When photographer Cooper Dodds first “flew” the upper Midwest’s jumps in 2009—to use the parlance of the sport—he was 19 years old and already burned out. A jumper since childhood, Dodds had moved from New Hampshire to Colorado in hopes of making the Junior World Ski Championships team. He didn’t qualify. So he took off for the Five Hills Tournament, a two-week amateur competition in the Midwest with events across Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan. It offered a small cash prize.
Dodds and a friend tied for first place, but what he found at Five Hills was more valuable than prize money. He’d never encountered anything like the homegrown enthusiasm for ski jumping that he found in the Midwest, where Scandinavian settlers introduced the sport about a century ago. In small towns of around 2,000 people, Dodds estimates that nearly that many spectators show up to competitions. That energy brings competitors from across the country and the world. “It reignited my love for the sport,” Dodds says.
In the years that followed, Dodds returned to the tournament as a competitor, fan, and, ultimately, as a photographer. In 2015, he began to document it using a large-format camera, a hefty piece of equipment that takes images on four-by-five-inch slides of color film. Those efforts became a book of photography, Jumper: Flying in the Heartland, published in November.
Jumper is not a typical sports-photography book, because Dodds’s camera of choice is better suited to still life than fast action. Rather than creating a highlight reel of the jumpers’ athletic prowess, Dodds chose to focus on the tight-knit subculture of Midwest ski-jump tournaments. “It’s really easy to get caught up in the action and the excitement,” he says. “But I was curious about documenting the culture of the sport and the places that had left a mark on it.”