Archives About Staff BagNews is dedicated to visual politics, media literacy and the analysis of news images.
July 2, 2012

A Few Words About Joe Klamar’s Viral (and “Obviously Terrible”) Olympic Portraits


There is no way any photographer with a mind for composition would make these mistakes. … If you were to tell me to set up shots to be as ugly as possible, but to not get caught, I would do these same setups. For that reason, I think he must be making a statement about the way society paints athletes as perfect. Showing flaws in the photos to illustrate the fact that they are people, not gods. … The mistakes are intentional. Especially considering about half the mistakes could be fixed by any redditor that has photoshop (Smooth backgrounds, basic color corrections, straight shots, cleaned textures, etc.)Hiranyagarbha – Reddit commenter: Uh… what happened here? (from an AFP/Getty photographer, nonetheless)

While photographers and photo enthusiasts debate Joe Klamar’s portraits from the Olympic Committee’s media summit, one fact is incontrovertible — the photos have gone viral. So whether Klamar was hoping for something more polished or these were the results he was aiming for, what’s most interesting is how much these photos have captured widespread imagination for unconsciously deviating from the slickest standard.

That said, I think the Reddit commenter is pretty much on the money. Whether the picture subverts the background, the composition, the lighting or the athlete’s expression (or some combination), what at least a handful of Klamar’s photos “accomplish” is to slight the plasticized image of the Olympic athlete perpetuated throughout the quadrennial media and advertising orgy. More than that though (and imagine you’re reading the rest of this sentence to rabid chants of USA!! USA!!), I think this subset of photos also take a silent sledgehammer to the jingoistic adulation of the American team, to the extent these athletes serve as a fantasy extension of the dying dream of American worldwide superiority.


Cleverly, I think they also (Just Do It, Lashinda!) undermine the Adidas stripes and the Nike swooshes symbolic of the commercial bacchanal too.

Looking at the whole 35 photo edit, I don’t know if Klamar prompted certain athletes to defy the hero, macho, up-close-and-personal drill with a particular prompt or some just took the liberty, but given the Olympic coverage is like one long series of saccharine personality profiles interrupted at points by an athletic event or two, I can only imagine some of these Olympians welcoming the opportunity, for a moment and subtlety, to turn into people. the question is: did some of these Olympians welcome the opportunity, for a moment and subtlety, to turn into people, or was Klamar (either consciously or unconsciously) editorializing?

So here’s to the rip in the background paper, the crinkled flag with the folded edge and, especially, the lint on gymnast Jonathan Horton’s socks.

So, to the extent these photos represent the politically and commercially-exploitive side of the Olympic indulgence, here’s to the rip in the background paper, the crinkled flag with the folded edge and, especially, the lint on gymnast Jonathan Horton’s socks.


Here’s to weightlifter Sarah Robles of “The United” something-or-other totally geeking-out.


Here’s to Jillian Camarena-Williams who (get it?) could care less about her shot.

Here’s to Lindsey Berg channeling a volleyball victory, and more bling.

And bless this one, here’s to Mark Michael Phelps, the last time — unless he totally blows it, of course …or maybe succumbs to his demons — you’ll see him in the dark.

(Edited for meaning 8:40 PST. My intention was not to put this on the athletes at all who well may have been innocent in this, each instance being potentially unique of course. Instead, my focus is on the politics of the imagery, also allowing for speculation as to whether Klamor had an actual agenda or not.  All changed indicated via strike-outs. Also, with the lateness of the hour, I think I confused Michael Phelps with Mark Spitz. But maybe that’s part of the issue, keeping the heros straight.)

(photos: Joe Klamar)

  • Andrew Gilmore

    Glad somebody got it.

    This struck me as pure iconoclasm, with a little dash of anti-establishment humour.

    The flag deliberately touching the ground. The sprinter in the starting blocks pose with the studio clearly visible in the background. The gymnast’s feet cut off. Phelps looking like a weedy dude with a goatee. There’s a glaring and hilarious mistake in almost every photo.

    Media-terrorism at its finest. 

    • Ohnonichole

      You’re reading too much into it. He’s a glorified paparazzi photographer. These are just bad. It’s clear he has issue with light and composition. But it’s nice that you are so kind.

    • Jimmy Earl

      I’m glad you’re reading too much into it!! We have a lot of processed photography we can just swallow. I’m thankful finally someone is trying to make a statement, and more importantly, this guy is making our withered brains work and question his style, or media or whatever these images makes you question. Kudos to Joe Klamar!

  • bks

    I don’t have any problem with these portraits, but they have nothing whatsoever to do with sports or the Olympic competition.   What I really dislike is the jingoistic coverage of the events themselves by U.S. media.    When I watch the Olympics I want to see the athletes compete *live*.   I have little interest in the pre-produced back stories which seem to dominate the coverage


    • MediaSkeptik

      What? Don’t you like the background stories of poor little one-legged Amy, struggling against fetal alcohol syndrome, an nonsupporting gangland father, her underinsuranced upbringing and her single Mom’s evil SUV?

  • Andre

    Well, these don’t look like satire or parody to me.  They are on CBS News’ website with photo credit and all….with no mention of the “artistic” statement he was trying to make.  Regardless, I don’t think this is the venue or the subjects with which one should make a statement.  These people have trained their entire lives to get the CHANCE to represent their country and this is how they are rewarded?  I think it is terribly disrespectful given that they had no idea they were the subjects of Mr. Klamar’s so called statement.  Want to make a statement about America?  Go pick on McDonalds or Walmart….leave these kids out of it.

