15 June 2016

The Hunter

15 June 2016 - Written by Veronica Sanchis Bencomo

Alvaro Laiz delves into the isolation of the taiga in the hunt for tigers. Ugede people belief "If you see a tiger for a second, the tiger has been observing you for an hour”

© Alvaro Laiz/INSTITUTE, from the series, The Hunter

Alvaro Laiz has a Master in Visual Arts from Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca. Alvaro's work focuses on realities usually ignored by mass media. His clients include; The New York Times, Forbes, Days Japan, National Geographic, Sunday Times Magazine among others. Alvaro is represented by INSTITUTE.

In addition, Alvaro is a co-founder of ANHUA, a photographic collective with the incentive to document the social, historical and contemporary issues related to human rights, anthropology, economics and environment.

What inspired you to produce The Hunter (AMBA)?

I got to know about the story of Vladimir Markov through the book by John Vaillant, “The Tiger”, in which he narrates the encounter between the tiger and the hunter. Arseniev’s stories about Primorsky also influenced me a lot in taking the decision of traveling to the Russian Far East.

You mentioned that Udege people have lived in the Boreal Jungle for hundreds of years. How isolated is it currently there?

Depends a lot on the time of the year. During the winter the Amur river and its tributaries, such as, Bikin river get frozen, becoming what you could say a ‘motorway’. It is still considered dangerous due to the thickness of the ice, but varies really. The accidents in this area are usually catastrophic. I might have possibly been one of the last, if not the last photographer, in meeting a communal organisation in the hunting territories of Udege since last year the Russian government has declared the area national park.

How is the hunting culture among the Ugede people?

Hunting among the Ugede people is still a matter of survival. In one opportunity, after chasing the trace of a deer during two days through the taiga (with all the inconvenience and effort that this entails) the hunter with whom I was with got finally the animal in a shot. Surprisingly, he put the gun down and started to walk back to the cabin. I didn’t understand what was happening… Then he said, ‘it was pregnant’. That is the level of commitment and symbiosis with the environment that the majority of the Ugede people have with their habitat. We are talking about people who is eating what they hunt, there is no food.

©Alvaro Laiz/INSTITUTE, from the series, The Hunter

While you were there traveling with the hunters, did you get to see a tiger?

I was collaborating with several national parks in placing trap cameras in strategic places. Many people has lived for decades in the taiga without having ever seen a tiger, something that it is considered bad omen. Among the Ugede people there is a saying “ if you see a tiger for a second, the tiger has been observing you for an hour”.

Do you think the Ugede people’s believes about tigers is vanishing among the young population?

Not only about the tigers. Acculturation is a complex process that involves the relationship with the environment and the personal relations. In that sense, the disconnection from the younger generations in respect to their environment, traditions makes them look for opportunities in cities, where apparently life can be more simple. It is a complicated equilibrium…

© Alvaro Laiz/INSTITUTE, from the series, The Hunter

What do you think you have learned the most by photographing isolated communities as it is in Taiga, Mongolia and Delta Amacuro in Eastern Venezuela?

That in our eagerness for progressing, we have focused in the city life, forgetting that we are part of a bigger ecosystem, that all our actions in the environment have a reaction, and that sooner or later, we will need to reconnect with our animal side. In that sense, to document life in environments where nature continues to lead the every day life is for me a reminder of what we were, but also of what we are not yet.

To learn more about this project, visit Alvaro's PHmuseum profile

To see more about his work, visit INSTITUTE

Written by

Veronica Sanchis Bencomo

Reading time

4 minutes