In my early career, I photographed competitive ski races around the world. At events such as the Olympics in Calgary and the World Ski Championships in Crans Montana, the downhills were the Blue Riband events and the Hahnenkamm in Kitzbühel and the Lauberhorn in Wengen, classic one-off downhill races, were regular fixtures in my January calendar.
But the goal on those occasions was to take tight action pictures of the winning skier, not necessarily to evoke a sense of place. It was a genuine test of camera skills not only because of the speed of the racers but also the accompanying weather conditions. I had my successes and I had my failures, but the photographs often lost immediate relevance as the press would simply look forward to the next race rather than dwelling on the last one.
35 years later my goal for this project was to employ a broader narrative and play on a sense of scale and contrast; the constant grandeur of our planet against the ephemeral skier. I wanted to tell a tale of man and mountain, where the former is dwarfed by the latter and in so doing, I could hopefully glorify both. The skier could have a degree of anonymity as he was just part of the story, not the whole story.
I know my ski courses and had my mind set on this spot on the famous Val Gardena downhill in the Dolomites. The first jump, a third of the way down the course, gave me the chance to have a skier flying through the thin alpine air with the region’s highest mountain offering the most grand of backdrops.
I had great fortune with the heavy snowfall the night before the race, as it transformed the whole amphitheatre, including the imposing rock face, into a fresh winter wonderland.
Jared Goldberg - a member of the US ski team and a resident of Salt Lake City, Utah - is the skier in this image. He finished in the top 10 that stunning day in Val Gardena. I am in awe of his bravery, as I am with all downhill racers. They put life and limb on the line in their 100 mph journey.
In my mind, the TV tower and the aeroplane add to the narrative as they serve to add modernity and scale, and in so doing, highlight the magnificence of the timeless mountains.
I would like to thank Alessandro Trovati of AP for his help with this project and for guiding me down the mountain.