    • guest

       does every statement need an explanation?

  • Mark

    Michael Phelps*

    • Michael Shaw

      Whoops, being late at night, seems I got Michael mixed up with Mark Spitz. Thanks for the correction.

  • Ben

    I’m with Andre. If you want to make a statement about the decline of American superiority, why choose a group of people who are objectively superior as your subjects? There’s no shortage of examples of American power on the wane…but Michael Phelps ain’t one of them, I don’t care how much pot he smokes.

  • Booboo

    Ha! An article about basic mistakes (intentional or not) and he cannot even get Phelps’s name right! He’s only the most successful Olympic athlete. Duh.

  • Patrick Onofre

    Did Mayor Thomas M. Menino write this? That would explain messing up MICHAEL Phelps’ name.

  • Beysler

    Sorry, I disagree, im looking at the rest of this guys work, and I just think hes a terrible photographer, even his more polished work has plenty of amateur mistakes in it, and theres no examples of studio work or even anything to do with lighting in any of his portfolios. Take what you want from it, but I still think its just bad work. 

    • ertyo5

      That is because he is a news wire photographer, and does not do studio work. He was sent to this on an assignment for AFP news as part of their North American press staff. I would be surprised if he had ever spent more then a few hrs in a studio before, but that was not his main area of expertise. Problem is the wires don’t have the budget to pay our freelance day rates. I approached a few news wires and their DC rate for a job is 250USD.

  • Cowboy

    Art Streiber is a great photographer for our athletes and he’s american.

  • Bob

    poor decision to hire this guy. I personally would of made this project a priority to shoot amazing portraits knowing I had this talent.  

  • Griffith C

    WTF is the big deal? Maybe, just maybe Mr Klamar thinks that these are great. Maybe it is the best he could do in the time frame allowed. Why people are reading some great conspiracy into this is beyond me. Look around you, there is lousy photography all around. Are Olympians somehow supposed to be protected from a bad shoot? Really? or maybe Klamar was taking the piss and having a jab. Again, so what? Blame all those annoying publicity agents of the athletes for doing a lousy job at not protecting the image of their clients.

    • Michael Shaw

      Interesting point, especially with superstar athletes like Michael Phelps.  Isn’t image/brand protection the order of the day?

    • ertyo5

      Problem with press calls is that PR agents can’t vet the photos. He is a news wire photographer, so he sends what he wants. If you have PR have a first look to kill what they don’t want, then the press would not show up. Its a totally diff world from commercial. If you want the press to come, you better be prepared to suck it up and see what comes out. It’s sucks but its the name of the game. I have spent 10 years with the wires, and the second a PR person says they have to look at your shots before they are released ….you walk away or get on the phone to legal, bc your boss would be on your ass so fast/ you would be fired if you let someone outside the organization edit your photos.

  • Wiseweaver2

    I have seen many bad photo essays in my day and these are certainly in the top 5 of awful images.  What were you thinking….oppps, I guess you were not thinking……

  • Ellis Vener

    Andrew Gilmore I “got it” too.  But I also got something else.

    The worst thing about the photos is not the unslick staging, framing and lighting. It is that the people in them look bored, stupid, and un-interesting. Everyone gets bored and everyone looks stupid most of the time. Every first grader knows that. Especially when you are asked to do something you consider stupid -like have your portrait made for the umpteenth time on picture day.

    If the photographer went in with an intellectual undercurrent of “I am going to show these people looking ordinary (i.e. bored out of their brains)”  he half way accomplished that. What he failed to do was make interesting photographs. So it isn’t much of an accomplishment. Instead of de-idolizing them he’s the one who comes off looking lazy and incompetent.

    Which I actually kind of doubt that he is.

    You can attempt to spin this portfolio as an artistic  exercise in debunking heroic iconography, but it just looks like he didn’t fully invest himself in the idea, In fact it sort of comes of as a statement of “I really don’t want to be doing this assignment.”   As an instructive counter point to this portfolio look at the portraits of ordinary people in Richard Avedon’s “In The American West” or his similar portraits of the famous, infamous and powerful people. Also look at the work of Mike Disfarmer and August Sander.  And there are also Thomas Ruff and Thomas Struth. Obviously there are many ways to make great and interesting portraits where even extraordinary people look ordinary and that do that involve glamours lighting and staging and heavy handed direction. .

    But Klamar’s portraits commit the worst sin an artist can possibly commit in their work: he bores.

    • Jack Reznicki

      I agree Ellis. Another factor – if you’ve ever taught lighting to newbiesouts we both have, you fully understand that this is someone who does not know studio lighting. My guess is this is a natural light and speed light photojournalist who is good at going and getting shots at events, but faced with making a shot in a studio from scratch, is out of his element. Wiith almost 40 years of experiance in commercial advertising work under my belt, this is just bad inexperience and any defense of it is just as feeble as the work itself.

  • Brotha_love

    This is total garbage !!!

