The 2012 London Olympics are just a few weeks away with trials going on now and lots of coverage on athletes and their stories. In the last couple days we couldn’t help but notice the scathing articles about photos of athletes taken by Joe Klamar. Normally a photojournalist and documentary photographer, his images are being called, “shoddy” and “amateur.” Reading through the comments, the public’s consensus is a mixed bag. Some think that there’s nothing wrong with the photos because they find the lack of Photoshop refreshing. (By the way, we don’t think the athletes need more than a blemish fixed up here and there). But others still think that he shouldn’t be called a photographer. We’ll share our thoughts in a moment. What do you think?
Here’s a typically, traditional Olympic portrait.
Photo: Dakota Earnest for Reuters
Here are Joe Klamar’s photos.
Notice how uneven the lighting is, how shadows fall starkly across faces and torsos. You can read the lines and imperfections in the back drop material. These photos were taken for the AFP and Getty, to be used for all promotional purposes in endorsing the U.S. team for the upcoming events that will be seen by millions around the world. There’s a time and place for all types of styles but the kind of harsh shadows that fall across the face and lack of even lighting not only detract from the athletes form but paint them in a negative light. Which now begs the question, did Klamar do this one purpose? Was he working on a personal agenda to document the athletes for his own purpose? And if so, why didn’t he approach the athletes separately? Or, is this sought-after photojournalist who’s on-location shots are respected, a bit lacking in knowledge of studio photography? Don’t be surprised.
There are numerous photographers, even big-name ones that don’t know how to light a subject – person or object. The assistants do all that. So it’s not that far fetched that a shooter hired by the Getty may not have on-set experience. Since Klamar hasn’t released a statement and can’t defend himself, we can only highlight the differences in how the first photo taken by Earnest reads and how his differ. We’re just a bit disappointed that the U.S. now has this story highlighting their athletes in such a negative way. The Olympics are all about strength, top sportsmanship and putting our best hand forward. This is hardly what we would see for our U.S. athletes. So now ask yourself, are these photos “good” or “bad”? Would you expect such work from a professional?
N has photographed many subjects in extreme set ups with purposeful shadows. That said, he wouldn’t have taken this opportunity to exploit his own style for such a major platform. We hope that this doesn’t mar our athlete’s perceptions of themselves on the world stage.
**Update: Last night, July 5th, ABC World News touched on this subject. There was a statement released from the agency (in this case AFP and/or Getty) saying that the proper equipment was not present and had they known that the athletes were expected to be shot, they would have prepared for it. N has traveled the world on photo shoots and there’s never been a time that there weren’t loads of equipment prepped and on hand for the situation. Even if equipment was lost in transit you have an assistant call and find all the necessary equipment – quickly.
That said, there was still use of one strobe and a backdrop, which to N, has all the makings of a pretty decent photo. Through N’s deductive and professional estimates, Klamar didn’t take advantage of the equipment available. Plain and simple. Here are two shots N took with the exact equipment available to Klamar, one strobe and a backdrop. The first exemplifies even color and light temperature. The second exudes a more stylized mood than what would be typically expected of an Olympic athlete portrait, but you can see the possibilities and how romantic a portrait can be when considerations are taken.**