A Udege hunter holds the skull of an elk that he recently killed. (Alvaro Laiz)

Costia, a 33-year-old Udege hunter, watches the taiga, Russi’s boreal forest, from his cabin deep in the woods. (Alvaro Laiz)

Visura, the groundbreaking networking platform for photography and media that was co-founded by Adriana Teresa and Graham Letorney, has awarded one winner and 26 additional photographers with various levels of recognition for the 2015 FotoVisura Grant for Outstanding Personal Project. The grant recognizes photographers for their images, stories and dedication, as well as “the extent that he or she is willing to go to bring about positive change in society.”

Visura has become the premier virtual home for photo editors and photographers to access resources and communicate with one another in a more streamlined personal manner. At the forefront of Visura’s mission is getting photographers’ significant work in front of key industry players and editors, and ultimately getting those photographers hired by organizations and news outlets.

Spanish photojournalist Álvaro Laiz was awarded this year’s grant for his haunting series “The Hunt,” which documents the Udege people, who practice shamanism in the heart of the Russian Far East. In Sight spoke to Laiz about his series and the motivation behind his work.

“Winning the Visura Grant is an honor,” said Laiz. “It means a lot, especially when you see the jury. As a photographer I am used to struggling to fund and promote my personal photo essays. Winning the Visura Grant helps a lot with both issues. Every time you get a grant or recognition you feel grateful and happy, but this time I am especially happy and grateful because I know how much effort, love and talent Adriana and Graham have put on this.”

American photojournalists Linda Forsell, Annie Flanagan and Aaron Vincent Elkaim are finalists for their intimate works. Forsell for her in-depth feature “Children Having Children,” Flanagan for her series “We Grew Up With Gum in Our Hair” and Elkaim for “Where the River Runs Through.”

In addition to winning a $2,000 cash prize and a lifetime sponsored PRIME or GUILD membership with Visura, top prize winners earn a feature on the In Sight blog and paid commission for their winning series, a prize the networking platform is perhaps most proud to promote. In a crowded industry where long-term personal projects often go unfunded or unrecognized by mainstream media outlets, Visura has hung its hat on the mission of helping photographers get hired and be paid for their works by multiple media outlets.

Amur River basin. (Alvaro Laiz)

A Udege hunter holds a deer head. Once the hunt is finished, the hunter usually takes what he needs and hides his prey to pick it up later. (Alvaro Laiz)

In the fall of 2014, Laiz traveled for the first time to Southeast Russia, next to the Sea of Japan, to a mountainous area of vast forests, affected by the river Amur. It was here that he acquainted himself with the culture of the Udege people.

The Udege believe that if someone attacks a tiger for no reason, a spirit called Amba will hunt them down. Legend has it that a poacher named Marakov is said to have shot but not killed a tiger many years ago. The dark spirit of the tiger was said to have been released, and, using strategy and its keen instinct, the tiger hunted Marakov and killed him.

“Animism and the relationship among nature and culture are not really new to me,” said Laiz. “I have been working on those topics for the last six years. Since the first time I got to know the story of Markov, I knew I needed to travel to the Russian Far East. I have been researching and finding my way there for the past two years, and it has not been an easy road.

“I traveled there several times between 2014 and 2015, working alongside national parks, scientists, rangers and Udege hunters. At some point the project evolved into a more complex story which involved not only the facts related to the hunter’s local culture — Markov or the tiger that killed him — but my own experience with Udege hunters like Kostya and his family. (I lived with them for one month, deep in the taiga). Kostya was killed while I was traveling back to Spain, a few hours after I photographed him for the last time, and it deeply changed the way I perceived my staying there and of course, the project.”

Laiz ‘The Hunt’ is currently on exhibit for the first time at the Cerezales Foundation in Spain.

Andrejj, a 22-year-old Udege hunter, during the hunting season deep in the boreal forest. (Alvaro Laiz)

A dog devours a deer skull near a hunting cabin in the taiga. (Alvaro Laiz)

Hunting cabin near the Bikin River. (Alvaro Laiz)

Snow bike over Bikin River. (Alvaro Laiz)

A Siberian roe deer head lies in the snow. (Alvaro Laiz)

Detail from a hunting cabin’s ceiling. (Alvaro Laiz)

Bear skin dries outside a hunter’s cabin. (Alvaro Laiz)

Anatoli, a former member of Conflict Tiger Patrol, at his home near the Japan Sea. Conflict Tiger was a Russian special force specialized in tracking and eliminating tigers that have lost their fear of man. (Alvaro Laiz)

Costia is about to shoot an elk that has sought refuge on a nearby hill. He has chased the animal for two days in the taiga. (Alvaro Laiz.)

Detail of a tiger’s paw print. (Alvaro Laiz)

“If you see a tiger for one second, he has been watching you for an hour.” — Old Udege proverb. (Alvaro Laiz)

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Thousands of Spanish hunting dogs are put down each winter. A new book looks at the ones who were spared.

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