  • Bill Smith

    If irony was the intent, and I doubt it, these shots still fail miserably. A good photographer infuses irony and emotion with their technique, not their lack of talent. There are plenty of photographers who cast a critical eye and still manage to create brilliant imagery. Lenses, depth, lighting, setting… those are the vocabulary of a real photographer. This hack has nothing to say. I think it’s a case of The Emperor’s New Clothes and Klamar pulled one over on the USOC.

    In response to someone who commented about the photographer doing the best with the time he had. We’re not in kindergarten. I’ve known and worked with shooters who get consistently great results even if an irritable publicist only gives them ten minutes with the subject. Lack of time is not an excuse for amateurism.

  • iamacamera

    You give to much credit to this idiot.  He should be sued for malpractice!  They are just sloppy, poorly conceived visual tripe.  This guy needs to be slapped real hard and have his camera confiscated.  He wasn’t engaged to make a political statement but to portray these athletes.  He’s a disgrace and a fool.

    • AllieC

      Could not agree more.  Total disgrace.  

  • North Fork Native

    Can’t we just call a bad photo a bad photo?  Let’s face it, these are just awful. The man is not a portrait photographer and should never have been hired for this job. I fear that these shots will encourage mediocre photographers to continue making bad photos. They see pictures like this and think, “Wow! I guess mine aren’t so bad if these were taken for the OLYMPICS by a PROFESSIONAL!”   *sigh*  

  • guest

    Portraying athletes in an unflattering way is not showing their humanity or bringing them down to our level, it’s just bad photography. If you meet these athletes face to face you will not walk away thinking about how bad they looked; the photographer (and people who chose him & edited his photos) whether intentionally or, most likely, through neglect, failed.

    • Mike Hunt

      You are not the arbiter of taste, thankfully. Not all photos have to be pleasant and “perfect.”  I do not need to see another WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS style photo of an athlete.  The photographer is making a statement about athletes, the Olympics and the American people. You don’t have to like his message. (Hint: a lot of the world feels the same way)

  • tayo33

    It’s very obvious by researching Joe Klamar’s track record of photography, that he is NOT a studio photographer.  He has more than 30,000 images on Getty all of which are on location/editorial/flash on camera.  It doesn’t look like he has ever done anything with any production value… so why does everyone expect that he has the skill or capacity to make beautifully lit studio and styled photography?

    Have you ever painted a portrait before?  Think with your elementary school doodling skills, you could pull off a masterpiece?

    I’m not saying these shots are acceptable, or even should have been considered for use in ANYTHING.  But people… come on… he has no agenda, he was the wrong person for the job, flat out.

    • Michael Sessions


      If you send a Clydesdale to a steeplechase, you’re not likely to come out with a winner. The photos look like the work of a field photographer who went in with some background paper and a prayer. . and was very drunk.. probably sky-high on acid as well.

  • Illegibleaddress

    he wasn’t trying to make a statement, he’s a shoddy photographer.  Here’s a link to another photog who shot the same day (it was a media event) his photos are 9 million times better & he had the same amount of time to compose & shoot.

    • Kevinmoranphotography

      Finally … someone comparing apples to apples. 2 photographers, same day, same set, same subjects, same amount of time to shoot … ready, set. shoot. Let the photos speak for themselves. Clearly, Joe Klamar comes up way short.

  • SeanP

    as an aspiring “working” photographer, I would DREAM to have this job. These photos to me are simply BAD PHOTOGRAPHY. He probably knew somebody who got him the job and he was just over his head. It could be intentional buy why risk your own photographic reputation to prove a point?? Honestly, if I’d got this job 2 years ago, the photos would probably be just as bad….the only difference is, I have the wisdom to know if I’m in over my head

  • Michael Shaw

    It’s interesting to me how many people blame the photographer (mostly for incompetence or not caring enough).  It seems the far more interesting issue/problem, though, lies with the editors who published this material. If the pictures are crap (and, even worse, the athletes are being exploited), why did CBS, among others, either turn down the work, or at least edit out those photos (particularly the ones highlighted in the post) that didn’t do anybody any justice?  

    Perhaps the real culprit here is media’s desperation for click bait.

    • bks

       30 comments so far!  You’ve put up pictures far worse (technically) than these and no one has carped.  I think the response indicates that Klamar is a genius-level artist.   It’s hard to get people worked up about still photos of athletes but Klamar did it.


    • greybob

      I love hearing the media talk disparagingly about “the media”.

    • Michael Sessions

      I have to agree. It seems like an obvious case of the wrong guy being hired for the job. Considering the starvation pay that’s offered for these gigs, I wonder if this guy didn’t owe someone a favor and begrudgingly took the job. 

      It looks like he used small, battery powered flashes that any field photographer would have in his bag. Very difficult to pull off a decent studio shot with those under the best of circumstances. If he’d rented studio lights, he would have been way beyond his budget and in a deep hole.

      These shots are ridiculous but obviously NOT his bread and butter. He’s probably having a few beers at the corner bar laughing this one off.

    • Kevinmoranphotography

      I think you mean “why DIDN’T CBS, among others, either turn down the work”. At least I hope that’s what you meant. Oh wait, another late night? No wonder you love Klamar, you both share the same level of ability. 2 hacks performing “jingoistically”?

  • Allemails

    These photos are simply genius.. Most people won’t get it, but, as described in the article above, there is a huge statement being made here..

