Olympic Athlete Photographer Joe Klamar Brushes Off Criticism

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“I was under the impression that I was going to be photographing athletes on a stage or during press conference where I would take their headshots for our archives,” he explained. “I really had no idea that there would be a possibility for setting up a studio.” It was the first time AFP had been invited to participate in the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Media Summit, which was held this year, in May, at a Hilton Hotel in Dallas.

I work for a news agency and I wasn’t taking pictures for a Nike ad

via Pixels and piety: Photographing Olympic icons – Correspondent.

There Are 85 Comments On This Article.

  1. So … what he’s saying is, that since he’s not shooting advertising it does not matter that he did a crappy job?
    Here’s a novel idea.
    Next time you do a shoot make just the slightest effort to do a good job; or at least make images of a quality that you would want to be associated with.

  2. “I work for a news agency and I wasn’t taking pictures for a Nike ad”

    A quote that ranks with “What, me worry?” Alfred E Newman

  3. “Excuses? We sent you for photographs not excuses.”

    A pro worth his pixels would have shot the best images possible within the parameters of the situation. Even just close-up head shots with hand-held flash would have been better. (Think of the on-the-fly style flash-on-camera stuff that Terry Richardson cranks out and is eaten up by the fashion press and gliterati.) Why didn’t he talk to the media coordinator to find out what the situation would be or called a photographer who had dealt with one of these events before?

    Like a political coverup – the more excuses the deeper he digs his hole.

  4. Michael Riggs

    Ohhhhh my god, can we let this garbage rest already? If I have to listen to one more photographer get up on their soap box and spew about professional ethics or standards or about how THEY would have done the shoot, I am going to go ballistic.

    • Here, here.
      Reminds me of a joke: How many photographers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
      Answer: 11. 1 to do it and 10 to say, “I could have done it better.”
      Lighten up folks, who knows, this may be the next style everyone copies!

  5. Actually I like the fact that he has pissed off folks that are stuck in the 1960s era of photography. This guy has stepped out of bounds and has created a very interesting and well shot set of of images. Twenty years from now we’ll all be gawking at them in the museum.

      • Your Cow Hampshire roots are showing – there’s a lot of differing viewpoints of “USA, USA, USA” and it’s obvious you are having a hard time going beyond the surface.

        • I’ll be honest man. If you find these to be museum worthy shots, you don’t have a career in today’s industry. Or really even a respectable hobby…

            • Good for you man. But notice I mentioned “today’s industry.” Those 1960s era days you mentioned are gone. It’s a leaner world today, and shots like the ones Joe put out don’t cut it. And they shouldn’t.

              • Because you’re still stuck in the 60′s format. Joe is from a different politic than you or I, so his photos are more of a comment of how we (USA) relate to the rest of the world. Hence USA folks are pissed. They (including you & I) are having a hard time handling the criticism. His photos are exposing the cracks and crevices – our heroes are not perfect.

                • I could care less that they’re of Olympic athletes. I really have no nationalistic pride attached to this. They could be of hateful world dictators, European heroes or the sweetest old Bolivian couples. They’re just bad. He even admits there’s no artists intent behind them. “I work for a news agency and I wasn’t taking pictures for a Nike ad.” That’s just patently lazy.

                    • worth? how about a big zero,…it just slays me to hear people trying their hardest to spin this and say these shots were good. ripped, dirty paper, bad lighting, lint on the socks, the list is long. terrible. just terrible. no ifs, ands, or buts,…..

                    • I say put you money where your mouth is…… Take a few shots like these and put them up on richbeaubien.com.

                      You wouldn’t be about to retire if your portfolio looked like that and acting like he had any idea what he was doing with his “Artistic vision” is just silly.

                      This is a classic case of photographers trying to cross genres. Event photographers think studio work is easy b/c the lights are right there and studio guys think it’s easy to get a great candid shot b/c there are no lights to set up. All forms actually take some requisite knowledge to come off correctly.
                      It seems from his pictures that he does not know how to use lights, if he did the results would be a lot better. If he didn’t know then he definitely should have asked someone who did.

