Not exactly ready for glossy Olympic ads. Or anything?
July 6, 2012 10:52 AM   Subscribe

Ignore the torn paper below as I look bored amidst this painful-looking pose, thanks. Joe Klamar, a photographer associated with the news agency AFP who won the 2009 Czech Press Photo group's Photo of the Year for a striking shot of President Obama in Prague, is under fire in certain corners of the web for his photos of U.S. Olympic athletes.

These were not widely published, but were posted at the CBS News website, in gallery format. Now, these photos may have just been thrown out there by AFP and Getty images, in throw-it-out-see-what-sticks fashion, but they have nonetheless sparked discussion online regarding the line between professional photography and semi-amateur fauxtography. Could any random photographer you could find on Craigslist or Flickr have done just as well? Or were these intentionally sloppy portraits, subversive ones meant to show the athletes as human beings, and not fodder for, say, BP ads? On the other hand, Slate appears to argue, maybe they show the ill effects of throwing just any ol' stuff out to see what sticks by the likes of Getty, and poorly organized, cattle call-like photo sessions.
posted by raysmj (282 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Looks like pictures that one would see on a facebook feed. I don't understand all the fuss; were we under the impression that these athletes were not human beings?
posted by verdeluz at 10:56 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I agree, these suck. Like, Sears Portrait Studio when the 'good' photographer is on his lunch break suck.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:58 AM on July 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


The photographs are technically excellent. It is the poses and facial expressions that are a bit... derpy. Intentionally derpy.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:59 AM on July 6, 2012


Not good work. If I had paid for those, I'd want my money back.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:59 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


What exactly makes them technically excellent? They're in focus?
posted by jsturgill at 11:03 AM on July 6, 2012 [13 favorites]


Agreed. Seems like the Phelps photo could have been far better lit.
posted by maryr at 11:04 AM on July 6, 2012


The photographs are technically excellent.

For the non-photographers in the audience, can you* offer a nickel lesson on what constitutes technical excellence, b1tr0t?

---------------
*Or YOU?
posted by notyou at 11:04 AM on July 6, 2012


How is a wide-angle shot showing a seamless white background in front of what looks like cinder block walls 'technically excellent'?

I'm only a hobbiest photographer AT BEST and I would be embarrassed to produce that picture for a friend.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 11:06 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah I mean I get the DRAMA lighting on Phelps but it also makes him look all paley and stuff in the parts that are illuminated.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:06 AM on July 6, 2012


I can't tell if "technically excellent" is an honest appraisal based on a deep working knowledge of the field of photography, or the best backhanded compliment ever based on a deep working knowledge of the field of photography.
posted by griphus at 11:06 AM on July 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


This one is my favorite.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:07 AM on July 6, 2012


I really liked them when they were first posted a while ago, and I think that I like them more now that everyone who thinks they're a photographer because they own a copy of Photoshop is weighing in.

I like that they look like real people who like their sports. I like the variety in age, ethnicity, and body type. I like that they're not all in the same background or pose, but they still look like a set. I even kind of like the torn paper.

I usually hate contrarians on the internet, but today I am a contrarian. Keep shining, you crazy photographs.
posted by hydropsyche at 11:07 AM on July 6, 2012 [35 favorites]


"I've finished building the house. We ran out of floorboards, so we just packed in dirt. Also the glass for the windows didn't show up so we just cut some large sheets of ice. What do you think?"

"Technically excellent."
posted by griphus at 11:07 AM on July 6, 2012 [11 favorites]


i think they're great. they really subvert the pseduo-patriotism of the olympic games
posted by facetious at 11:08 AM on July 6, 2012 [11 favorites]


From a photo board I frquent:

Upon doing some further reading, even Mr. Klamar himself is not claiming (or at least not admitting) that he had some larger design for these images.

Since he arrived to the shoot without a studio set-up he was sharing that of another photog and the timeframes he had with the athletes were incredibly condensed (just a few minutes). He obviously went with irreverent poses with some of these athletes (e.g. the badminton player posed with a shuttlecock atop his head), but I still doubt he had any larger design for the shot as a whole.

