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Thursday, 19 July 2012


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The only sensible thing to do is wait until the dust settles and see what merit they achieve in time. I am reminded of the portraits taken at the first 'Live Aid.' At the time of the event, people were gushing over them, but time has not been kind to them and they are now viewed in less-than-glowing terms. Perhaps time will be kind(er) to Joseph Klamar's portraits.

Klamars portraits actually made me smile, and, despite the set, showed the athletes as people in a pretty positive, professional way. They may not ring with patriotic fervour on the surface, but in an abstract way show how the athletes don't actually give a hoot for the paraphanalia, and do a fine job whatever the circumstances. Hats off to them. If it had been intentional the set would have been designer shabby rather than 'oh, crap'.
I hope it doesn't stain his career too badly, we all have one 'car crash'.

Yes, a Brit's first reaction to that shot would be "that's not a bathroom, it's a toilet" - for us a bathroom is a room that contains a bath.

The Guardian had some nice portraits of our Olympians but I must say they looked better on newsprint than they do on the screen.


I struggle to sympathise for Joe's plight.

When everything is rushed and everyone else is doing their well-planned creative thing, you don't go trying to copy them in a half-arsed makeshift way.

You know when a photographer has run out of ideas; when the horizons start tilting and the wider angle lenses are pulled out in a futile attempt to lift the photographs out of the ordinary.

Instead, keep it simple, keep breathing to slow down and find the space between you and the subject.

The right photographer can do this with an easy handshake, a self-assured manner, and just the right amount of direction to keep the shoot moving along.

Nick Latham did just that. I'm guessing that the iPhone Instagrammed photos are a distraction, suitable for a blog and a pitch to his client as some bonus pictures. His planned client shots are likely to be taken with the DSLR that the BTS photo was shot with.

In these unplanned situations, to make a body of work hold together, the differences between the shots should be the personality and appearance of the athlete. Not, whatever crazy idea pops into your head when they arrive for their photo.

However, the big question Joe has to ask himself is," Why the Hell did I not research and plan for this shoot."

As a working professional I can honestly say all things considering he didn't do a bad job. One of his mistakes is he came unprepared, a big mistake mind you (every pro should have two of everything, inc flash) but he did what he could, and with one light source he came up with some creative ideas rather then just flat, flash on camera. I dont think you can imagine how difficult it would be to share a studio at the same time with another photographer, the impact on time and creativity you have would be tough. The last mistake of course, whether it was him or an editor, is not shelving the project, and letting it go to print, that's the worst mistake.

Just read the photos were leaked, so maybe they weren't supposed to be seen, in that case maybe the right thing was going to be done.

Some how the people who sent the photographer on the assignment get a pass. They're the ones that should have known what was needed at the shooting.

Are the photos bad? Only by being there and knowing what the photographer had to work with can you then make judgement.

How many photographers you know carry studio lights in the car?

Expectations, expectations... people should be upset about the editors who chose to publish those images from hundreds if not thousands of other "proper" & "me too" portraits that we have seen thousand of times and did not care one bit about them...

I also bet that 99% of the viewing public either liked Joes images or did not care about them either, but the web gives a determined 1% a very loud voice.

I blame the person who hired Klamar for this gig. Klamar is a really good available light photographer not so with flash photography. That person should have known what these events are about and hired accordingly.

FWIW here is Klamar's website: http://www.czechphotogallery.cz/en/klamar2011.html

And the Getty page from Laham's set: http://www.gettyimages.com/Search/Search.aspx?contractUrl=2&language=en-US&family=editorial&p=yankees+iphone&assetType=image

Regarding the photos, I can't really say I think they’re stunning but I also don’t think they deserve the vitriol they received. However, I think Mike's comment "Writing catty, cutting, or snide comments about peoples' worst work is cheap and easy—an intellectually lazy approach to criticism..." is spot on; in this day of the internet people are far too quick to criticize.

+1 to Mark Walker's comment.

I've gotta tell you... I've enjoyed looking at these "awful" images a lot more than I probably would have looking at the usual stock photo canned junk.

Please note, the iPhone, hipstmatic,bathroom pictures Nick Lanham did were just one of several set ups he had back in that area. Spring training photo day space is always very tight and everyone has to just deal with it like Nick did. He came in like the rest of us that morning to make studio portraits of athletes. He brought the gear he knew he needed, he had an assistant and he made it work, plain and simple. The Olympic portraits? Maybe his editors failed to realize what was needed or failed to tell him or maybe he just decided to try and be different.

