The Bears is a series of photographs portraying women who are part of Brown University’s rugby team. While being part of an intellectually exigent environment, these students have decided to also join a very physically demanding sport. A sport that will introduce them to a community that will not only challenge them to push their limits as athletes, but will strengthen them both physically and mentally. I am drawn to portraying the young women who join the team, not only as a sport, but as a way to be introduced to a community with a strong identity where they can find an identity of their own.
Through my portraits, I aim to bring a broader understanding of their group identity. Women who join the sport are commonly pictured to fit a masculine stereotype. But what does it mean to be a rugby girl? Is there such a thing as a rugby girl? Or are they just girls who play rugby? Described as a sport of “elegant violence”, rugby has a complex identity that is often simplified. In my photographs, I’m interested in enhancing the dualities that define the sport and the athletes: violence and grace, weakness and strength, masculine and feminine.
My photographs portray a group of college students seeking to explore and define their emerging identities. These young people have chosen an unusual path: they are all enrolled in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). When joining, they are taught a set of values and expectations that adhere to a group philosophy. As they struggle to define their own identities, they are also presented with a well-established role to play. Like actors who perform according to a script and can transform their personalities on stage, these cadets are learning a military script that will not only teach them how to perform in the field but require them to adopt a new persona as their own.
I began to photograph cadets of different ages, from a range of universities in Boston, during their physical and mental training to become leaders in the U.S. Army. I am most drawn to depicting how individual identity and military persona coexist. Resonating within these images is this confluence of agendas, at times subtle and at other times quite apparent. In my work, I explore the cadets’ success in adopting their roles, and look at the
differences between freshmen and seniors, men and women, and those who plan to become active and reserve officers. These series explores the nebulous threshold between the individual personality and identity within the group.
Alejandra Carles-Tolra (b.1988, Spain) Alejandra received a BA in Sociology from the University of Barcelona and a Photography MFA from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Alejandra’s work has been published and exhibited internationally, most recently at Vice, The Huffington Post, Gup Magazine, World Photography Organization, The Independent, Circulation(s) Festival in Paris, and Getty Images Gallery in London. She has taught photography at The University of New Hampshire and Massachusetts College of Art and Design, among other institutions. Alejandra currently collaborates with non-profit organizations as an art workshop facilitator using art and education to empower vulnerable communities.