Frankly, the more I read about the conditions of this shoot, I'm almost more surprised that he got any usable and interesting shots at all than that some of his shots were clunkers.



These are truly terrible, but you have to realize this guy is not flickr-newb. He's a serious photographer.
posted by lattiboy at 11:08 AM on July 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Technically excellent" without a comment on its composition or artistic merit is rather like reviewing a restaurant and extolling the warmness of your food.

My, how warm it is!
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 11:08 AM on July 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


This one is blown out.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:08 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, he photographed the American team AND designed 2012 Olympics logo.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:09 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Man, doing something different is tough.

I like how they subvert the usual mold of glossy portraits.
posted by Mercaptan at 11:10 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


It seriously looks like the photographer just found out that you can move your off-camera flash to the side of your studio and get neat shadows.

There's being different, and there's being good and different.
posted by 0xFCAF at 11:10 AM on July 6, 2012


So Joe Klamar took some (maybe*) crappy shots. But isn't it the editors fault for publishing them? There's lots and lots of bad professional photos out there but somebody chose to slap them up there in a gallery on the CBS News website.

I'd really think an editor would be more professional than to be distracted by Jonathan Horton's arms and not notice the trash beneath him. (That was my excuse.)

* It does seem to me that the photographs do seem to be 'bad on purpose' and/or commenting on the act of photographing "Our Olympic Heroes" -- with the obvious backdrops and trash and bad/weird lighting. That just means there not appropriate for how they were used. Again, I'm not sure the fault lies entirely, or mostly, with Klamar here. But, obviously, we can't know for sure.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:11 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I like 'em. I think using the backgrounds as props says something about the way we normally pose athletes in front of backgrounds, and makes them seem more real and less heroic. Sorts a candid-in-the-midst-of-staged thing. I think that's what he's after, anyway. A bit of a peek behind the curtain.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:11 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I actually like this one quite a bit -- that's the main thing lacking in these photos is movement and flow, and the gymnast has it. That one WinnepegDragon posted, with the poor background framing, would be an awesome photo if not for the background. It's the kind of photos I take, and when I get home and look at them I go, "dammit, Az, how many times do I tell you to check the background before taking pictures?"
posted by AzraelBrown at 11:12 AM on July 6, 2012


Joe Klamar ruined the Olympics!
posted by mazola at 11:12 AM on July 6, 2012 [10 favorites]


*sort of*
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:12 AM on July 6, 2012


BTW - Is this a new phenomenon? It seems as though I am seeing more examples of not being able to detect mediocrity in advance. Is it because we are bombarded with opinions? Is it because faux-rage and real rage and irony and faux-irony have fused into some ungodly alloy? Or are we just scouring the world for mediocrity to a better degree?
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:12 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


They are photographs, rather than commercial celebrity photos. Most people want to see airbrushed perfection when it comes to stars, not photographs as a thing on to itself. Which is understandable, because the reason 99% of people want to look at these photographs is because of the person being photographed (star).

For me the tension between expectation and delivery is interesting, partly because the choices of what is in the photos, seem intentional to me.
posted by snaparapans at 11:13 AM on July 6, 2012


They seem fine to me, although some of them veer hilariously toward the 'senior portrait' end of the spectrum.
posted by Think_Long at 11:14 AM on July 6, 2012


He's going for a look, very down home, very "These snapshots show how much Olympic athletes are just like us!", but they don't work on that level for me. Maybe Klamar is suggesting that he, too, is just an average guy, taking average photos, nothing special or well executed, if not "just like you", then perhaps just like your mom, who has never been very good at taking photos and always cuts off someone's head in vacation photos and holiday shots.
posted by but no cigar at 11:15 AM on July 6, 2012


I really liked them when they were first posted a while ago, and I think that I like them more now that everyone who thinks they're a photographer because they own a copy of Photoshop is weighing in.

I have a camera. I take photographs. Therefore I am a photographer by definition.

What constitutes a 'professional' or even just a 'good' photographer is pretty subjective of course.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 11:15 AM on July 6, 2012


See, the only difference between a professional photographer and the hoi polloi is that they have good cameras.
posted by mazola at 11:16 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think that the mediocrity is in the PopPhoto.com article. I saw this in Slate yesterday and that article had a point (well-laid out by the OP). The PopPhoto.com article seems to be written by someone looking for something to upload for a deadline (and who also read that Slate piece).
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 11:16 AM on July 6, 2012


They tell a story about what it's like to be an athlete, posing for pictures. Why does this stuff have to be so formalistic to satisfy everyone? What's the matter with showing them as real people?
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:17 AM on July 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I honestly don't understand viewing these photos as Framing Athletes As Normal People. Why is the lighting so terrible? How does terrible lighting make them look like real people?
posted by shakespeherian at 11:18 AM on July 6, 2012 [32 favorites]


I hope that someday I can be famous enough that when I have a bad day at work, people I've never met will jump up to explain how I've recontextualized the metacommentary of what it means to phone it in.
posted by echo target at 11:19 AM on July 6, 2012 [70 favorites]


lattiboy's link takes us to action shots; maybe he's not a guy who commonly does portraits? In combination with no time to setup/choice of setup/trying to run a bunch of athletes through, maybe it isn't about his skill so much as those factors. Taking shots of athletes in motion outdoors or in an arena is very different from a studio setup.
posted by emjaybee at 11:19 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I honestly don't understand viewing these photos as Framing Athletes As Normal People. Why is the lighting so terrible? How does terrible lighting make them look like real people?

My thoughts exactly. I mean, real people generally have faces, right? Thanks to Mr. Klamar's mad lighting skillz, it's not clear that all of these folks have both sides of their faces.

These people devote their entire lives to being spectacular athletes. Let's at least respect them enough to let the rest of the world know what they look like.
posted by phunniemee at 11:20 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


These athletes actually look like normal people having fun! Mugging around for the camera! Vulnerable, even! It's an outrage!

Intentional or not, these are a breath of fresh air. The endless Riefenstahlization of the Olympics is ridiculous.
posted by oulipian at 11:22 AM on July 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


They tell a story about what it's like to be an athlete, posing for pictures. Why does this stuff have to be so formalistic to satisfy everyone? What's the matter with showing them as real people?

Correction: They tell a story about what it's like to be an athlete, posing for poorly-lit pictures.

These athletes actually look like normal people having fun! Mugging around for the camera!

In the dark!
posted by The World Famous at 11:25 AM on July 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't know, man, this strikes me as a guy given a shit assignment. "here are dozens of athletes. you've got, like, 10 minutes with each and you get it all done in one day. we'll pay you a whopping $2 for the shoot and no one cares. go." Chances are he half-assed it and sent it along, thinking it wouldn't go far or be for anything important. and he was pretty much right. getty just spammed some news agencies with photos, it ended up on cbs and a redditor made it noteworthy. is it lazy crappy work? yes. should it have been put on any sites? no. is getty just spamming crap photos to lazy news agencies? yup. basically everybody loses because nobody gave a shit.
posted by shmegegge at 11:25 AM on July 6, 2012 [19 favorites]


A breath of fresh air? I'll use that excuse the next time my code flakes out in production.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 11:25 AM on July 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


More seriously, posed studio photographs are a totally different skillset than photojournalism of real live events, which is in turn a totally different skillset from landscape photography or food photography or what have you.

I think the guy whiffed it on most of these, but I feel for him - I'm terrible with getting people to pose for a camera. You have to have a plan for a pose that will bring out whatever it is you're trying to show, keep all the usual photo worries about light ratios and proper angles and framing and focus in your head, and at the same time be charming enough to get your subjects to relax and have a bit of fun. Totally different game than live sports or events, where you can stay silent and keep your brain on the back side of the camera.
posted by echo target at 11:25 AM on July 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


Kaufmanesque. You don't know how long I've waited to use that term in the perfect context.
posted by Xoebe at 11:26 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Maybe we should be completely clear about this: there is no way in hell we would have ever seen a post on Metafilter, much less seen news stories and Reddit hoohah about it, if they had simply been technically correct and straightforward photos. If this had been what it was supposed to be – a standard photo set of athletes exactly like the last billion boring standard photo sets of athletes – none of us would have heard about this, and we would have ignored it as usual. So Mr Klamar seems to have been successful on one front, at least.

phunniemee: “These people devote their entire lives to being spectacular athletes. Let's at least respect them enough to let the rest of the world know what they look like.”