Dear Mike,

Hadn't heard about this before; don't pay much attention to sports.

I just looked through the photos. On the whole, I LIKE them! They're fun, inventive, they have character. They're so much more interesting than the boring social-realist-heroic style that every damn photographer does trying to out-noble the next guy. A few don't work, others work brilliantly. On average I give it a big thumbs up.

For me, the only unanswered question is: how do the subjects feel about them? If the subject of the photo likes the photo, then no one else has the right to say it casts them in a bad light or makes them look "wrong" for some value of "wrong."

Anybody got a link for that instead of all the armchair photographer hand-wringing?

pax / Ctein

Well, I hate to admit it in the face of opinions much more educated than mine, but I quite like the pictures. The Olympics have a certain make-shift on-the-road atmosphere, a bit like a circus, and I think the torn, dirty seamless and slightly out of control poses caught that spirit.

Maybe it's not too professional, but it sure looks like fun. We are talking about games, after all.

"very poor quality". Humm. Very harsh as an opinion in an post. I would like to know how all the people that criticizes Klamar's fault would obtained in the same situation that him. Nobody talk about his editors, they must give him some more info about the shoot before, is their obligation. He did the best with what he found in the moment. And he ended with very good pics. The example with iPhone thing is not fair because the photographer knows very well what he needs to carry on his bag and was prepared to do this kind of shoots. Is a universe of difference between the two examples. Only who was, sometime, in the same shoes as Klamar knows the situation. All is easy when you have all the information but you can be in the hell when you are in a situation without any data. Is like go to a disguises party and found that you need to dress tie and jacket. Klamar acted very fast and solve the problem as every photojournalist would do. For me is very honest, the best adjective we can deserve.

professional photographers improvise. the images have not only bad lighting but bad poses, props not used properly and unforgivable mistakes. when i shoot under pressure i scan the frame for objects that just don't fit in the picture. Do not blame the lighting that was provided.
Mr. Klamar careless shooting deserves the bad press.
if the images we are seeing are outtakes that were not to be released i would side with the photographer. we all have made a few mistakes.

If Klamar's portraits were intentionally "bad," they weren't anywhere "bad" enough to make whatever "statement" some viewers were attributing to them. These were mistakes better excused back in the (film) day. In this era of instant, digital feedback, if ya can't make a go of quality/commercial portraiture, then by all means- go full tilt with an alternative approach (eg- Laham).

aiting for TOP N.Y. Yankee fans' reaction to Mike's... umm... "toilet" humor:)

Since bathroom pics have been turning up lately at TOP, here's the Gent's comfort room at Cafe Batavia in Java. The urinal is a grated trough with a full-length mirror as back-splash! I couldn't do it. Had to use the w.c. instead. And yes, the restaurant is a veritable photo gallery. Cafe Batavia's continental (no pun intended) food is great.

His biggest failure was to arrive at an important shoot without knowing what was going on. Everybody else apparently did, so it must not have been too difficult to find out.

Having failed to find out, he then failed to recognize that sometimes conventional representation works better than "creativeness," and this was probably one of those times. If he was forced to share booth space with another photographer, and the other guy had priority, and if he had the athletes for only a minute or two, then he wasn't going to get much. I thought some of the poses, when coupled with the facial expressions, were ludicrous. The best ones (IMHO) were quite conventional but also interesting, like the shot of the archer or the trap shooter.

Probably most people here wouldn't agree, but if I'd arrived with the wrong lenses and no lights, I think I would have gone for striking portraits against that grey seamless (portraits in the Kirk Tuck style-- these Olympians are generally quite striking people) and I might then have gone looking for backdrops that I could drop in behind them in post...

Klamar's portraits are bitchin. If one's judgement is to compare them to Olan Mills, yup, they are bad. But go compare them to some of Steichen's photos of Hollywood stars. I don't know that I want to claim that he's as good as Sreichen, but his work is closer to that tradition. They are fresh, interesting and quirky. They "PORTRAY" the subjects far more than the usual more standard poses.

Were I shooting these, I might have lit them a bit differently (and I doubt that I would have done them in as fresh a manner - or as well), but they are well lit - there isn't a realistic technical fault. So we are left with them not meeting someone's expectations. It has been noted that Klamar's client's used his work, apparently with no problem

I get that they aren't like the portraits that the many critics would have shot - but they sound like amateurs on Photosig who want to reshoot everything the way they see, not look at them the way the photographer saw. I am amazed at how avant-garde photographers claim to be, but can't/won't stretch a bit. These are fun,they are a bit of a stretch - not like everyday, and not boring. The fact that there were difficulties in setting up is an irrelevancy, to excuse a non-existent problem.