    • AllieC

      Who cares about his “statement”.  He’s a nobody.  These athletes have worked their whole lives to get to this point and he chooses this assignment to prove a point?!  One man’s “genius” is another man’s no talent hack.  As it’s been stated by others, he didn’t even make the statement in an interesting way.  It just looked like a crappy backdrop and bad lighting.  Wow.  How groundbreaking.  Yawn…..

  • Jonasher

    As a so-called professional shooter for 47 years I’m astounded by both the photos and “support” shown this photographer.  This is supposed to be about the athletes, not a statement-making “project” on the part of the shooter.  Wanna make a “statement?”  Knock yourself out, but don’t do it in this kind of situation, where the subjects should be the story, not the shooter.  This is no different than in a written news article in which the reporter inserts himself into the story.  This is embarrassing to the athletes and the photographer.

  • mnwbk

    *Couldn’t* care less about her shot.  

  • ugh

    I think these are really terrible photos….. But….
    The real visual criminal here is the assigning photo editor. How this photographer was chosen for this assignment is a head scratcher. If you look at his other work it is all red carpet and sports photography, not complex, difficult to stage studio portraits. Mr. Klamar is guilty of getting in way over his head and the end results are forgone if you look at the kind of work he does do well.
    This is a perfect lesson on several levels, unfortunately at the expense of the Olympic athletes. It gives revelation to how truly difficult great studio portraiture is and why it takes so much time and expense to execute well. Photo editors would be wise to keep a set of these photos nearby to show the accountants and CFO’s the next time bills from photo shoots are questioned. Yes it can be done cheaper. No, the readers will not stick around to view the results. 
    Now go wash your eyes out.

  • Ed

    No way are these pictures deliberately bad; they’re just plain bad. There’s such a thing as a “good” bad picture, where the flaws speak effectively to the public at large and don’t just irritate a bunch of anal Photoshop junkies like myself. Doing that would have been a great idea. But nobody out there in the real world is going to interpret torn background paper as a sly statement on American culture or ugly lighting as an insightful way to de-mythologize athletic heroes. They won’t even realize what a missed opportunity these pictures represent – instead of being just a venue for showing off embarrassingly incompetent technique. The pictures will simply fail to make much of an impression at all and be forgotten even sooner than most.

  • Stan B.

    If anything, these photographs are successful as an “exercise” on how widely people can interpret particular images. They are clearly amateurish both as flattering/commercial portraits, or as any kind of “satirical” statement.

    Jeez, almost makes me appreciate Leibovitz…

  • Blahblah

    you and those like you who find any reason to take a jab at america’s ‘dying superiority’ can fuck off.  i’m sick of you fuckers. and you don’t have to agree with what i’m saying anymore than i have to agree with you assholes.  eat it.

  • Salvatore

    this is terrible, the fact that someone is defending the terrible photography is terrible in itself. how can this deuche-hole writer defend the terrible photography and go after the athletes and basically say that they deserve this terrible photography. its americas fault for wanting to have heroes that children look up to…it makes me cringe that michael shaw can write something like this and in turn this and other comments that defend this terrible photography will actually turn the no talent photographer into something along the line like a terry richardson, without the perverse sexual stuff that he is famous for. 
    i hope both shaw and klamar enjoy their 15 minutes.
    klamar, i understand that sears portrait studio is hiring and 
    shaw, hollywood is looking for someone to pen the sequel to the three stooges movie.

  • Lenniebriscoe54

    Seriously? Really? SO obviously you write dribble like this for free. Your excuses and silly suppositions match the photos. Amateur hour. Maybe you should head back and wait on tables or work in the McDonald’s drive-thru.

  • Mike6franke

    Wow! Someone is a self loathing American!

  • Dem3

    I get the point, poorly executed

  • Chris Arceneaux

    The other photographers are upset because he did a better job than them. The shot the athletes doing what they do in the Olympics and not just them standing around. Great photos!

  • David Stewart

    Thanks. I love your very arch send-up of postmodernist politico-aesthetic criticality. For a few seconds, I was almost, like, “Hey, he actually believes this and thinks and talks like this.” But then the relentlessness of the cliches and poses made it clear that you were intentionally going overboard with the jargon and pseudo-intellectualism.

  • Rrs Inc

    career is going downhill

  • David C. Briscoe Jr.

    These photos are revealing as much about the bevy of professional photographers criticizing them as they are about the athletes, the Olympics, the state of photography and the state of communications in this Internet world. Who knew so much petty jealousy, nitpicking nonsense, and blatant arrogance had invaded the world of creative image-making? I could say a bunch of stuff about each of the photos, but it all only proves one thing — they’re definitely worth talking about, and that alone makes them cool.

  • Chad M

    “There is much talk about ‘jingoism’. If by ‘jingoism’ they mean a policy in pursuance of which Americans will with resolution and common sense insist upon our rights being respected by foreign powers, then we are ‘jingoes’.” -TR

  • ertyo5

    He is a news wire photographer, NOT the OFFICIAL photographer. He is 
    also not working for Getty Images, but for AFP News Agency, Getty and AFP have a deal that anything on AFP is seen on Getty. You can see his work here

     There is not a lot of post process and that is because he is not allowed to do much post process. Crop, lighten a bit, darken, and that’sit. Anymore and you loose your job.