                    • I am so glad to see your input here. I don’t have a million credentials behind my name. All I know is that I’ve been blessed to experience really talented photographers and their work. I think this photographer’s photos are brilliant. You’re right. We will see these photos in the history books and in their rightful places in sports history. There is no accident why these amazing athletes chose this artist.

                • Rich – PLEASE!!! I’ve been living and working in Europe for the last 13 years and that is a crock of “merde”. :-) None of my European colleagues are saying “Bravo – I understand what he was going for – sheer genius!” Every professional photographer I know would be embarrassed to have their name associated with these images!!!

                  That is one of the most wonderful and powerful things about photography – it can transcend language and culture – but these images do not. And then there is the fact that he is working for a news agency – so his political views should be nowhere in the mix.

                  And showing the torn seamless, arbitrary bad crops, and bad lighting does not “show their human flaws”. If that in fact was his goal – (which I do not believe it was) then he failed miserably – because I can’t get past the bad photography to even consider the athletes. There is no obvious intent to illuminate the viewer into who these people are – and again – if that was the goal – then they picked the wrong venue to try and attempt this. Something that ambitious should be done in a private session – not in an assembly line or “cattle call” situation. So your argument holds no water.

            • Rich, I saw your photos and they are horrible.
              Matt, I saw your photos. Great job.

              Rich, sorry man. I’m a really nice guy, but you don’t have an eye for photography what so ever, or art in general. It’s a harsh reality. I don’t want to crush your dreams, keep doing what you love, even if you are not good at it. I love to sing and dance all the time, I’m horrible at it, but I don’t get it let me down.

              I agree that this is not Joe Kalamars fault as he does not know studio lighting what so ever. He does however have artistic perception I can find aesthetically intriguing. Though they are no where represented in the studio shots.

              Everyone claims to be a professional photographer these days. It’s easy. You just put “professional” in front of “photographer” and then you add your name in front of that. Thats it. You are now a professional photographer.

      • just saw your work again. Lifestyle shots are amazing. My cousin shoots for such companies as Tommy Hilfiger, and your stuff is definitely up there. keep it up. Her name is Sarah Kehoe, btw.

        • Thanks! I’m familiar with Sarah’s work, she’s fantastic. I’ve got quite a ways to go before I’m at her level hah.

        • so tam can you see matts prostate from the angle you are looking at when up his ass?

    • These pictures are so bad I laugh my ass off every time I see them.
      Poor guy.

  6. Michael i’m with you. The pics were bad but given the circumstances i’m sure most people bashing the work couldn’t have put something better together within the same constraints. Give it a rest, people. I’m sure the work would have been much better had it been on the photog’s terms – which is what you should sign up for anyway.

  7. Thank you Michael Riggs, I couldn’t agree more. The photographers whose work I admire most have not piled into this scrum. They’re out there shooting and tending to their careers.

  8. Chuck Dye

    I actually thought that his photos were part of a statement or parody. He had so many archetypal approaches – the blue light in the background, the back to back athletes, etc. I loved it as an indictment of the monkey see, monkey do “insert athlete here” approach to contemporary sportraiture. The fact that this was unintentional doesn’t lessen the lesson.

  9. I actually think he’s explained himself perfectly well. I also think he’s making the point that he’s not aspiring to or trying to shoot ‘nike ad’ style imagery, which is fine.
    I also think he was briefed in-completely. I think he probably prepared himself for what he normally is expected to shoot, and i don’t think you can argue with that. I think many other people would have wanted to do more with the situation for personal reasons (myself included), and planned for possible one-on-one portrait possibilities, but i don’t think we can hate on this guy anymore, just because he did’nt.

  10. It’s easy to judge him after the fact. I think he did capture some very real and unusual shots. In truth, he was trying to make a miscommunication work – and he did. Are they the epic type of images we’ve come to expect? Not really – but, that’s part of what I like about some of them. I’ve been caught with my drawers down on a few shoots too. It just comes with the territory. I applaud his ability to not feel too overwhelmed and just figure out how to make something work. To me, that’s one of the big signs of a pro – someone who’s able to just be left holding the bag and stick it out.

  11. “I could do better with my cell phone.”

