"I was intrigued by the community’s efforts to adopt a decidedly feminine identity within a patriarchal society."
Unseen Platform: How did you come across The Jane Austen Pineapple Appreciation society?
Alejandra Carles-Tolra: I first learned about Janeites on one of my first weekends in the UK. I was visiting Bath and ran into a group of people having a picnic dressed in traditional 19th Century clothing. I learned that they had attended the annual Jane Austen Festival, which draws hundreds of Austen fans to Bath each year. I was intrigued by the community’s efforts to adopt a decidedly feminine identity within a patriarchal society. Following that encounter, I began researching the group and came across Sophie Andrews, the co-founder of the society. That marked the beginning of our relationship.
As with many of your projects, Where We Belong explores the psychology of the group and identity. What draws you back to these themes?
I have always been interested in individual and group identity, and in how one shapes the other. My interest was first engaged through theatre during my teenage years, then through my studies in sociology at University and eventually through photography. I am drawn to identity because it's something that affects us all. It's what makes us different, yet the search for it unites us. I am particularly intrigued by the sense of safety and belonging that groups offer, and how that can empower the individual and help them to find an identity of their own. The more I photograph groups and close-knit communities the more I realise how universal our need is to belong and to feel the support of others. We are social beings and the sense of community, sisterhood or brotherhood is a key part in our journey to understanding who we are. Jane Austen is the glue that brought these individuals together, but the need to be part of something that is greater than yourself is a common need that you find in many different forms.
Your work straddles reality and fiction. How do you convey this in your visual language?
I have always been interested in the threshold between reality and fiction. The members of this group were constantly bouncing from reality to fiction and vice versa, so in this body of work it made sense to play around with the boundaries between the two. When making work I deliberately combine both candid and staged photographs, mixing “found” moments with choreographed tableau images. My intention is to invite the viewer to question where the performance starts and ends, and to challenge where the limits between reality and imagination lie.
What else have you got planned for the upcoming year?
I am currently working on a photobook of this body of work. I am also in the very early stages of my next project, which touches on paganism, rituals and our desire to connect with others and nature, so I’m spending a lot of time researching in my studio.