    See his work here, he is a sports photographer not a studio guy, but someone high up in the wires sent him to do the portraits, probably bc his specialism is sports. Good luck finding any wire guy that has significant studio experience, so what choice did AFP have, they don’t have the budget for a freelance studio photographer. And if you only do studio/ fashion work, you would not be working for a news wire (you would make SO MUCH more money on your own…the wires  don’t pay well, but you get to travel the world, get access to the big events and get front page of NYT, never see your family, and you drink and smoke a lot :-P )

  • LarryB

    “I think this subset of photos also take a silent sledgehammer to the jingoistic adulation of the American team, to the extent these athletes serve as a fantasy extension of the dying dream of American worldwide superiority.”
    In other words, they suck.

  • Lowerlevel_headed

    …when sentences are peppered with such higher level concepts…the opposite is almost always spot on…

  • Shirley Siluk

    After looking through all of Klamar’s photos — not just those featured here — it seems pretty clear to me these weren’t meant to be ironic. There are bad shots and good ones (I liked the brother-sister martial arts competitors). So what’s really interesting here is what people are READING into the photos. Says a whole lot more about the Olympics, the Zeitgeist and various opinions on what is art than it does about this series of photos that will probably be quickly forgotten. (Although I would never say they were taken by a “nobody,” which strikes me as cruel, unfair and presumptuous, considering we’re all sitting comfortably here in the blogosphere passing judgment on others who are actually DOING/CREATING something, for better or for worse.)

  • I.Sol

    I am sure getting the name wrong in the article was an intentional statement on branding, iconic worship, and the current state of journalism.  Right? Seriously, I was thinking he was making fun of photography itself such as the photos of Matt Mahurin and Annie Leibovitz. But, yes, the athletes deserve honor and great pictures of themselves.

  • Shattergod

    All this is is another guy making a buck and a name for himself by shitting on America. This isn’t some “bold statement”. Fuck that. A bold statement would be in supporting, cherishing, or in some other way praise America and those who believe in her. This is just some guy finding a new way to take a fat shit on America, this time her Olympic team, so he can get his name in lights and someone to cut him a fat check. I mean, seriously… and the fucktard who wrote this article is ooohing and ahhhing like Joe Klamar did something like “promote conversation” or some shit, in the same vein that the Piss Christ “promoted” conversation. “Olympic atheletes aren’t gods, they’re men and women!” as if ANYONE who watches the olympics isn’t aware these men and women don’t train for years to achieve their goals., and often fail in the pursuit of their dreams. Nobody was under the impression Olympic athletes were gods. Were they heroes to some? An inspiration? Certainly. But nobody thought them infallible. And nobody, but nobody, thought they couldn’t be made ugly. So fuck you for supporting this “brave” steaming shit on the chest of America. He, and you, sure took a stand, didn’t ya? Courage!

  • guest

    Busting out the thesaurus doesn’t help underscore your point. It makes your audience roll their eyes at your poor attempt at distracting from the fact that you had nothing valid or original to say.

  • JoeDees

    I’ve never seen someone try to sound so intelligent, only to fail…so hard. The lateness of the hour? B.S. Michael Phelps is one of the most famous athletes in the world. Mark Spitz was relevant 40 years ago – that’s not the lateness of the hour; it’s an author so bent on seeing his own (empty) words that he can’t stop to get the most basic of facts correct. Or maybe that was your “clever” point (fail). You, my friend, are full of it, and your article failed worse than the photog. Keep trying to band-aid it; you look like a fool.

  • Hilarioussophistry

    Um, no.  Pseudointellectuals always try to find meaning where there is none.  These shots are garbage, plain and simple, regardless of their intent.  Technically, they are trash, as we all know. If their goal was as you hypothesize–with numerous errors and inconsistencies–they utterly failed.  We’re not talking about their substance but the capabilities of the photographer.  Whatever the message, unless it was designed to initiate discussion about the photographer’s acumen, these photos do not convey it effectively.

    It is impressive that you have the audacity to try to appear smarter than everyone…while not knowing Michael Phelps’s name.  And even more bonus points for trying to claim that was the photographer’s intent.  You are hilarious.

  • Kathy

    Is is wrong to look up to these athletes?  To this competition?  Is it wrong to be proud of your country?  If the Olympics must be dragged through the mud in order for a photographer to make a personal statement – if the American Flag must touch the ground in order to ground our expectations – if people who have been working towards a goal their entire lives are instructed to make silly faces in order to appear to be “more like us” – then the photographer has succeeded with at least two aspects of this photo shoot;  The Olympics has lost it’s mystique and I have lost interest.

  • Stan B.

    Well, if presidential candidates, Presidents and Supreme Court Chief Justices can flip- after a night to sleep on it, why can’t I? In a time of immediate digital feedback, and constant “chimping,” it’s obvious these were intentional disasters. Gone is the excuse from the good ol’ film days of yore when everyone would have to wait around to see the final results.

    Unfortunately, they still suck and fail miserably as any kind of artistic, satiric or political statement. But they have accomplished the main goal of getting the photographer’s name plastered throughout.

    If you murder someone for money or out of passion, you average eight to fifteen years of actual time served in the US- kill someone as a political, anti-government statement, and you will spend your lifetime in jail. Photo editors will publish bad photos, but no way will they publish those that make a purposeful… and effective political statement, particularly concerning those much of the American public regards as “heroes.” If this photographer did strive for the latter, he may have succeeded in sneaking it through the editorial censors, but the intention got lost in the amateurish technique he chose to disguise it with.