    Perhaps this comment about a cellphone is even more relevant than ever. With all due respect to Klamar, Instagram could have been a great solution instead of trying to keep up with the Joneses and their fancy backdrops. Regardless, a camera, a flash, and a simple background should be enough to create a wonderful grid of portraits. While I understand the pressures of a working photographer and the need to hit the ground running, I enjoy seeing photographers doing more with less while simultaneously making better pictures. Even with the odd patriotism comments aside, Klamar didn’t make photos happen for the athletes or for himself. Perhaps the editor didn’t brief him well or maybe he didn’t do his own homework. Either way, I agree with Mark Kalan above that a far simpler solution would have been better than trying to keep up with the others or old habits. Maybe next time the editor should call up a documentary photographer instead of a journalist. Or even a wedding photographer. They deal with unexpected stuff at every shoot.

    • stanchung

      “Maybe next time the editor should call up a documentary photographer instead of a journalist. Or even a wedding photographer. They deal with unexpected stuff at every shoot.” Agreed

      McNally or Hobby would have nailed it

      • Courtney

        I actually immediately thought of some wedding photographers as well. Like Bobbi & Mike… last year, I think, a tornado hit a wedding they shot and the images are amazing. I’m pretty sure they, and many others like them, could have thought a lot faster than “hey, I’m going to butt in on this backdrop”. Backdrops suck anyway.

  12. I thought the photos were good, maybe even better than good. For those of you complaining, what are you afraid of?

    • Piss poor planning PRECLUDES piss poor performance…….
      Proper Prior Planing PREVENTS piss poor performance

  13. What ever happened to letting a photo be a photo? Instead of chewing each other up, if you feel the photos are bad, then do better on your shoots. I worry about where our priorities really are if we just attack other photographers so viciously.

    • Isn’t that true.
      It’s a bit discouraging to read all this bitter nastiness.
      Usually comments here have some class, not this time.

  14. stanchung

    Puts other photographers in poor light if we don’t self criticize because anybody with instagram can say they could have done it better.

  15. ah… it’s so easy to comment on this from the comfort of your office isn’t it. Anyone here ever worked in a news gathering environment? Anyone? Yeah, thought so.

    Based on his comment it sounds he was asked to come along to a media event and take some photos. Once he got there the brief suddenly changes and he wasn’t prepped for it. If that’s the case I actually don’t think he did that badly.

    In the end did they get lots of publicity? Yes! Remember the old slogan “any publicity is good publicity”. This did make world news after all.

  16. @Tom – No professional photographer who shoots for AFP and Getty is asked to just “come along… to take some photos.” This would be akin to saying the Olympic athletes “come along to watch the games.” No. It’s clear that since every other photographer at the shoot got the memo to bring a studio, this photographer either:

    a) was ill prepared and could not summon the creativity to turn lemons into lemonade, or

    b) intended to do this to show the vulnerabilities of athletes as people.

    Either way, I can’t see these photos helping Klamar’s career though I would give him credit for being so bold if his intention was the latter. Of course, you are correct about even bad publicity being good. Perhaps this is when Klamar leaves the sad mainstream media to try his own luck. Maybe he really is interested in photography that is more revealing than the usual media BS.

  17. Dorian Spence

    I support the guy, and as for the rest of you who have nothing better to do but negatively criticize other people when you dont know all the facts, you should be ashamed of yourselves. i mean who the hell are YOU to get onto your high horses and speak as though you were gods of photography. we all have shit days and crappy people to deal with. i bet there isnt a single person commenting, who hasnt stuffed up royally sometime or other. if YOU havent, YOU simply havent shot enough! JEEZ, SHUT UP if you have nothing of value to say!

    • When asking people to dismount their high horse, it’s often a good idea to lay off the caps lock.

  18. Ajay Malghan

    Imagine a plumber showing up for a job and saying, “I thought I was going to work on a sink not a toilet”. Its a craft and its the responsibility of the photographer to be prepared for anything. I don’t know what a 300mm prepares you for other than shooting a concert from the soundboard or birds in a park.

  19. What does it mean to get “stuck in the 1960s era” ??? Personally, I like good & professional work, does’t matter if it is modern or 100 years old.

