Lis Leão

Wildlife, photography and clinical research come together to improve human health

Lis Leão has dedicated many years to the study of pain. She is one of a kind. She created the research group e-Nature who studies the impact of nature in patients and healthcare workers, and the groundbreaking scientifically-validated bank of images that produce well-being in clinical contexts, e-NatPOEM

A nurse, researcher and wildlife photographer, she may as well give a lecture as set off for the Amazon with little more than her camera to study indigenous tribes with minimal contact with the outside world. Or wait for hours for an encounter with a jaguar that taught her priceless metaphors for life. 

All in one the tenderness, the tenacity and patience, and the passion for knowledge come together in her inner landscape, inspired by the majestic nature of Brazil. PhD, Senior Researcher and Full Professor of The Graduate Program In Health Sciences at Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein, São Paulo, she will be addressing “Nature and Health: The Potential of Photography in Clinical and Natural Settings” at the III Ibero-American Summit

Nature into the hospital

“Hospitals are usually poor in natural areas, especially in large centers, no matter how good the hospitality and quality care processes are. So we started with a study on the impact of a sensory-mediated self-care intervention on the stress and self-esteem of female health professionals working in the hospital where I work. It was a clinical trial and one of the intervention arms had nature photographs ». 

“There we already observed a positive impact on the participants’ self-esteem and also reflections they shared about being in a natural environment and the perception that this could be beneficial to them. 

“Then we decided to move forward to the scientific validation of a bank of images that could produce well-being in clinical contexts, and so e-NatPOEM was born, a bank with 403 images (mine and from other researchers, including a National Geographic photographer) promoting positive emotions. 

“The sea, colorful birds, and the sky stood out among the images that promoted positive emotions in e-NatPOEM, and although they have similar valence and alertness scores, the type of experience they produce on the observer are different: when using these images with cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, we found that there is a reducing impact not only on negative moods, but also on clinical symptoms such as pain and fatigue, for example.

“Today I lead the research group e-Nature: interdisciplinary studies on the connection with nature, health and well-being. We currently have several ongoing studies to evaluate the impact of nature-based interventions on clinical health outcomes. Our group seeks to develop studies that promote health but also have an emphasis on biodiversity conservation, so our researchers come from diverse professions. This interdisciplinary dialogue is a cornerstone of our group”.

The camera and wildlife

“Observing and recording animals and their behavior in their natural environment warms my heart. I enjoy when sometimes for an instant they look directly into my eyes through my camera lens. This encounter is priceless. 

“Anyone who photographs wildlife knows that it is the wildlife that chooses to show itself to the photographer. You can study the behavior, know the geographical distribution, study the light you want to photograph, but whether the model will show itself and for how long, is his decision. So it is always a privilege with every encounter. 

“My intention is to share their existence, their beauty. I try to transmit in the photograph what I experienced at that moment. It is also a form of activism about the importance of nature conservation. And I also use photography to make ethnographic records in scientific expeditions in the Amazon. It is an important tool in data collection with the indigenous ethnic groups.

The teachings of a jaguar

“Encounters in nature can carry very interesting metaphors, so I always like to reflect what each animal teaches me. I have a very special memory of the first time I photographed a jaguar in the Pantanal. After sailing for almost 16 hours, in unseasonably cold weather for the region, we spotted a majestic jaguar resting on the riverbank. Late afternoon, the light fading, the heart almost bursting out of the mouth and the animal lying there, tranquil ».

The first lesson I learned from the jaguar: its sense of integrity. It knows it is a top-of-the-chain animal. He knows he is unique. The boatman then slapped his hand on the water to get her attention (simulating to her what could be an alligator for her dinner). She got up, looked at us in the boat, and lay down again, not caring about our presence.  

The second lesson I learned from the jaguar: it does not waste time on what does not matter (I always try to remember this in my daily life). So we just stood there waiting. Then, when she wanted, she got up, let herself be photographed for a few minutes and then walked calmly into the forest. Every time I look at the picture, I remember the strength of that encounter. 

“By the way, during the pandemic, what would I be without my bank of photographs… They were essential for my mental health”.

Nursing, research and wildlife 

“I am a bacharel in nursing and work in health research field, although I have a BA in Languages as well. I have specialized in Public Health and Education. I have dedicated many years to the study of pain. I started my scientific studies when I was in my second year of college and never stopped. It has been over thirty years now… 

“In my master’s and doctorate I worked with music as a complementary therapy for chronic pain. In the post doc I worked with music and institutionalized elderly in Portugal and France. I usually say that my interests are hybrid, I like this mix of science and art. Whatever area I chose, I would end up dedicating myself to research »

« At the III Ibero-American Seminar Nature, Health and Well-being I will address Nature and Health: The Potential of Photography in Clinical and Natural Settings, where we will explore the human/nature relationship in images of various international photographers and share a bit of my work as well, both photographic and scientific.

I am a questioner, and developing studies that improve the lives of people, other beings that live here, and the planet motivates me every morning. Besides my work as a senior researcher, I teach master’s and doctoral students and, together with some colleagues, coordinate two courses on nature and health at the graduate level”. 

Primal bonds

“My relationship with nature is vital, always has been, even though I was born in a city like São Paulo, which is very urban. I always liked animals and also to contemplate nature. Lying on the balcony looking at the clouds, their shapes, seeing characters when I was little. I also loved to watch the rain or even to play in the rain, to warm myself in the sun, to see the various shapes of leaves and flowers. 

“In vacations, I would go to the beach, and with my cousins we would also climb a chapéu-de- sol (“big sun hat”), a tropical tree (Terminalia catappa). In my adolescence I used to contemplate the sea for hours, I also visited friends’ farms where I could eat fresh fruit picked directly from the trees. From an early age I watch birds. I was always in love with birds. I still have a book from my early school years that had a verse about birds, I keep it and also remember it. 

“My mom taking me for walks in the Água Branca State Park, a public park, it’s one of my fondest memories. Today studies show that the best predictor for a child to be connected to nature is to have an adult connected to nature. I am in love with the Atlantic Forest, the Amazon forest. The biodiversity of the Brazilian biomes is incredible and each one of them has its own particularities that enchant me, its endemic birds and flora. This is why I love to travel so much to get to know and photograph”.


Ph Courtesy Lis Leão

Picture of Forest Therapy<br> Hub

Forest Therapy

Retour en haut