  • Snackwell

    These are disrespectful to the medium. Joe whoever looks to be an editorial shooter who has no idea of vision and less forethought to carry it out. Kudos to Getty for images that can just live up to their 5 dollar license fee.

  • A. M L

    Pics are not flattering at all. But then too many times they are photo shopped. The pics look as though someone “Made” them take them under duress.

  • ck

    wow…these pictures are horrible. they could have been taken at the local sears portrait studio. what a shame. these athletes have worked so hard.

  • Guest

    Everyone who doesn’t understand photography and the media is reading far too much into this.  You’re spouting out criticisms as if you were there and could have done better.  
    Understand the background of the photo shoot and the photographer before making criticisms.  

  • Matt

    Despite the authors mistakes here…he is totally correct that theses pictures suck!!! As a photographer, I would be ashamed to show these pictures to my boss. Much less as a statement to showcase our finest athletes. This is an embarrassment and this guy should get a new job”

  • Dbowen

    Making excuses for bad photography does not make it good photography!

  • Calvin

    If anything, it’s a commentary on how little Getty pays their photographers or allow them a decent budget to have a real studio shoot.

  • Erin Siegal

    So who’s gonna interview Joe? I’d like to hear from him.

  • Guest

    To assign the attributes of an artist to someone who has never been one – whose body of work has consist solely of reportage style paparazzi photographer is to over-think his mistakes. The guy had brought a 6 ft background when he should have prob brought 12, brought 2 lights when he should have 4, and thought they could get photoshopped out later.

    His mistakes aren’t consistent and deliberate in every picture – some are partway decent – which shows he couldn’t possibly has planned it all.

    To be kind, he was at a media summit, a news photographer who was basically  given a chance to shoot Olympic athletes. They should have held the summit for model photographers…who would then have no business to be in a media summit.

  • Sherjay1

    He wasn’t the only photographer taking pictures that day so who cares.  Also, I’ve seen some of the other “normal” pics to and they could’ve been done at a low budget studio.  They look like yearbook photos.  At least this guy had some kind of imagination whether it was good or bad. 

  • M.C.

     I’ve seen the shots, and read the defenses, (and gotten a BFA, studied
    art history, been an amateur photographer for 20+ years, etc.) and the
    praise, like the photo quality, is sad. Michael Shaw claims they “take a
    silent sledgehammer to the jingoistic adulation of the American team,
    to the extent these athletes serve as a fantasy extension of the dying
    dream of American worldwide superiority.” Utter BS. If he went outside
    of the studio, used a true journalistic approach, revealed something of
    the flaws and humanity of the subjects, then a coherent vision would be
    clear in the work. There are many brilliant photographers who have given
    us iconoclastic Olympic images.
    These look exactly like my early
    studio portrait attempts because they’re the same crap: unoriginal,
    poorly thought out, technically sloppy (whether the sloppiness was
    excused by the photographer as “gritty realism” etc., or not), very
    poorly lit, unevenly balanced (the colours are all over the map), badly
    composed, and worst of all, unflattering to the subjects: if you don’t
    want to showcase the beauty or power of athletes, fine (though one might
    wonder why you’d agree to take on such a job then), but you have to be
    good enough to capture SOMETHING about the subjects that viewers can
    connect with, and the results should not look like they could have been
    made by any half-assed first-year community college photography student.
    Klamar was obviously out of his element in the studio and should never
    have tried such a traditional approach. Whoever hired him was a moron.  
    not “brilliant” “unique” “thought-provoking” “subtle” “unusual” etc.
    They’re just one thing: amateurish. If they really wanted second or
    third-rate work and were willing to pay that much for it, they should
    have called me! Given the lack of quality control or editing, I could
    have done them all last week. I dare Joe Klamar to stand proudly in
    front of a gallery exhibit of this work, discussing his techniques and
    concept with the poor models. I’d be curious to see if he can BS half as
    well as his fans can, but I suspect he’d just say they were bad,
    rushed, and he should never have tried to do them under the conditions
    he was given.

  • Adfadsfs

    so funny…… best Olympic photos I’ve ever seen

  • Stan B.

    Does anyone remember the organ in Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone? It was played by a newbie named Al Kooper who wasn’t even an organ player and had snuck unto the studio session when the producer wasn’t there.

    The rest, as they say, is history…

  • Studio

    not sure what the fuss is all about…

    looks like someone who just learned that he can use his flash off-camera,  got all excited, bought a rumpled roll of seamless, and had the brilliant idea of using an American flag since they were Americans (very creative and original!!), and tried shooting in his basement studio with about 5 feet of space…  my 4 year old nephew shoots much better images

  • marhargen

    Horrible images. The guy is an armature at best and an embarrassment to the profession. How did he ever get that gig?   

    • Cynthia Frosh

      If you’re going to talk trash about a photographer, you better have one hell of a portfolio to back it up. I’m stunned you even had the guts to post a link to your website. If Joe’s an embarrassment to the profession, what are you?

