Clamour over Klamar Pics

Casting around for ideas for today’s article I turned to twitter and asked what people might be interested in reading about.

Twitterer @drinckx alerted me to this little internet storm surrounding AFP photographer Joe Klamar’s photos of the US Olympic team.

From what I can gather, and for reasons not entirely clear to me, it was decided there should be a three-day photo session during which all the US athletes would be photographed on a tight rota by a selection of photographers representing different agencies, all working in mini studio booths at a location in Dallas, each photographer photographing every athlete in turn. Take a look at Vernon Bryant’s blog on the Dallas News and you’ll get the picture.

Now I’m no expert on the reasons behind the set-up. I would have thought it more sensible to have one or two top-end photographers shoot a set of well-crafted images suitable for pool use (one agency required to share images with all the others). Perhaps it was a way to save money, but the set-up sounds like a nightmare to me, with each photographer having approximately 4 minutes with each Olympian. With over 100 athletes to photograph, a Herculean task you might say.

The general consensus is that for Klamer at least, something went a bit pear-shaped. The results look rushed and un-professional, and yet if you find other examples of Klamar’s work he’s a good news and sports photographer. Maybe nothing spectacular, but what is known in the industry as a ‘good operator’. The problem is, now you’ll have to search hard for anything other than criticism of him such has been the rush by those who know nothing of these things to jump in and take pot-shots at him. Armchair photographers thinking they could have done better with their iPhone have comprehensively clogged the search results.

Looking at other examples of Klamar’s work it seems AFP may be at fault here in putting him forward for a task for which he was ill-equipped. News and sport appear to be his areas of expertise, and yet he was put in a studio that even studio photographers might have struggled with – very little room for lights or expansive and expressive poses. Other photographers did manage, but that would suggest they were more suited to the task.

I’ve seen comments suggesting Klamar’s images are meant to be ironic, stripped of slickness and cliché. Well I’m not convinced. If there is a message at all, the images could represent Klamar’s anger at the ridiculous set-up of the summit photo sessions. The tiny booths, the speed with which shots had to be rattled off. His background becoming torn, his lighting rarely being right, background edges in plain view. If he was being brave (rather than just out of his depth) he may have been saying “this set-up is rubbish and I will not pander to the idiots that organised it.”

One thing I am convinced of, this photo-me booth, conveyor belt arrangement cannot have been conceived by a photographer. This is the work of someone with a clipboard and lots of pens thinking they understand what a photographer needs. Yes, other photographers did a better job, but I bet they weren’t delighted by the reduction of the task to a series of snatch images. But if you take a good photo in rubbish circumstances you cant complain because the client will always say “but the photos look great, what are you complaining about?” Which rather misses the point.

For now Klamar’s reputation is somewhat tarnished, but I think he’ll recover once the interest moves onto something else. Maybe a cat playing the piano will distract people back to what the internet was made for.