Speaking of which, the next (or perhaps current?) Sports Illustrated has a six-page photo essay on baseball featuring Brad Mangin's Instagrams http://manginphotography.net/2012/07/how-i-made-instagram-images-that-were-good-enough-for-sports-illustrated/

The most interesting take on the Klamar photos that I've read is by photo editor Heather Murphy at Slate, who debunks some myths about what happened and why, fingers Klamar's editors for not doing their job, and applauds the photographic acumen and passion of the internet mob: http://www.slate.com/articles/sports/photography/2012/07/bad_olympic_photos_how_terrible_shots_of_olympians_went_viral_.single.html

Her description of the "cattle call" makes me wonder how anyone got a good shot that day. My hat's off to those who did.

On the other hand, I found Klamar's candids more interesting and enjoyable than the "successful" run-of-the-mill glamour shots. It was refreshing to see our athletes as hard-working young people enduring a ridiculous press event, rather than glamorous heroes. I'm not sure I should expect much more from a news wire photojournalist who lives out of a suitcase, was given wrong information and one day's notice, and likely arrived straight from the airport and previous assignments. I'm kinda glad that he kinda screwed up and we got to peek behind the curtain and around the frame, just this once.

Michael Shaw proposes that the outrage has more to do with sacrilege than bad photography: http://www.bagnewsnotes.com/2012/07/seems-bad-photos-are-the-rage-right-now/

Should've typed [W]aiting... Yankee[s]. And [Jakarta] instead of Java. Batavia was the Dutch name for Jakarta. Cafe Batavia is located in the old (colonial) district of Jakarta in the island of Java, Indonesia. Sorry.

Maybe my personal standards have slipped too far, but I really enjoyed about half of Klamar's portraits. The badminton players reflect that sport's unserious, Sunday-afternoon image, but are clear and direct enough to suggest the fierce will of the players. The field hockey pic captures the essence of impact, assisted by the athelete's perky but fierce hair bob. The female weightlifter shot speaks for its own spunky self. The photos are dynamic, intimate and varied enough to keep me clicking to the end.

What doesn't work, of course, are the scenes with shadows and wrinkles on the white background cloth. Totally amateurish... or is it true genius? Our attitudes toward the artifice of studio photography have swapped polarity so many times that I lost count when James Blalog posed his apes and parrots in front of perfectly lit paper backgrounds.

In sum, the bad photos I see here are self-aware enough to pass as ironic, and the good ones more than redeem the portfolio. He's taken worn old athletic cliches and made them exciting, which is no small task.

I've clicked through on many links to these photos, and I remain baffled. Why are all these links broken? Why do they direct me to interesting, offbeat photos of real people, with personality and character, looking like they're having fun? Where are the appaling bad shots disrespecting the US of A and its brave warriors, er, sorry, athletes?

Do Americans really prefer plastic McPhotos portraying their Olympic team as a bunch of steroid-fuelled grinning idiots?

Seems they do.....

I kind of like the Olympic portraits. I like the way they show the sport of the athlete clearly, and how he breaks the third wall by using a torn backdrop or showing the edges. Different without being tacky. And like Mark Walker said, they show the athletes in a very respectfull way. They make me feel the photographer knows his sports.

The only ones I thought less successful were the pictures that didn't make the athlete recognizable (the fencer and the silhouetted runner)

I don't know if you're thinking of this already, but this seems like this could be an interesting teaching opportunity.

As a lousy portraitist, I'd like to think that on a good day I might come up with something that approaches one of these shots. I can kind of see my own shots a bit in some of these photos.

I can see that other portraits look "better", but I have trouble seeing how to get from here to there.

I'd be extremely interested in a post that walks through what could have been done differently in an example from this set. Maybe even a couple of different possible approaches?

Photography books are full of far-from-perfect images but still iconic. So for me the question is more personal (do I like them or not?) than technical or professional. By the way, I think the photos are ok.

I have to say that Adrian's comment above is one of the more articulate takes on the situation and one that I agree with.

As for Adrian's take on the whole Instagram thing he might want to take a look at this: http://manginphotography.net/2012/07/how-i-made-instagram-images-that-were-good-enough-for-sports-illustrated/

Personally, I see it as another passing fad but it does shine an interesting light on the recent FB acquisition . . .