  • Andrew W L

    I don’t understand what the big deal is.  Sure if these were studio shots and the photographer had plenty of time to light, compose and select out the chaff from the keepers the end result would’ve been a better gallery.  Apparently he didn’t, his editors didn’t and CBS chose to publish them and now only the worst of the chaff from the gallery is being highlighted.  Sounds like someone is being railroaded just to make a little sensationalism where there isn’t any.

  • JasonPercy

    Interesting theory. This is an award-winning artist at work here, so I agree that there may have been an ulterior motive in play.

    If so, it’s brilliant. I agree that it’s a neat trick to point out the crass commercialism and plastic patriotism of the Olympic zeitgeist.

  • Jenndo

    Stop trying to over analyse and justify it as intentional. They are just terrible photographs that I think he may regret having his name attached to. 

  • Michael Murphy

    OK, if the intentions were deliberate would the general non-photographic public look at these images so deeply to understand his vision? I think the negative feedback answers that question. I am a photographer and without any deep thought into the image, my initial response was shock and awe. If intentional, a bit too far if you ask me. As for the publicity he is getting for the poorly lit, poorly composed images, epic. a double edged sword I suppose.

  • Elmer

    Maybe Klamar actually did it on purpose. Athletes don’t have to be portrayed as gods in the first place. The more we can see their imperfections, the more we can relate. Check out our feature on this topic:

  • Deerobe

    Maybe this is more about a bunch of people trying to flex their artistic intellect and making this something more than an under-qualified photographer taking bad photos.  

    Maybe those that are saying a “statement” is being made are really just subconsciously showing their own feelings about America and letting their own hatred for our country leak out of their moronic brains.

  • stan

    What is the relationship to the photographic talent (or lack if it be so) to your miss guided and mistaken opinion of Americas superiority in nearly every feild of human endeavor,? You must live in a very >>>>>small>>>>>>smalll TINY>>>>>>> did I make the point clear? >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> little uninformed and hateful world . Is your cave in a NY city gutter or OOOPS starting to act like I care where you formed your sad opinions!!!!!

  • athruz

    what a hipster, USA and apple pie hating,pencil necked geed douchebag you are Shaw. Another in the long grey line of cynic critics. You are a black impotent rain cloud. Go dissipate.

  • Hoagie

    I could care less about the pictures or the Olympics but Jingoistic adulation?  That’s rich.  Guess your not cool anymore if you like your countries athletes……what a joke.

  • ArtSkeptik

    According to Mr. Shaw, we should photograph a scientist as a doofus, an artist as an ape-man, a journalist as a Neanderthal, a worker as a gang-banger, and a business woman as a whore.

  • Hiding in anonymity

    All in all, the photos – like the amateur, egotistical analysis of laudatory comments in its favor – are pure crap.

  • Rboy8

    no offense, but everything you are talking about is a load of crap.  i am sure that under optimal photojournalistic conditions, this photographer knows what to do and how to do it.  these images appear to have been shot under duress.  something happened that was not under the shooters control whatsoever.  he had to drop back 10 and punt and make the most of a bad situation.  you can still shoot “real” photos of people that are not retouched and overly glamourized with just available light.  i have been doing it for over 30 years.  perhaps he decided to take it “over the top” because there was nothing else to be done.  but calling this work a “protest” over high quality touched images is a joke.

  • Dan

    “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,” [Klamar] 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.Joe had come armed with two cameras and three lenses (17-35, 70-200 and 300), plus one flash and a 12-inch laptop. To his horror, he saw upon arriving that his colleagues from other news agencies and media organizations had set up studio booths with professional lights, backdrops and prop assistants. “It was very embarrassing to find out that I wouldn’t be able to take advantage of a studio,” Joe told us by email.Problem solved. He’s not a genius. He was just unprepared.

  • guest

    nope, its pretty clear he hasn’t a clue what to do with lighting.  Several of these are far worse than you would get out of a walmart or other low end studio, and the best of them are no better. 

    The only way you could justify this as intentional is if you were claiming that he hated his job or the athletes as there is no style or theme to the horror that he brings to us in these photos.

  • Kalbarserve

    Well…. How much did it cost?

