So what’s it like to photograph the Olympics? The Olympics are more intense than any other event I’ve ever shot. They are the pinnacle of events; an Olympic gold medal opens a lot of doors for athletes in the U.S. The security is crazy to deal with. Nobody has a better seat than the photographer. No one else gets that close to the most exciting skiing in the world.
You spend a lot of time with the ski team, what’s your relationship with them? When I see athletes I’ve been shooting, who I’ve known since they were young and juniors on the team, win an Olympic medal, it’s huge, and really special to share with them.
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You have a racing and coaching background. Does that help you?
I understand this sport well, so my images do stand apart from others. I know where to shoot from, more than someone who is just a photographer…I know where is safe to stand. I get unique vantage points and still capture the finest, most dynamic motion.
You guys stand right on course at all races. Are you afraid of ever getting hit by a racer who crashes?
I’ve definitely seen some bloody, gnarly wrecks. Being near huge crashes is part of the racing world. Once during training in Chile, I had to jump straight up in the air, and a racer went under me. In races I’ve watched people go crashing through fences—it’s strange to see a human body go from 70 to 0 so quickly. I can get pretty shaken up from it, especially if it’s someone I know.
What’s your craziest Olympic story?
Well, at Torino, we had been working so hard the whole event, and then it snowed like two or three feet the night before the last ski event. So we took advantage of our press credentials to get on the hill. We had an incredible powder day to ourselves—we skied the Olympic downhill course with three feet of powder.
What’s your favorite course to shoot?
The Hannenkahm, in Kitzbuehl, Austria. It is so steep and so icy, it’s actually hard to sideslip down. Even after shooting extreme comps, it’s the most extreme thing I’ve ever shot an athlete doing.
Do you have any favorite images?
[Jonathan leans back and looks at the poster covering the walls of his office. There’s a poster of Bode Miller.] Note the #54 on his bib. He wasn’t ranked very high then, but he finished second that day. I was the only one shooting from that aspect. Bode told me this is one of his favorite shots…and after that race, it was on for him. This shot [above] is from the Wyoming Special Olympics, which I shot last week. The feelings I had at that event were as powerful as those at any of my three other Olympic events.
See his gallery and prints at www.selkophoto.com.