Since moving to the Mission Hill neighborhood of Boston in 2011 from my native Barcelona, I have gotten to know several Puerto Rican families who live nearby. As I began to build a relationship with them, I was welcomed into their homes and families. I have become interested in both the interiors of their apartments and in making their portraits.
The spaces fascinate me because of their careful decoration. The families present their homes as glorious domestic spaces-- even as the walls and woodwork show signs of long use. The use of golden furniture, and shiny ornaments, as well as religious iconography describe an intense relationship to religious belief.
In the portraits, I am interested in personalities and relationships. While I learned about their stories and generational relationships, I began to attempt to photograph their characters and vibrant gestures. Throughout my visits I have been aiming to depict what has kept me mesmerized all these months.
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 freshman and seniors, men and women, and those who plan to become active and reserve officers.
I draw inspiration from the rich, dramatic lighting of the baroque paintings of Caravaggio, Rembrandt, and Velazquez. In my photographs, I explore the nebulous threshold between the individual personality and identity within the group.
Alejandra Carles-Tolra is a Spanish photographer from Barcelona, Spain, currently living and working in the East Coast. Her work examines the relationship between individual and group identity, and how the latter shapes the former. She received a BA in Sociology from the University of Barcelona and an MFA in Photography at Massachusetts College of Art and Design.
Her work has been exhibited internationally, most recently at The New York Photo Awards, Daniel Cooney Gallery Auction in New York, and Valid Foto BCN Gallery in Barcelona. She has received several awards and mentions such as 21 New & Emerging Photographers by Lens Culture, Descubrimientos PhotoEspaña 2013 and Grand Prix de la Decouverte 2012. She is currently teaching photography at The University of New Hampshire and Camera Eye Workshops in Somerville, MA.
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