  • Cactus

     Here’s my ‘feeble’ attempt to comment on these photos.  I could probably be just as brutal as you-all are here, about the photos of Kevin Jairaj.  Predictable, pretty and unimaginative.  Even including the golden haloes.
    And so many assumptions about the photographer; everything from incompetence to cronyism to pothead.  Really?  Stick to the work.
    “Perhaps the real culprit here is media’s desperation for click bait.”  Michael’s comment could be the motivation for CBS et al., but that again overlooks the value of the photos.  So, here’s my take on it.
    Contrary to the photos of Jairaj and the photos of the German team (all cute blond/es), Klamar’s photos stop your eye and make you linger on the image.  Unprofessional?  Maybe if you are used to the SI swimsuit cover as athletics, or the touched/brushed and photo-shopped images of idols seen everywhere.  No, these images make you think.  That is if you don’t get distracted by the tear in the backdrop, etc.  I’m not saying every photo of this series that has been on the internet is perfect; even Ansel Adams couldn’t make that claim.  Have we gone so far that if a photographer hasn’t had ’studio’ training and thus ‘professional’ shots, he is to be disqualified?
    Referring to the photos on the CBS site.  The photo of swimmer Hanson in a swimming pose, you can see the muscles in his fingers, FGS!  In a flash you are thinking about what he has gone through to get all that power to win.  Decathlete Hardee with his tattoo of the Olympic rings on his shoulder-blade and the light reflecting off his other shoulder almost forming a bright star; this man’s life is the Olympics.  Tri-athlete Kemper looks almost tired; and then you see the corporate names on his jersey and realize what he has to go through to get the funding to participate in the Olympics, since we insist that they be amateurs.  Did you miss the Nike logo on the jersey of Lashinda?
    Basketballer Maya Moore is in a pose that many of us would associate with that of a Navajo woman, perhaps.  Except that the blanket is the flag.  Wrapped in the flag?  Perhaps a bit too obvious in the symbology, but so are the golden haloes of Jairaj.
    I admit when I first saw the top photo of Horton, I thought this was the special Olympics.  Then I realized that he was supporting his body solely on his hands — AND elevating his legs higher.  No wonder his toes are curled.  Anybody here ever try that one?  Camarena-Williams is tough and she wants you to know that — and that she won’t threaten you.  Robles I would probably have edited out, bc it doesn’t say anything.  Ditto Berg.  But Phelps does have a dark side and he grew his own goatee, hardly the photographer’s fault.
    So now you can all criticize me.  BTW, could only access first page of comments, broken link?  For the comments of an AFP colleague, go here:

  • Cummins


  • Pingback: Joe Klamar US Olympics Photography - In Over His Head | Christopher Barr

  • Pingback: Debate over Olympic portraits (not mine). What do you think? - Rod Mar | Photographer

  • Pingback: The Digest – July 8th, 2012 | LPV Magazine

  • aislinn

    strong and athletic, aren’t they???

  • Michael Shaw

    I think you’re right — not that Klamar is a genius but that he’s hit a nerve (perhaps, with a major assist from indiscriminate editors and an Olympic Committee that invited something like this by putting these highly trained athletes through the equivalent of a photo-cattle call. Still, it’s the very rare image that goes viral. In almost any case where that happens, my sense is that the culture is responding to something worth noting.

  • Michael Sessions

    $250. Not a lot of room for a lighting assistant in that budget. A photographer with little to no studio experience attempting to shoot an athlete (different dimensions, skin color, etc.) with four minutes per. Recipe for disaster.

  • JoeDees

     Yep, aren’t photographers in this type of capacity supposed to be silent and let the lens do the talking? He wasn’t hired for his artistic vision; he was hired to take (proper) stills of athletes. If he wanted to make a statement, he should have commissioned his own project rather than subverting a project funded by someone else.

  • Mike Hunt

    How do you know what he was hired for? Have you seen the contract? He was hired for a reason. He and his agency are trolling like muhfuhs and you’re just butt hurt.

  • Mike Hunt

    Sessions, I don’t think you get it at all. I have read your other comments and the whole thing has flown past the top of your head.

  • DCorrigan

    But that’s not the point. This (I’m assuming) professional photographer was hired to carry out a reportage brief by a leading news agency. His task was to take photographs suiting the tone with which the agency wanted to show the athletes and the Olympics. 
    If he did want to make an artistic statement, this was not the way to do it, the place to do that would be in a freelance article or photo-essay exploring the other side of the Olympics and Olympians, instead he corrupted the job he was given and in doing so made himself look unprofessional.

    Looking at it from either side he appears unprofessional. Either he took unprofessional, poorly lit and composed photos by accident, or else he unprofessionally decided to put his own anti-establishment slant on a job which he was hired to do. If you are hired to do a job and you don’t do it to your brief, that is unprofessional. If you are covering a wedding and deliver the opposite of what is expected, that is unprofessional, the same with covering an Olympic press conference.
    Either way, the photographers delivered were not what is to be expected of a professional photographer given a brief of covering his home country’s Olympic team for a large national news agency.

  • Andrew W L

    Who’s to say a statement is being made?  That’s the writer’s fabrication.  Many of these photos didn’t meet a level of quality usually expected from a Web posting on a major news site and should never have been published.  It was a mistake and now a screw up is investigated in the court of public opinion as being more than it probably is.

    Upon seeing the entire gallery it’s pretty clear that the photos being highlighted in the various opinion pieces are the worst but overall the gallery isn’t all that bad, for what it is.  They are not highly produced studio shots and the posing is hackneyed and the set up rushed to say the least.  For a paparazzi these aren’t all that awful and the corny posing is intended to show the athlete’s sport, absent being able to shoot them actually performing in their discipline.  

    If the US Olympic Team wanted to showcase the athletes they could’ve provided a little more production value to generate the kind of product that could be considered memorable.  You don’t see Sports Illustrated shooting athletes in front of a 8ft wide paper sweep for 1-2 minutes, do you?  At least not published.  That’s not on the photog but on the media day producers and the wire editors…. they got what they paid for.

  • mjfgates

     If the organization didn’t approve of the photos, they could have elected not to publish them. So, that would be an entire team of editors being unprofessional as well?…

  • DCorrigan

    No, most likely the organisation had no choice. I would imagine they only sent one photographer to the event and a decision was made to publish these photos, because regardless of quality, to not show coverage of a major sporting conference, when every other source is reporting on it, is worse than publishing poor photographs. The editors had to publish so they had to include the photos.

Refresh Archives

Random Notes