Joe Klamar’s US Olympic Team Photography – In Over His Head

Screen shot 2012 07 03 at 10.45.15 AM 300x220 Joe Klamars US Olympic Team Photography   In Over His Head | Christopher Barr Phoenix Advertising, Corporate, Commercial Photographer

© Joe Klamar - AFP/Getty 2012

Ever wonder what it looks like when a photographer gets in way over their head?  Ever wonder how a worst case scenario could potentially play out?  Welcome to Joe Klamar’s nightmare.

Our industry is a buzz about photographer Klamar’s mediocre photography of the US Olympic Team at the USOC summit.  While Klamar’s portfolio reflects mostly standard sports reportage ( I also found a few shots he did of Lindsay Lohan during one of her court appearances for Corbis), the images released by Getty and AFP are in studio.  Unfortunately, the disconnect between his formal portraiture / studio lighting technique and journalistic / available light technique is remarkable.  His credibility as a professional photographer is being pummeled within the industry as a result…although,  you know what they say about bad publicity being better than no publicity.  Perhaps this will work out very well for him in the long run if that is true.

What really separates the men from the boys in our business is the self restraint that only comes from experience….Being ready, willing and able to turn down a high profile/high risk gig that doesn’t play to our strengths.  That kind of wisdom and clarity regarding one’s own limitations and most importantly, desire to prioritize a client’s best interests over our own is rare.  I often feel that as a community, most photographer’s capacity for self deceit regarding what they can do vs. what they should do vs. what they will probably deliver to a client is almost limitless.  As a struggling / emerging professional photographer, I was guilty of this myself on too many occasions.  It took years before I learned how, when and most importantly why to say, “you know what?  Im really not your best choice for this important assignment.”  I was lucky to have avoided high profile epic fails like Klamar’s along the way.

Klamar is a professional photographer (award winning on his bio)….he should know substandard work when he sees it, especially if he is the one producing it…so should his photo editors.  The reality is…Getty and AFP are the real villains here. His agency reps should be drawn and quartered for assigning him a studio shoot and even more so for putting the resulting images into syndication at all. Unfortunately, based on what I have seen and read about this….Klamar was right in the middle of a perfect storm of a high profile opportunity he wasn’t prepared for,  poor decision making (his own and his agency’s), and what appears to be incompetent photo editing that should have been his fail safe.

There is no sin attached to creating a visual Frankenstein, any shooter worth his salt has and does.  The sin is pretending not to recognize it and kill it before it rises from the slab and runs amok.  We work in a world where our photography is shot to be seen.  The quality of the production values, creativity and execution are suppose to reflect positively on both ourselves and more importantly, our clients.  The inherent risk of producing mediocrity is ever present….thats what separates us from amateurs, our fumbles can potentially be seen by millions.   The resulting pile on Mr. Klamar within our industry is something I haven’t really seen before.  Is it fair?  Uh….the sword cuts both ways baby.

For those of you who think my critique is too harsh…here is what Michael Shaw had to say about it:  “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.”


In the end, this worst case scenario is a good lesson for all of us.


Other Klamar blog/article links: