Alejandra Carles-Tolra is a Spanish photographer from Barcelona, Spain, living in the US East Coast. Her work examines the relationship between individual and group identity, and how the latter shapes the former. Questions regarding what defines it, the role the surroundings play and the threshold between individual and group identity drive and inform her work as an artist.

Her work has been published and exhibited internationally, most recently at CNN, The Huffington Post, Gup Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Flash Forward Festival 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 was a winner of the Biennal D’Art Jove at the Fine Arts Academy of Sabadell in Barcelona. She has taught photography at The University of New Hampshire, Bryant University, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and Camera Eye Workshops, among other institutions.

‘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.

In 2016, for the first time, women’s rugby will be competing at the Olympics level. In addition, after 37 years, Brown University recently elevated women’s rugby from the club level to full intercollegiate varsity status (becoming the 10th university to do so in the U.S. and the 2nd Ivy League). We are now witnessing a historic event that celebrates the persistence and successful effort of female athletes, and challenges the meaning of masculine sports.