If they respected themselves as much as we're so often asked to respect them, they wouldn't be part of something as seedy as the Olympics, I don't think. But they have worked hard, and the state of international sport is not their fault, so I'll at least give them credit for their own accomplishment of excellence.
posted by koeselitz at 11:26 AM on July 6, 2012


I like the goofiness of some of the photos, but the Boris Karloff face shadows, dirty and torn backdrops, etc., disappoint. I honestly would be cross if I had worked for years to attain an internationally competitive expertise at a demanding sport and some dude thought it would be cool to dramatize the essentially hollow sham of the Olympics by making my official portrait look shitty.

If that's what he was doing. If he was just too lazy to get a clean and untattered backdrop, I'd be doubly pissed off.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:27 AM on July 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


These are not a "breath of fresh air." They're just poorly done. The shadows have no detail, the highlights are blown out, the compositions and coloration are sort of feeble. The fact that they look like a high school photography class took them doesn't make them gritty or honest or down-to-earth. They just look sort of dead.
posted by argybarg at 11:27 AM on July 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


lattiboy's link takes us to action shots; maybe he's not a guy who commonly does portraits? In combination with no time to setup/choice of setup/trying to run a bunch of athletes through, maybe it isn't about his skill so much as those factors. Taking shots of athletes in motion outdoors or in an arena is very different from a studio setup.

Oh my god, this is so true. I'm not, like, a "good" photographer by any means, but I can get a usable action shot when I need to for work. Very, very rarely I jump in to help on the feature side, and I've come back to the office and honest-to-god cried when I see what I got in those sets. It's just a different skill set. Strobist? Holy fuck.

On the other hand, I always am kind of relieved when someone fucks up in public like this because it means I now know not to do that shit. "Do not pass self off as qualified portrait photographer when self is mostly competent press pool shooter." CHECK.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 11:28 AM on July 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


Maybe the entire US Olympics team is trapped in the basement of a derelict office block and can't get out
posted by dng at 11:28 AM on July 6, 2012 [12 favorites]


It's not just the shadows, a handful are blown out. And look at the lighting on this one -- Steven Lopez's face has a hard black shadow just on one bit of his face, Diana Lopez's hands are lit into completely different colors. Steven's left hand is overlit to the point that his fingers look like flattened sausages.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:29 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Maybe the entire US Olympics team is trapped in the basement of a derelict office block and can't get out

This is all just viral advertising for the upcoming remake of Alive!
posted by griphus at 11:29 AM on July 6, 2012


What the FUCK, "they wouldn't be part of anything seedy like the Olympics?"

Yes, the Olympic organization is horribly corrupt and the media hoopla is nauseating, but are you seriously arguing that these athletes are crappy people because they're choosing to participate in what is, in many cases (badminton, archery, heptathlon for instance) significant international competition for their sport?

I hope you can read this from all the way up there on your high horse atop Mount Judgeymanjaro.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:32 AM on July 6, 2012 [20 favorites]


Avedon shot his In the American West series with a white seamless and an overhead diffuser. His subjects whizzed by; it was a truly rough-and-ready setting. The result was a technically impeccable reading of faces, wrinkles, odd realistic details of real human beings. I would have applauded a portfolio in that style, because these athletes would still in some way be beautiful.

These just look inept. Sorry.
posted by argybarg at 11:32 AM on July 6, 2012 [11 favorites]


It's not really fair to compare any mere mortal to Richard Avedon, though.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:34 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


See, the only difference between a professional photographer and the hoi polloi is that they have good cameras.

Hoi polloi. HOI POLLOI. There is no need for "the."

(That's my weird little language tic, sorry.)

(And I don't like these photos, but I'm not much of a photographer myself.)
posted by xingcat at 11:34 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also this one of Phelps is a poorly-done skull chestpiece away from a Larry Clark photo.
posted by griphus at 11:34 AM on July 6, 2012


what is, in many cases, the only significant...

