a little kid fascinated with all the buttons and dials on a camera.
But it was much more.
"The Exposures trip was the first time I had ever been out of this time zone. ... It’s so drastically different from the culture I grew up in, and that is Brattleboro, Vermont," said Grubinger. "I would say it was significant in shaping my way of thinking, which, as a 17-year-old boy, has a lot of shaping to go."
An important program of In-Sight, whose main mission is to offer photography classes to area youth ages 13 and up, without regard to their ability to pay, Exposures brings youth from Vermont, Chicago, Arizona and Pine Ridge together for three weeks of photography-based cultural exchange. The teens and their mentors work together on photography projects, share living space in a dorm and get to know each other intensely in a short period of time. The Exposures experience continues online after the trip is over.
"The benefit of doing the Exposures program is it brings in a cross-cultural element, The youth get to interact with other cultures," said Zachary P. Stephens, who started as In-Sight’s program director in June and departed for the Exposures trip soon after. "A lot of what the youth in Vermont get out of it is going to be the same as what youth in Pine Ridge get."
A lot of that boils down to the common ground they share, despite the tremendous cultural differences found in a place like Pine Ridge, where the average income is $4,000 a year and the unemployment rate is 85 percent.
Grubinger was able to find that common ground.
"I skateboard, and I spent a lot of time at the skatepark. I got to know the kids really well, really quickly," said Grubinger, who said the kids in Pine Ridge often spend from sun-up to sundown at the skatepark. The ones that don’t find an outlet like that in local activities and sports, often fall in with gangs or turn to drugs.
Grubinger did his final multi-media project of images and audio on skateboarding and sports. Other Exposures students chose to do their projects on topics like alcoholism and traditional women’s roles.
Beginning Friday, the four Vermont participants of The In-Sight Photography Project’s Summer Exposures Program will exhibit their photographs and multimedia pieces at the Whetstone Station Restaurant and Brewery. The exhibit opens at Gallery Walk on Friday, from 5:30-8:30 p.m. and remains on exhibit through September.
Cyanotype quilts from the program will also be on display at In-Sight’s gallery at 45 Flat St., where they can be seen at Gallery Walk and Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 6p.m.
In-Sight will feature a T-shirt give-away for participants who visit both the Whetstone Station and In-Sight, and purchase a raffle ticket for a traditional Lakota quilt made by artisans from the Pine Ridge Reservation as a fundraiser for Exposures Program.
To qualify for the In-Sight Photography T-shirt, visit either location and buy a raffle ticket, then bring the ticket stub to the other location. Raffle tickets are $5 each, five for $20 or 15 for $50.