  20. What a nasty, cutthroat profession we work in! I am dismayed by the level of opprobrium heaped on this photographer. God knows our business is in enough of a crisis without us turning on each other. Is that where the nastiness comes from perhaps? Has this “race to the bottom” in editorial photography, with ever declining budgets and increasing competition for work contributed to this mentality?

    Mr Klamar, if you’re reading this, stick to your guns. Apologise for nothing. You did the best you could in a hugely adverse situation. And we’ve all been there! Well maybe not Mr. “KameraDude” who was moved to write on the AFP blog,

    “I am not a full-time pro as of now, but as a Flickr Pro who has won hundreds of awards there, I can tell you these pictures suck. I know I could have done better had I been invited to take those pictures…
    (Nikon D800E, Olympus OM-D, Fuji X100, Olympus OM-2 (used with Tri-x 400) IMac/Ipad. Silver Nikonian, Muti award winning Flicker Pro)”

    Wow, I eagerly await Mr KameraDude’s contribution to photography!

    My take home point from this episode is the “cattle market” nature of the shoot. It seems to have taken the press junket to new levels. Is this really the new norm? Surely we should be railing against the conditions that clients and PRs increasingly expect us to work under, rather than impugning
    the reputation of a hardworking professional?

    And as for the “world’s ugliest picture of Michael Phelps”, I actually rather like it. The harsh lighting, the folded arms and the relaxed musculature speaks of a vulnerability that we wouldn’t normally associate with all-conquering Olympic athletes. Would it really have been better to have him pumped up and draped in the flag? Not for me, thank you. I’ve already seen that.

    • scott Rex Ely

      Ahh yes, the “cattle market” nature of the shoot. I would suggest that if one wanted to avoid any type of diversity in the scope of their labor they would choose to work for the federal government. However this is the nature of the business we are in.
      Walk in, prepared, with limited expectations, work your ass off and leave with beautiful pictures.

      The cattle market set up was the the mountain to climb that day for Joe and he just stayed at base camp and had little to share of his adventure.

  21. My take is that what he had to try was not what was expected. He did what he could.

    - There appears to be (from the photographer’s own writing) no attempt at greater social commentary.
    - Looks exactly like he captured pics of the athletes as a journalism photographer asked to do a cattle-call portrait marathon.
    - Tried a different perspective, but execution in borrowed space sometimes lacked. (not your seamless, not in your control) is what it is.

    - The community is really trying to make this a meta-argument about their thoughts on the industry in general. (Please stop).
    - Reality for me is that portraiture is about making a subject look their best and captures the essence of the person, their character, and their circumstance. These images kind of miss on that for me.

    For those keeping score: could I do better? I have no idea, I wasn’t there.

  22. John Galt

    Dude, these aren’t that bad. Maybe a bit dated..and I’d say late 80′s, early 90′s. Definitely not the 60′s.

    Anyways, as far as art goes, I shot an Olympic portfolio recently. Gotta say, didn’t get this many comments. Good or bad. Winner Mr. Klamar.

  23. I must admit a bit of confusion.

    As stated by his own statement, he wasn’t trying to do some sort of ‘artistic’ take on the evil USA. Nor was he trying to be ‘edgy’ in order to make some other political statement.

    He admits he took bad images, then says he flatly doesn’t care.

    OK. Works for me.

    But let’s then drop the whining about how day rates are lower, and the magazines won’t pay anymore and waaawaaawaaa… if THIS is now the level of work that many in the industry are so willing to embrace as “brilliant” (a quote from someone I used to respect – and is well respected in the industry), then we should expect a lot more downgrading of both fees and expectations.

    Photographers have never gotten it. WE are our worst enemy. WE force the fees down. WE sign the terrible contracts. WE deliver all the images. WE give up our copyright for the ‘opportunity’ to do a job. WE shun business practices that would protect our livelihood and future. WE circle the wagons and pronounce feces as caviar. WE are the problem.

    Again.

  24. Let us first say what photography is not. A photograph is not a painting, a poem, a symphony, a dance. It is not just a pretty picture, not an exercise in contortionist techniques and sheer print quality. It is or should be a significant document, a penetrating statement, which can be described in a very simple term – selectivity. – Berenice Abbott

    My father was a student of Berenice and I find these photos very compelling.

