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I am currently working on a research project entitled Drawing together: the visual archive of expeditionary fieldwork supported by a Leverhulme Research Fellowship (2016-2018).

Inspired by recent approaches to the study of visual technologies in anthropological fieldwork, my project explores the practice and experience of image-making as deployed on European expeditions to South America from the 1850s to the 1950s.

Developing from my previous research on sketching, photography and documentary film, the project investigates the various forms and contexts of visual engagement in the field, examining in particular the relationship between drawing, photography and film-making as embodied practices of in situ observation, including their role in cross-cultural exchanges and encounters.

Since 2015, I have been developing in collaboration with Professor Mark Nesbitt and Dr William Milliken from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew a research programme on the biocultural collections of Richard Spruce. A botanist and explorer, Spruce spent 15 years travelling and collecting plants in the Amazon and the Andes. Our project aims to reanimate the artefacts that Spruce sent to Kew Gardens and other British institutions, which have significant potential as data for studies of ethnobotanical knowledge, ecological change and cultural heritage.

The Newton Fund - British Council-funded project Mobilising the value of biocultural collections in Brazil forms part of this programme. Led by the Instituto de Pesquisas Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro (JBRJ), in partnership with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), the Federação das Organizações Indígenas do Rio Negro (FOIRN) and the Museu Paraense Emilio Goeldi (MPEG), the project aims to build capacity among Brazilian research institutes to research, catalogue and mobilise data from important collections, and to develop these unique resources for improved understanding of the useful and cultural properties of plants.

I used the opportunity of taking part on the workshop with indigenous communities on the Rio Negro to produce two short films in collaboration with the Derek Jarman Lab (DJL), The Many Lives of a Shield and Workshop on Scientific and Indigenous Botanical Knowledge (click here for a DJL blog on my first filmmaking experience).

The film was on display at the Plantae Amazonicae exhibition at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art, RBG Kew (October 2017- March 2018). Supported by Arts Council England, this exhibition showed Kew's artist-in-residence Lindsay Sekulowicz's encounters with Spruce's collections.

This collaborative project won the 2017/2018 Birkbeck Public Engagement Award for Engaged Practice. The Committee particularly commended the international nature of our collaboration and the project’s underlying aims to empower indigenous researchers in Brazil to recover their histories.

I have also been involved in the organization of another exhibition supported by Arts Council England: El Encanto, at the Peltz Gallery, with Birkbeck artist in residence Freddy Dewe Mathews, who documented traces of the rubber industry that still linger in the Putumayo region in Colombia.

Profile

Originally trained in architecture and urban planning, I have published papers in Brazil and in English-language journals on the visual culture of tropicality, geographical thought, world cities and modernity, and digital art history.

I specialise in visual and material culture, cultural history and the history and philosophy of geography. My work spans from tropical landscapes produced by early nineteenth century European naturalists, artists and navigators to mid-twentieth century visions of Brazil in documentary film and photography, including those made by explorers, anthropologists, and modernist artists.

My book on the Brazilian image world in the early 20th century is entitled Photography and Documentary Film in the Making of Modern Brazil (Manchester, 2013). In 2013 I have completed the AHRC-funded research project Weaving Communities of Practice, a major project on textiles, culture and identity in the Andes.

Appointed a member of the AHRC Peer Review College in 2012, and of the Strategic College in 2016, I also took part in the Steering Group of the AHRC-funded project Traces of Nitrate: History and Photography Between Britain and Chile, 1879-1914 in the Faculty of Arts, University of Brighton. I was Director of the Birkbeck Centre for Iberian and Latin American Visual Studies (CILAVS) from its creation in 2007 until 2015 (Co-Director in 2015-2016), and now I am a member of CILAVS' Steering Committee. In addition, I am a member of the Steering Group of the History and Theory of Photography Research Centre at Birkbeck since its establishment in 2012.

In 2014, I was awarded two fully-funded PhD studentships by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), under the Collaborative Doctoral Partnership scheme, both for research on aspects of Brazilian visual culture, in partnership with the V&A Museum and the Royal Society respectively.