The sad thing here is that I have a silver medal in typing from the high school office skills Olympics, too.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:35 AM on July 6, 2012


I have a minor hobbyist background in photography and I can say, categorically, that when you are a high level photographer like Klamar, you don't make mistakes like these on accident. You make them on purpose, with intent.

As you get good (at almost any discipline) you get to the point where even your intentional fuckups start to look good in their own way, and you begin pursuing mistakes as a way to change the nature of your game/hobby. Perfection is boring and sterile. Mistakes, artfully and purposefully done, leave the viewer in awe.
posted by Avenger at 11:37 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sidhedevil: “Yes, the Olympic organization is horribly corrupt and the media hoopla is nauseating, but are you seriously arguing that these athletes are crappy people because they're choosing to participate in what is, in many cases (badminton, archery, heptathlon for instance) significant international competition for their sport? I hope you can read this from all the way up there on your high horse atop Mount Judgeymanjaro.”

I was already backing away from that sentence in the rest of my comment – and I mean it, they worked hard, and the state of international sport is not their fault – but I should have backed off all the way. You're right. It's not at all on them, especially when this is (as you say) in many cases the premier stage for their sports. And, to be completely clear, being in the Olympics is not a referendum on one's self-respect any more than living in a hideously oppressive dictatorship might be. They didn't choose for the Olympics to be the way they are.
posted by koeselitz at 11:38 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Are these really The One Official Portrait, commissioned by the US Olympic team to be the canonical portraits, or are they just "some photographs?" I would think that if they were The Official Portrait, and the people in charge of commissioning them were unhappy, they could just ask for a re-do. Or is this just one photographer's version of how he wants to take these pictures?

I don't get the outrage.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:38 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think they look amazing because they deviate so much from the standard heroic photographs.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 11:43 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have a minor hobbyist background in photography and I can say, categorically, that when you are a high level photographer like Klamar, you don't make mistakes like these on accident. You make them on purpose, with intent.

Maybe that's fine when you are shooting for your own portfolio, but as paid work for a third party?
posted by WinnipegDragon at 11:43 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


These athletes actually look like normal people having fun! Mugging around for the camera! Vulnerable, even! It's an outrage!

No they don't. They still look like world-class athletes. The photographs look amateurish because they lack even the most basic understanding of lighting or framing. A professional photographer can make normal people look interesting. A bad photographer can make exceptional people look boring. That's what's happened here. What you consider democratic is actually mediocrity.

I don't know, man, this strikes me as a guy given a shit assignment. "here are dozens of athletes. you've got, like, 10 minutes with each and you get it all done in one day. we'll pay you a whopping $2 for the shoot and no one cares. go." Chances are he half-assed it and sent it along, thinking it wouldn't go far or be for anything important. and he was pretty much right.

If the conditions are going to be so terrible that your work will inevitably suck, there's a simple solution: don't take the job. when you're a professional in the arts you're only as good as the last thing you did, so you can't afford to have shitty work go out with your name on it. Because these have been picked up and widely distributed, he's actually going to make quite a bit of money. But he's going to get much less work from now on, except for commissions from people who know nothing about photography.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:44 AM on July 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


I don't get the outrage.

Possibly the outrage is that I, High-End Hobbyist And / Or Professional, Could Have Done Way Better, but No One Is Coming To Me With Olympic Commissions, therefore The Emperor Has No Clothes And Should Be Fined For Indecency.

Anyway, for some reason, photography seems to be an area where mean-spirited criticism flows freely (see "You Are Not A Photographer," above) -- and this probably has to do with the vast increase in the availability of Other People's Photos in recent years.
posted by grobstein at 11:46 AM on July 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


I was neither moved nor outraged by these photos.

These may not be great work but clearly they're nowhere near the line to fauxtography (though I enjoyed learning that word very much).

Oh, and the hoi polloi.
posted by mazola at 11:46 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


If my cousin from New Jersey said she snuck in between the pro photographers and grabbed these snapshots with her P&S, I'd be appropriately impressed. But given the original photographer is a pro and these were distributed by a service that supposedly distributes pro photographers' work I'm not so impressed.

