Are Joe Klamar’s photographs of Olympic athletes amateur or genuis?

Lashinda Demus, 400 hurdles world champion in photo by Klamar (AP/Getty Images)

By Ruth Ferguson, NDG Editor

Imagine getting the assignment you have always wanted during your professional career. You do the work, unveil it expecting people to simply love it. Yet, when the cover is removed instead of praise you get slammed. Now multiply that by million – because I would imagine that is likely how the official photographer for the U.S. Olympics team is feeling right now. Or is he?

Joe Klamar was hired to photograph the U.S. Olympic athletes at the U.S. Olympic Committee media summit held in Dallas a few weeks ago at the Hilton Anatole. Members of the U.S. team were flown in for several days to provide the media from around the world with the opportunity to interview and photograph the elite of the elite athletes selected to represent the United States in London later this month.

Apparently Klamar was hired to take the “official” portraits of the team members but after they debuted this week, instead of universal applause his work has generated thousands – no exaggeration – of comments in reaction. Perhaps his harshest critics are his colleagues describing the work as amateurish and “shoddy” and those are a few of the kinder comments. Other folks even feel his work is unpatriotic as they do not represent the grandeur of our gladiators preparing to face the world, with poor lighting and unflattering poses. The photo pros hates how the viewer can clearly see the sets intended to provide background imaginary.

However, Klamar is not without supporters. A few with gusto and a few in a backhanded kind of way. The second group suggests they are just so bad there is no way a professional could deliberately produce such bad work, no matter how little time he had or the cramped space.

Others who defend his work suggest he was attempting to peel away the fake, glorified images of these athletes and show them as real people – which isn’t always so pretty.

BagNews shared this viewer’s theory:

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)

So far Klamar is not talking much. But it is important to keep in mind – Getty Images signed off on these photos, which if the reviewer above is correct that is odd. Would love to have been a fly on the wall when they first received the photos, did he have to “explain” his work to them?

The key question are:

  • Did he simply do a poor job or was he making an editorial statement about the glorification of athletes, etc.?
  • Did Klamar have an obligation to show these athletes representing the United States in all of their splendor and glory?

What are your thoughts?

To see a few of the photos for yourself, click here.

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