A resource exploring belonging, community and collective identity through the work of Alejandra Carles Tolra.

Part of Jerwood/Photoworks Awards 2


Our individual identities are shaped and informed by the groups of like-minded people or communities that we choose to be part of. In Alejandra Carles-Tolra’s series Where We Belong we find a sensitive exploration on belonging, femininity and escapism through a community of Jane Austen devotees that Alejandra spent time with throughout 2017.

Over the course of a year, Alejandra spent time with, and photographed ‘Janeites’, a group of women who are passionate fans of the author Jane Austen. The women come together to dress in Regency clothing, recreate Regency life and celebrate Austen’s work.  They visit stately homes, play classical music, attend balls, read poetry out loud and cook recipes from the period.

“Why would women from the 21 century want to embody a female  identity that was defined in a very male dominated society?”
Alejandra Carles-Tolra

 Alejandra’s work revolves around this group of women and the deep connections that they have. Alejandra focuses on themes of identity, femininity, escapism and our need to belong, but the thread that runs through the work is about collective identity and how individual identities are shaped, informed and empowered by the groups of like-minded people or communities that we choose to be part of.

Alejandra’s images examine the relationship and closeness of the women, whom she often photographed interacting in groups and pairs or with dramatic use of lighting, in settings that mix the past with the present.

Throughout this body of work, I am interested in exploring themes of empowerment, escapism and belonging. Can escaping help us belong?
Alejandra Carles-Tolra

Take a virtual tour of the exhibition here.

Watch Alejandra Carles-Tolra discuss the themes behind her practice, the basis of the new work she’s produced for the award and her experience of being a Jerwood/Photoworks Awardee here.

I. Discuss

© Alejandra Carles-Tolra, Untitled, from the series 'Where We Belong'


Discuss with your students:

  • Why do people dress up?
  • What might the ‘Janeites’ have in common, other than a love of Jane Austen?
  • Describe the interactions between the characters in the photographs
  • Why might 21st century women choose to dress up as fictional characters from 18th century Regency England?

Group Identity

Alejandra Carles-Tolra explores how our individual identity is shaped or informed by the groups or communities that we are part of, and how our desire to belong influences this. Identity is a theme that is popular with young people, and Alejandra’s work with the ‘Janeites’ offers an opportunity for a fresh perspective on this theme.

II. First Response

First Responses

Before discussing the work, ask each student to write down three words in response to the photographs.

Work in silence to group the words then open up a discussion to identify any common and/ or unusual interpretations of the work.

What’s the Story?

Explore the narrative of an image by answering these questions:

  • What do you see in the photograph?Describe it in detail.
  • Where is the image taken?
  • What has taken place in the space?
  • Why has the photographer chosen to photograph it?
  • What is this photograph about? How do you know?


© Alejandra Carles-Tolra, Untitled, from the series 'Where We Belong'

III. Looking Closer

© Alejandra Carles-Tolra, Untitled, from the series 'Where We Belong'

Looking Closer

Look more closely at an image by answering these questions:

  • How do you think this photograph was made?
  • How can you tell?
  • Is it big or small?
  • Is it part of a series?
  • Is it black & white, or colour?
  • What is it printed on? Is it framed or mounted?
  • Does it challenge how you expect a photograph to be presented?

Who is Who?

  • Who is in the photograph?
  • What does the image reveal about their character/personality?
  • Are they posed or unposed?
  • Do they know they are being photographed?
  • Why do you think the photographer has chosen to photograph them?
  • What similarities and differences can you see within the collection of images?

IV. What is Happening

What is Happening?

  • What is happening in this photograph?
  • Where is the image taken?
  • Does the image remind you of anything?
  • How does it make you feel?
  • Could this photograph be interpreted differently by different people? How?
  • What is included in the photograph?
  • What is missing?
  • What might have happened before/after the picture was taken?

Personal Responses

  • Do you like, dislike, love or hate this work? Why?
  • What story do you think this photograph is telling?
  • Does the photograph make you think about anything in particular?
© Alejandra Carles-Tolra, Untitled, from the series 'Where We Belong'

V. Individual Response

© Alejandra Carles-Tolra, Untitled, from the series 'Where We Belong'

Individual Interpretations

Students choose one photograph each, make a quick study (drawing) of the image in their sketchbook and then make notes about it (use the prompts in this resource).

Ask students to give feedback in pairs or to the group.

Poetic Response

Ask students to choose their favourite photograph and then write the first three words that they think of when looking at the photograph. Write three more words to describe the photograph.

Use these six words as the starting point for a short poem inspired by the photograph.

VI. Be a Documentary Photographer

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Suitable for KS4 upwards

Set a brief for your students to visit and photograph a local club or society, documenting their activity with their cameras. You can provide a list, or open it up for students to identify a club that interests them. Provide support in where to find out about local clubs and societies, and establish a set of rules for the project such as number of images, identifying a clear theme or narrative.


Ethics: be clear about any safeguarding issues such as visiting unknown locations alone, and asking permission before photographing people, particularly children or vulnerable adults. Consider consent forms if the work will be exhibited. Sample model release forms can be found online.

© Alejandra Carles-Tolra, Untitled, from the series 'Where We Belong'
© Alejandra Carles-Tolra, Untitled, from the series 'Where We Belong'

About the Contributor

Lindsey Smith is a Photographic Artist and Freelance Artist Facilitator. Over the last 25 years she has worked in collaboration with a range of organisations to design, deliver and evaluate learning and engagement initiatives.

She has extensive experience of devising and facilitating public workshops and creative projects. Employing a broad range of materials and processes within a photography and lens-based practice enables me to engage with a diverse range of audiences and participants.

Become a Photoworks Friend

Becoming a Photoworks Friend is the only way to receive a Photoworks Festival in a Box. Join now to get yours as well as a range of year round exclusive content, opportunities, invites and 20% off in our online shop.

Photoworks Opportunities

Keep up to date with our latest opportunities as well as ways to learn more about how to get involved with and support our work.

Sign up here

Become a Photoworks Friend

The only way to receive Annual 26 & get exclusive access to our events, content and a 20% shop discount