I'm not sure what to think of the photos.

In reading various articles about them, nobody has commented that each athlete is posed according to their sport - is this too obvious an idea to acknowledge or has nobody really cottoned-on? Surely the attempt to make a story out of it is worthy of note, even if the results aren't polished?

Part of me thinks, as well as saying he should've been better prepared, also whoever commissioned the shoot should have briefed him what the circumstances were going to be; if *he*'s unhappy with his results, then he/his editor shouldn't have let them out.

Klamar should have defended his work, something like: "This is how I intended to shoot these athletes and I am happy with the results."

Personally, I like the ad hoc off-hand look of these photographs. Polished and slick studio shots? Seen 'em a million times.

I think it's pretty clear that John-Paul Danko regards the photos as a poor effort. One point he does make - and it's worth repeating - is this:

"So I see the visceral reaction by the general public to these bad US Olympic portraits as great news for working photographers everywhere. Halleluja!!! – the public noticed – and they want awesome photography!"

If he didn't intend this all along then I have the feeling that Joseph Klamar might have been set up. He goes along apparently unbriefed, and then the seemingly poor shots are put out anyway.

Still, as the old saying goes, there no such thing as bad publicity, what other photos from that day are still being discussed? What others do you even remember seeing?

I'll leave aside the question of how in the world anyone could take seriously the notion that a seasoned photographer could come unprepared to an Olympic photoshoot. It doesn't really matter. As photographic and social artifacts I think these photos are superb. Besides the obvious inversion of Olympic heroism (these are real people not Greek gods) these photos have strong punctum. For example, the badminton player, the studium is the crown on his head, but the shadow is what upsets you: a silly, lightweight game throws a heavy shadow; the target shooter's dead killer eyes behind a nozzle in deep shadow; the gymnast with foreshortened legs resembling an Iraqi battlefield amputation; the embarrassment of riches that is the flag masked fencer: the faceless aggressor (drone planes?); the corporate Nike swish inverted by the curve of the sword equating mass production and violence; all of those damn flags; the allusion to Abu Ghraib; and the punctum of the poised fingers at the hilt - the grace of culture that supports all of it.

If nothing else, a set of Awkward Olympic Photos are a good corrective to the corporate enterprise formerly known as The Olympics.

I don't know what Joe Klamar's normal work looks like, so it's pretty tough to comment on whether his Olympic stuff is up to his usual snuff, but the idea that he was unprepared is indictment enough. I used to do lighting tech work with a photographer in a medium sized mid-western city, and he went to everything with eight cases of equipment, including material backgrounds; if that's happening in "dick-wad" Wisconsin, then if someone calls with an Olympic assignment...? In photography, there is no such thing as unprepared for professionals, so maybe he's just another one of those:

"got myself a digital cam, jammed the AD into giving me the assignment because we both go to the same club, hey, lookie me, I'm a photographer" kind of guys!

This has more to do with the amount of people calling themselves professionals in this business than anything else...real pros in many markets have early retired because every jamoke with a digital is shooting for money and dropping the day rate to nothing, but most of them to not know what it takes to actually BE a professional (including dragging a lot of equipment everywhere in your van, "just in case"). Cheap AD's need to be careful what they wish for, I'm sure a photo disaster like this happens every day in every city in the U.S.

The Olympic Committee was just lucky that an athlete didn't trip over one of Joe's lighting cables, only to discover he probably wasn't carrying any liability insurance either...

I read the nasty comments at the links and THEN looked at the photos.
I like the photos.
I'm an architect and I've learned there is no accounting for taste, including mine.

I believe Ctein spoke accurately about this in a past article when he emphasised the point that the work should be evaluated on its own merit......Background information can only detract from proper appreciation of the work itself. The work is no reason to worship or criticize the creator.

So the guy has a good day, or a bad day, the work is what it is. If you judge the work is good, enjoy it and gain the benefit it presents; if you judge the work to be bad, move on to something better. No need to worry about the creator, its not like he was trying to insult us.

Screw the intelligentsia.

One of the other blogs I read had posted the Olympic photos and I my comment then: change was needed between staid uninspiring
images and a new different approach to such important (to the USA) situations.

Now as to the iPhone, have a friend who uses his iPhone in many more situations as his alternate
still-life photographic device as opposed to his somewhat heftier full frame Canon DSLR.