  25. Matt Driscoll

    It’s intriguing. Kinda like Yoko Ono being asked to sing opera. Dunno, I see the relevance here, the ones who say right on and the others saying no way. But also the cringing aspect of well, the pictures. No matter how you look at it (no pun intended) it was a crap set up in any case. Kinda like asking , well, Yoko Ono to sing opera.

  26. Non-Patriotic Photo Assistant

    Yo, Americans!
    You just need to understand that USA! USA! USA! is no longer. Put your ego down and realize you’re not a great power anymore.
    Why so “offended” when the pics of Michael Phelps aren’t shiny, fake, and cheesy? Didn’t YOU take a couple pics like that the other day for that *****y trade magazine? Good luck paying for that IQ180.

  27. I’m not good at photography in studio. But, even I was looking at these like, “this is the part of the 80% of art that really didn’t work”. Most artists can make it work with their confidence that shines through. This was like watching a movie and thinking about the actor “acting” the whole time. Didn’t convince me. I feel badly for him. My nerves are shot just THINKING about if I were in his position.

  28. Rather than pass judgement, I want to point out that Joe probably knows that he is only as good as his last work. His clients are looking at these and thinking “Oh jeez, these are NOT what Joe normally does” or “Yep. That’s Joe!”

    Does anyone know if there were some truly great or iconic images from this shoot? Realistically, 30-60 seconds IS long enough to make some remarkable images if there is a great and motivated shooter behind the lens and I’m positive SOMEONE has to have created some!

  29. Horror movie fans criticize bad horror movies. Action adventure fans criticize bad action adventure movies. And, photography fans criticize bad photography.

    The response to these photos is overwhelmingly negative. There are a few positives, but that doesn’t make up for the fact it’s bad photography. Any photog fan or professional can see that.

    It may not be 100% his fault, but at the end of the day, show your best work. This is NOT Klamar’s best work. I feel bad for the guy because it’s just not.

    Why we are suddenly settling for mediocrity, I have no idea. But, these didn’t do our Olympic team the justice they deserve. We demand excellence of our team athletes, we should of their photogs, too….

  30. Joe, I am in awe of these photographs of the most incredible athletes for the next Olympic games. Their bodies are amazing. I love the lighting and how you touched on the muscles and their incredible personalities. You are a master of photography and there is no accident why these wondrous athletes chose you to photograph them. Forget about your critics!!

  31. A picture should not be judged by the amount of time it took to take it, or the effort that went into it. When it comes down to it a picture should be judge solely by what the picture is.

    When looking at a renaissance painting, there are very few who talk about how many days it took them to paint that. They talk about lines, texture, color, etc.

    When it comes down to it, these photos could have been a lot better. It’s not negativity. It’s an opinion.

    Check out Greg Heisler’s work. He has stories of making photos within a 15 min time frame and they’re amazing.

  32. Sounds like all the complainers think that every picture a photographer takes is perfect. Then I recommend that you all get your little point and shoot cameras out – get invited,spend the money and find out what it means to be a photographer. No picture is bad just the people that are looking at them and can’t seem to appreciate art. Photography is art and not everybody likes the artist eye – so get over it you flatlanders….

    • There has to be bad pictures in order for there to be good pictures. If they’re all good then they are all just pictures and nothing special.

      • I agree not all pics are good – and we whom call ourselves photographers should only show good pictures and not the bad ones. But hmmm – who is to say what is good for you is good for me or vice versa.

  33. Oh dear, what an unedifying spectacle we photographers have collectively conjured over this issue. How quick to judge, to boast and to condemn we all appear.

    Have we no empathy, no basic decency, no shame?

    A photographer took an assignment which turned out to be the opposite of what he expected. He tried to salvage the situation and it didn’t work out. Nobody has died or lost their limbs because of it. The tax-payer has not been asked to foot a massive bill for his mistake and while it may make you wince a little to look at the pictures, I am not aware of anyone suffering any lasting impairment to their vision as a result of looking at them.

    The poor guy was clearly out of his comfort zone, working with kit that was not his and in a situation where he might well have felt intimidated. If anything, I think he maybe just tried too hard to be too different. It’s all over the place: unnecissary wide angles, inappropriate viewpoints, cheesy poses, odd shadows, a quite impressive array of unfortunateness… if that is a word.

