I began my career documenting post-conflict recovery and the aftermath of separatist movements. Trained in journalism, I became a postwar photographer and have worked on peace processes. For years, I traveled to unrecognized countries that don’t exist on world maps. Once, I went to a disputed region on the eastern coast of the Black Sea that was destroyed by civil war after the collapse of the Soviet Union. One night, I woke up suffering from terrible pain and was carried to a hospital by an unknown man. A few days after an urgent operation, he came to check on me. After abdominal bleeding and massive blood loss, I needed a place to recover — he offered me a place to stay at his house until I could walk. I took this leap of faith, trusting a stranger.

He calls himself Wolf — the nickname he was given by his war buddies, the symbol of a warrior in a myth of the Caucasus. Wolf’s grandfather was born in a big peasant family in Turkey. In search of a better life, he crossed the Black Sea and settled down in the prosperous subtropical oasis with a tourism-based economy, which in the early 1990s would become an internationally quarantined piece of land — diplomatically shut out from other nations. Wolf’s childhood and youth were both happy. When a civil war broke out, he was 22. He voluntarily joined the soldiers, and in the last days of the war, he survived a land-mine blast that left him deaf and scarred. Post-conflict isolation embittered many people, and Wolf retreated to the mountains to live a life of self-imposed exile. Twenty years later, he brought me to his mountain to heal.

When I started to walk again, he taught me his routine. I came down from the mountain to find places and people from his tales that, to my surprise, were real. They became protagonists for my reportages and exhibitions in different parts of the world.

The story of Wolf’s life on the mountain has become a symbol of the trauma of the whole country. Wolf’s interactions with this land and with other people were happening through his stories and memories. This time, I refused to choose between an artistic and a journalistic approach to show that.

Once enough time had passed since my last visit to Wolf’s land, I took photographs from his mountain (2013-2016) to put this true narrative into a documentary fairy tale. My friend and illustrator, Alberto Madrigal, drew the former soldier’s memories into some of my images, animating documentary photographs with Wolf’s tales — the stories he never stopped living inside his head.

Wolf agreed to these photographs under the condition that I withhold his full name and his location, as he wishes to keep these details private.

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