A sign of the times and changes in technology?

"..And changing hats and speaking for Red Sox fans, the only better place to picture Yankees than in the toilet ..."

Sweet Caroline! ;-)

"How many photographers you know carry studio lights in the car?"

Quite a few do. I do. I don't have portable battery-powered flash heads but I do have mighty long extension cables.

In the meantime, my head is still spinning from the implications of the Nick Laham story.

Why, exactly, are Klamar's portraits bad? I kinda like them.

Lol, and you don't need to be a Red Sox fan to share the sentiment.

"Who is David Burnett?"

(Should be etched on every snappers LCD screen) (:-)

Kirk Tuck carries studio lights in his car. And a first aid kit. And a fire extinguisher. And an extra swim suit and set of goggles. Being prepared for just about anything is part of the job. Really.

But the real issue is that every good photographer does his research as he's being assigned the job. What do you want? What's the space? How much time will I have? Will their be electrical power? How many people will I be shooting? What rights do you want to buy? When will you pay me? Have you signed the contract?

Don't blame his employers, they depend on their photographers to know how to get there and do the job at hand.

A lot can be explained by doing an image search for Joseph Klamar/AFP. His usual assignment seems to be celebrity shots in front of a screen or on a runway - places where poses and lighting are controlled and not issues.

I think this speaks more to the zeitgeist in the USA these days than any mistakes that may have been made. First the made-in-China uniforms and now poopy photographs. What next?

Actually I rather like the pictures. Obviously it wasn't the photographer's original intention, but I think that the lack of pro-lighting and pro-posing comes as a refreshing change.

The standard method of presenting these people would have been the stagey, dramatically lit portrait; but here they're just shown as ordinary people with an extraordinary talent or motivation. They come across as real people in a real place, not as super-humans in some sort of HDR Valhalla. Forgive me if I'm over-analysing, but maybe it's good that they're crappy pictures: that's what the world looks like most of the time after all!

Even if Klamar was misinformed about his Olympic assignment, he still created an interesting portfolio of portraits. The criticism is unjustified to my mind and reflects limited view of what constitutes a "portrait." It's 2012 people, not the 1950's.

Hi ya!

I guess it's just one of those things. Perhaps it's because I'm not american (& thus lack any of the various connections that might possibly cause me to think, in this case, differently), or because I literally am bored to death by any kind of sport connected anything (honestly, I actually die - for UK readers, I'm essentially the IT Crowd's Moss in regard to sport), or maybe my taste is just in my, um, posterior, but I really didn't mind the photos in question at all (doesn't mean I like them all that much either).

On the other hand, following several links around, I found myself viewing what are supposedly good examples of the genre (held up as exemplars in fact), and I really, really, really (as in, really) hated them. They looked like plastic models & oh so totally fake. I have more interest in the photos on Flickr of Lego scenes (& I have essentially zero interest in that). Honestly, I thought they were far worse, and of the type I personally would hold up as exemplars of ugly photographs (can't deny the effort / retouching technical skill here, just the taste). Following Mike's example, I won't say any more. I better go now, having just realised I've used "honestly" twice in explaining myself.

1, 9, and 13 immediately jump into my top ten non-action athlete portraits ever (admittedly sailing atop a bland and boring sea of minimal competence). And the dark Phelps ain't half-bad either; I'd love it if it were less cheesecake. The rumpled flag absolutely makes 9.

Apparently a lot of photographers need to be reminded that an ability to produce perfect lighting doesn't make them interesting. (And somebody from ABCNews should be fired for approving an article about people being cranky on Reddit.)

I think it's a kind of missunderstanding. If you see these photos as a set, it's a bad set, indeed. But if you see each photo as a piece of its own, some of them are interesting - more interesting than a perfect portrait. As an afp photographer, his clients are newspapers and news-sites in the web. As an editor, i would not hesitate to use most of these photos as a part of a slideshow about an athlet or as one of more photos to illustrate anarticle.

PS 1: Where are the photos of the other photographers? Are they more inventive? Different?

PS 2: Concerning the instagram-look (or shall we say, the lomo-look). This look is overrated imho, every 14 year old teenager is posting photos in this style on facebook every day.

LIke others - I think some of Klamars shots are pretty interesting. Don't see why folk should get themselves so enraged about it all. On the other hand, I find the "Instagram" to be boring, derivative and lacking in imagination

I dunno, some of those Klamar photos were kind of fun!


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