    But once again, no evidence that any of his subjects were left traumatised by having a 16mm stuck uncomfortably close to their face as they mourned the loss of their loved ones. No suggestion that the olympians now feel unable to represent their country after being sullied and personally degraded by the process of being photographed in such an… ahem…. “unusual” way.

    So while the athletes themselves seem not to have given a flying toss, every person who rightly or wrongly imagined themselves to be a photographer has heaped undue scorn, praise and in some cases genuine hatred on this work. Thereby ironically ensuring it is seen by many more people than otherwise would have sought it out.

    Of course, many of the internet comments have been hilariously poorly informed.

    My personal favorites revolve round the fantastical idea that AFP somehow have an unlimited pool of photographers with differing specialities and the time to match the assignments to the skill-sets. Comedy Gold!

    Or those that say they would have happily done that assignment without realising what the day rate, rights transfer or working hours are for a wire agency shooter.

    Instead of lining up to repeatedly kick Joe for his mistakes and do laps in a cesspool of our own industrial-strength ignorance we could have been a little more constructive? Kind even?

    Maybe something like, “aaah Joe, sorry about those Olympic pictures, definitely not your finest hour. Better luck next time eh?”

    “Still, looking on the bright side, nobody died and nobody lost an eye!”

    • The tzetz

      totaly agree. i personally know an event photographer, also working for a news company. and i have seen that news/event photographers, even thou called Pro’s (cuz they earn their money with it) just can’t do studio photoraphy right. they are the PROfessional point and shooters of this buziness but not the glamour and fame shooters like the rest of like to claim yourselfs.

      after that said, some pro’s maybe cant take a good shot in sticky event situations as good as Joe. fortunatly Joe can. he’s trained for unknowing events, quick to engage, P mode on his D50. iso to auto. flash directly for the face. and live view on…. he’s trigger must be razor quick, taking a picture before the action is past…

      on the other hand our so called studio photographers are relativly slow in their action. they need time to think what to do with the subject, where to put the lights, what works what not, lots of testing then heavy retouching afterwards. by some they are called the fictional directors of photography, while Joe is our documentary director of photographer. you simply cannot compare apples with pears for this matter. so stop bullieng him. everyone who said bad things to Joe, must deaply feel ashamed. wanting to make a white man jump/dunk. while only black men can jump/dunk.

      Joe, i think you did an excelent job!
      your pictures will at least be remembered. Cuz they are different. they are very very different. and only different things will eventually be remembered. Let this at least be a lesson for all those look
      -alike-photography-shooters out there. :p

  34. Lets not forget, that an editor at AFP could have squashed the images from being released in the first place if they thought they were that bad. So some blame has to be put on that editor who allowed them to go through. These are not very good images, and the photographer admits he was unprepared, but ultimately its an editor that decides whether to put them on the wire.

    • The editor knew that they were bad but decided to run them en masse just to highly the horrific quality.

  35. On one hand, his pics did all have a cohesive look to them. Now that look may have been bad, but someone had to like them enough to release them to the public. I think it just goes to show in this day and age, photography is done by everyone and to get your name in the ring you have to stand out. The saying used to be any press is good press, and I am sure most of you also went out to search the web for this guys portfolio as soon as you laid eyes on the shots.

    I still think they are lazily done, and most first year technical drawing majors could have done a just as good of a job with their blackberry cameras. And if those drawing majors had iPhones, probably a better job.

    • I looked up his portfolio to see if this was a bad fluke. Nope, his usual work is quite underwhelming.

  36. I think its unfair that so many are about to pickup knives and go after this guy. He was ill informed of the shoot style and conditions, frankly I think his big mistake was releasing them (since he is shooting for AFP I imagine he had no choice). I don’t think it would have been terrible to photoshop the ripped paper flooring, but being a photo-journalist I imagine they don’t allow themselves to do that. Regardless of the guy being amazing or not in taking photos of Olympians, I hardly think its worth the death threats the guy has been getting. If you don’t like it, look at someone else’s work, pretty simple.