This week we meet Geography PhD candidate Laura Cuch, who is a member of the Urban Photography Association and teaches photography at Goldsmiths, University of London. Here, Laura chats to us about using photography and film to explore the relationship between food and religion.
What are you studying, why are you interested in this subject and what do you plan to do in the future?
My background is in photography, media and social sciences and I’m working towards completing a practice-related PhD in Geography. I’ve always been interested in how eating and sharing food reveals social relations and cultures and, in my research, I’ve used photography and film to explore the relationship between food and religion across seven different faith communities in Ealing - a borough in the suburbs of West London. My project, Spiritual Flavours, includes a 28-minute film, a recipe photobook and a photographic series - Meals - which showcases spaces of commensality in each of the faith communities’ worship spaces. These are available on the project’s website , including a five-minute introduction to the film and the recipes that feature in it. The project has been awarded very recently with the International Visual Sociology Association (IVSA) Rieger Project Award 2020 . In the future, I hope to continue doing research at the intersection of human geography, urban studies and visual arts.
What is the most interesting thing you’ve done, seen or got involved with while at UCL?
The thing I’ve loved the most throughout my PhD has been working alongside and collaborating with other people. My research has been part of a wider AHRC funded research project - Making Suburban Faith - exploring the ways in which suburban faith communities create space focusing on architectures, material cultures, rituals, music and performance. This was led by Professor Claire Dwyer (Geography, UCL) and Professor David Gilbert (Geography, RHUL), but also involved Natalie Hyacinth (RHUL) - a research fellow - as well as Nazneen Ahmed (UCL) and three artistic collaborations with artists Katy Beinart, Liz Hingley and the architecture studio Mangera Yvars. I really enjoyed working with the team and taking part in events together, such as organising an exhibition at Tate Modern and attending international conferences like the American Association Annual Meeting in San Francisco and New Orleans. Equally, I’ve loved meeting other PhD students, learning about their research, co-working in our shared office and becoming good friends.
I was also very fortunate to receive the Graduate Research Scholarship for Cross-Disciplinary Training, which enabled me to attend the MA in Documentary and Ethnographic Filmmaking in the Anthropology department - a fantastic experience.
Have you discovered any hidden gems during your time at UCL?
When I started my research, other PhD students introduced me to the Bree Louise pub, which was a real gem. Sadly, it was demolished because of the HS2. But very close, in Drummond Street, there are some really nice restaurants I’ve been to on different celebrations with colleagues, including the Ravi Shankar vegetarian Indian restaurant and the African Kitchen Gallery. For a mid-afternoon treat, the orange polenta cake from the Waterstones café always lifts my spirit, without fail.
Give us your top three things to do/see/go to in London:
Well, during these times of social distancing and working from home, I always look forward to going on long bike rides over the weekend with my partner. He’s great at planning routes that avoid traffic through cycle lanes by the Thames, along canals and marshes. It’s such a great way to discover a different London. One of our favourite routes is from Greenwich to Erith along the Thames path and back through the Ridgeway. I also love going for walks with a friend at night and spending time in Hilly Fields, my local park in Brockley.
If you were Provost for the day what one thing would you do?
I would do everything I could to protect and support members of our community in their work.
Who inspires you and why?
My supervisor Claire Dwyer, who died in July 2019, was a great source of inspiration because of her enthusiasm, her intellectual curiosity and eloquence, and for her courage and strength. Claire was an amazing woman, a brilliant academic and a wonderful project leader. She became an invaluable mentor to me, as well as a good friend. From the outset of my PhD, she was deeply interested in the ways that photography can tell unique stories about the life of communities and everyday religious practices. Claire provided me with tremendous support and championed the Spiritual Flavours project. So, I’m incredibly pleased to have received the IVSA Rieger Project Award, not only because it rewards all the hard work, but also because it’s another achievement and testimony of the legacy of Claire’s work and it makes me happy to think that she would have been really proud of it.
What would it surprise people to know about you?
People get surprised when they learn that I play African drums every week - for ten years already!