Invasion of Privacy: Peace Corp volunteer envisions geographies of portraiture, landscapes

Despite the almost absurd list of illnesses and injuries that senior Riley Burchell has encountered at home and abroad, including typhoid and malaria, she’s always busy in Geneseo and abroad. In high school she began traveling when she became interested in “an individual sense of place and sense of identity as it pertains to the physical space people occupy,” she said.

She did a photographic study in Mozambique and Botswana through portraiture and landscapes, although she said she enjoyed the interactions that came with taking the portraits more.

Portraiture originally sparked her interest in photography because of the way a person’s expression or pose can encapsulate the event occurring around them.

“It was a happenstance sort of thing,” Burchell said. “It was the first place I had gone where I was there for a long enough time to develop real relationships and real rapport with the people I came in contact with, and I walked out of that trip with a few good friends ... Also, I love deserts.”

Her attraction to photography and travel preceded her interest in geography, even though she came to Geneseo with her major undeclared.

During her second semester, she took GEOG 111: Physical Geography with associate professor of geography David Aagesen and was hooked from then on.

Burchell studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, under Aagesen, through the “Latin America: Environmental Issues” program. This program allows students to study pollution in the Riachuelo, a river that runs along the southern boundary of Buenos Aires, for two and a half weeks.

Burchell said she appreciated the laid-back nature of the program; the students were allowed to explore the city on their own time. She also found the subject matter engaging.

For the first time, Burchell saw “the connection between doing something I love to do and studying something I love to study,” she said.

“Photography is interesting in the study of cultural and historical geography and human geography because it doesn’t necessarily deal with physical geography; it deals more with the propensity of certain ideas – the special component of how people associate places and ideas with one another,” she said.

Burchell returned to Africa last summer, doing medical work in a clinic in the Cape Coast region of Ghana.

“Establishing myself in a new place is something that has always been really attractive to me,” Burchell said. The work was particularly rewarding because the urgency of her work came from the need to improve quality of life rather than adhering to a deadline.

At Geneseo, Burchell is a member of Delta Phi Epsilon and is on the Student Association executive committee as the director of public relations. She was the campus photographer for two years with College Communications and she hiked the Appalachian Trail with the Geneseo Outing Club.

Burchell is far from taking it easy after graduating; this summer, she’s returning to Africa for an internship in the Volta region of Ghana, doing youth and female development, and she plans to work with the Peace Corps in Guatemala a month later.

“The first time I went there, I said, ‘This is really cool’… so it’s funny how it’s come full circle in that aspect,” she said.