A lot of readers have waited expectantly for me to write about Joseph Klamar's portraits of Olympic athletes. Lots of people were offended by their obvious poor quality—this ABC News piece is a good summary of that reaction. Non-photographers noticed too, but especially, as John-Paul Danko writes on blurMEDIA, "Photographers are obviously miffed—access to Olympic athletes is so restricted and images of these athletes can be very valuable to a photographer from direct sales to portfolio prestige. It's easy to understand how pretty much any guy with a camera can picture themselves coming away with way better photographs if they were in Joe Klamar’s shoes at the shoot."
But here's the thing. Occasional exceptions aside, I generally don't like to write about bad work. I don't see how it helps anybody. And anyone who's done a decent share of photographic work has blown an assignment or two, or tried something that didn't work out. Writing catty, cutting, or snide comments about peoples' worst work is cheap and easy—an intellectually lazy approach to criticism that anybody can do. Too much of it just poisons the waters. In this case, the poor guy has already taken it on the chin—why pile on?
It was mildly amusing that several commentators took a noticeably art-world stance on the controversy and assumed Klamar's work to be purely intentional. Danko again: "I find it hard to believe that Joe Klamar could make the plethora of what photographers would consider mistakes in a single shoot. There is simply no way that a working photographer could produce photographs this bad by mistake. In fact, it would be pretty hard to do on purpose." (You do kinda have to agree with that last.) A few observers assumed that the pictures amounted to an intentional meta-commentary on the facile slickness of the usual packaging of Olympic athletes' PR images.
But that wasn't it. He was simply unprepared, as Marlowe Hood on the AFP blog explains. He arrived at the shoot unprepared for the situation, and had to scramble, begging to share a studio booth with another photographer who took pity on him.
A pop locution comes to mind as being particularly apropos: "Move along, nothing to see here."
The iPhone in the bathroom
More interesting to me are Nick Laham's pickup portraits of Yankee players. He was forced to make do with an impromptu studio in a bathroom. (As he says on his blog, "This was not my choice. I wasn’t given the option of studio or bathroom stall and decided on the latter. I joined the chain of photographers at 6 a.m. in the confines of the New York Yankees Spring Training facility in Tampa, and took what space I could get and worked with it.")
...and he shot Instagram-style pictures with an Apple iPhone. Obviously more than a nod to hipster chic, but why not? I like his results:
Maybe not the best athlete portraits you could imagine, but coherent and stylish, considering. If you have to shoot under such severe restrictions, why not make a virtue of it? I'd hire Nick Laham.
...And changing hats and speaking for Red Sox fans, the only better place to picture Yankees than in the toilet would be in the basement. [Grin, duck, and run.]
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Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Andrew Molitor: "The instagram thing looks like a deliberate nod to a style of baseball card portrait, to me. Good idea, that."
Featured Comment by Ray: "Honestly Klamar's explanation doesn't really help. Yeah, okay, you were unprepared. And? Stuff happens, equipment fails, situations change. If it was easy....
"A big part of what makes a professional a professional—as opposed to a guy with a nice camera—is the knowledge and skill to make it up on the fly if need be. It isn't a case of not having a brace of studio lighting gear in the trunk, how about a couple of speedlights and some basic modifiers? Or a model release? Or not putting them in the worst poses imaginable? I understand that Kamar's not a studio photographer, but figure it out dude.
"Which is why Nick Laham's work is such a perfect 'handed lemons > wow that's tasty lemonade!' counterpoint."
Featured Comment by Anton Wilhelm Stolzing:"Now I expected something really awful and was a bit disappointed to see a set of quite nice, sympathetic photos."