At the heart of Álvaro Laiz’s The Hunt is a 2010 book by John Vaillant (The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival) about an Udegei hunter named Markov. The Udegei people are a hunting tribe from the Siberian forest, and in 1997, Markov, an Udegei poacher, shot and wounded a Siberian tiger, which then tracked him down for 72 hours and killed him.
Laiz is a Spanish photographer who started out as a photojournalist. His early stories focused on the plight of the disenfranchised and the violence of war, especially in Africa. Gradually, as he worked on stories about transgender people, first in Mongolia and then in remote Venezuela, his photography became more personal.
Intrigued by Vaillant’s story about the death of the poacher, Laiz decided to reconstruct the tale in the Siberian forest where it happened. After an initial four-month trip, he returned to live with an Udegei family during the harsh Siberian winter. He accompanied the men on their hunt and listened to their tales. Animism is a part of their culture and daily life – the Udegei people live in close contact with nature, and their stories are grounded in mythical tales of the mighty Siberian tiger, who is feared and respected. They believe that if man disrespects the tiger, the animal’s dark spirit, Amba, is released and will take its revenge. “If you see a tiger for one second,” according to an Udegei proverb, “he has been watching you for an hour.”
Laiz describes the way he photographed The Hunt (which was published earlier this year by Dewi Lewis) as akin to moving through a labyrinth until he reached its center, the Udegei tiger hunt, and his photography evolved into a richer, more imaginary narrative. The literal and the fictional came together: some photographs refer to the animistic Udegei mythology, others are more documentary, and in still other cases, Laiz incorporated vernacular images into his work. He weaves these images together to create a poetic narrative that I would describe as mythical realism.