Spain Week: Alejandra Carles-Tolra: Where We Belong
When Alejandra Carles-Tolra was studying Sociology at the University of Barcelona, she realized that the way of approaching communities and groups was too rigid for her, she needed something else, a closer approach. As she already loved photography, she decided to bring a camera into the classroom. Since them she has been practicing visual sociology.
In her projects, different layers of content lie beyond the photography itself. Topics such as the sense of belonging, individual and group identity, community, sisterhood, relationships between the individual and society, are present in all her work. The groups that capture her attention are unconventional.
In her recent project, Where We Belong, we enter the universe of The Janeites as they call themselves, the people that have created the Jane Austen Pineapple Society whose members share their passion for the world of 19th British writer Jane Austen.
The Janeites are more than a group of friends having fun and dressing up in Regency Style. They have become a community of women from different generations that meet up, party together, and experience with freedom their femininity by making and wearing these dresses that make them feel beautiful and comfortable away from what society defines as beautiful.
As Alejandra says:
At first glance it may look as they are romanticizing a very patriarchal form of society, but in fact they are re-appropriating the things that they liked from that time period, even if it is for ten days.
Where We Belong
‘Where We Belong’ is a body of work exploring themes of belonging, femininity and escapism through a portrayal of Jane Austen devotees. The ‘Jane Austen Pineapple Appreciation Society’ is a group of people who share a strong passion for the 19th century English author. The society’s members, who define themselves as Janeites , have created a community of like-minded people with whom to celebrate the work of the writer. Since its creation over two years ago, the society has built a solid network of support and sisterhood that has created strong bonds among its members.
Through my work, I explore how the sense of safety and belonging that specific groups might offer can empower individuals and strengthen their own identity. In my photographs, I use physical and psychological closeness to represent the intense relationships fostered within these communities and to depict the existential need to belong. I am also interested in examining the threshold between fiction and nonfiction, between past and present. My goal is to invite the viewer to question where the performance starts and ends, and to challenge where the limits between reality and imagination lie.
Alejandra Carles-Tolra is a visual artist from Barcelona based in London. Questions regarding what defines our identities and the role the group plays in our search for belonging drives her work. She is also an educator and facilitator and has worked with a variety of museums and universities designing photography courses , as well as participatory photography workshops for numerous communities.Her work has been published/ exhibited internationally, including The Guardian, Washington Post, El Pais, Unseen Amsterdam, Photo Miyota Japan, PHotoEspaña, the Finnish Museum of Photography and the Wuhan Art Museum in China, among others. In 2017, she was awarded the Jerwood Photoworks Award, in 2018 she was a finalist at the Taylor Wessing Prize at the National Portrait Gallery in London and in 2019 she was selected as a FUTURES artist by PhotoEspaña. She holds a BA in Sociology from the University of Barcelona and an MFA in Photography from Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston. Currently, she is represented by Fifty Dots Gallery.
Photography is a universal language and as such it can connect people from different backgrounds, cultures and opinions. It has the power to become the platform that triggers a discussion, and as a universal language it allows me to reach a broader audience.
When did you discover the path of being a photography author?
I’ve always been interested in photography, but it wasn’t until my third year in University when I decided to commit myself to it. I was studying Sociology in Barcelona and I started feeling like the language I was using to explore the things that interested me wasn’t quite right for me. I was lucky that at that time I came across a couple of Professors who allowed me to start using a visual language to explore and document the communities I was interested in studying. After I graduated, photography had already become my main focus and I decided to continue making work with this medium.
Do you think about pictures every day?
I take pictures every day (of things I come across throughout the day or moments I want to share with my family), but I wouldn’t say I think of pictures in depth every day. Those images are just fleeting moments I just share or express in a visual form. Thinking of pictures to me is a more deliberate reflection that occurs often but not daily.
What are your challenges as an artist?
Balancing work (other jobs that are necessary to make a living) and my artistic practice. Finding the time to get away from daily distractions and obligations is quite difficult, especially when you’re working as a freelancer.
How do you overcome the artistic block?
It’s hard to say… I try to listen to music and read authors that inspire me and trust that a new wave of creativity will follow!
Is there anything that you would like to tell us that nobody has ever ask you in an interview?
The way the photography industry is set up is incredibly unfair to the makers. Too often, photographic artists – especially early and mid-career artists- are the only players involved in photography festivals and fine art publications that don’t get economic compensation for their work. This is not unfair but also ironic, because without the work of the artists there wouldn’t be any festivals.
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