I'm not a pro, I'm at best an enthusiastic amateur. Nevertheless there are lots of photos on my hard drive that have never seen the light of day. But then I don't lose any money as a result, either.
posted by tommasz at 11:47 AM on July 6, 2012


They look like real people.
I suppose the fuss is because he didn't portray them as the Aryan SuperMen/Women fine young patriots we want to worship, cause USAUSAUSA!!!!!111!
posted by Thorzdad at 11:48 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Clearly this is what they should have been going for with the athletes.
posted by mazola at 11:49 AM on July 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


I can't tell if "technically excellent" is an honest appraisal based on a deep working knowledge of the field of photography, or the best backhanded compliment ever based on a deep working knowledge of the field of photography.
This. Not because I'm an epic master of the backhanded compliment, but because I like the ambiguity inherent in the idea of "technical excellence."
As you get good (at almost any discipline) you get to the point where even your intentional fuckups start to look good in their own way, and you begin pursuing mistakes as a way to change the nature of your game/hobby. Perfection is boring and sterile. Mistakes, artfully and purposefully done, leave the viewer in awe.
And also this. Portraits aren't really my thing, but these shots look more like careful parody than phoning it in. Like a few others in the thread, I like the deviation from the standard Übermensch stuff.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:50 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I find these fascinating and yes, vulnerable. Even though there are technical issues, they are significantly more interesting and telling than the vast majority of the photos that emerge from these kinds of cattle-call promotional shoots.

I love them! I mean that one of Michael Phelps is shocking--and that's someone I've seen probably hundreds of photos of before--to be shocked by a photo of him is something worthwhile.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:53 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I like them. But only because I don't particularly care about yet another photograph of an Olympic athlete but do enjoy other people's outrage. Their tears sustain me.
posted by Justinian at 11:53 AM on July 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


I suppose the fuss is because he didn't portray them as the Aryan SuperMen/Women fine young patriots we want to worship, cause USAUSAUSA!!!!!111!
The fuss that I'm seeing is because the photos are technically pretty bad.

If you don't have the time to read all dozen links in the OP, the Slate article has a pretty good review of some of the problems with them.
posted by dfan at 11:53 AM on July 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


The thing is, a lot of these look like he was going for the ubermensch thing and just completely whiffed
posted by theodolite at 11:54 AM on July 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


How is a wide-angle shot showing a seamless white background in front of what looks like cinder block walls 'technically excellent'?

I'm only a hobbiest photographer AT BEST and I would be embarrassed to produce that picture for a friend.


With respect, that is a good photograph. It takes us outside of the "set" and shows that it is just a photo, that it's all staged, and it does so with excellent composition. Technically well-done, visually compelling, and conceptually interesting.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:55 AM on July 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I also like the idea that if I point out why these photos are terrible I must be OUTRAGED
posted by shakespeherian at 11:59 AM on July 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm not a professional photographer of badminton players, but I am an enthusiastic hobbyist, and I deplore the callous treatment of the subject by some of these money-grubbing so-called pros. It's a racket.
posted by twoleftfeet at 11:59 AM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


With respect, that is a good photograph. It takes us outside of the "set" and shows that it is just a photo, that it's all staged, and it does so with excellent composition. Technically well-done, visually compelling, and conceptually interesting.

How many 8 x 10 glossies do you think they will print of it for press kits?

Art for the sake of art is fine, but is it fit for purpose?
posted by WinnipegDragon at 12:02 PM on July 6, 2012


Hmmn, I smell the Terry Richardson effect.
posted by thinkpiece at 12:04 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Avedon shot his In the American West series with a white seamless and an overhead diffuser.

He was famous for that style ... and many of his works were done that way.

Example galleries of images:
Portraits of Power.

Richard Avedon Portraits: 1946 - 2004.

Richard Avedon Portraits 2002.

Richard Avedon Photographs: 1947 - 1977.

Portraits 1976.

Nothing Personal.

Observations.
posted by ericb at 12:05 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anyway, for some reason, photography seems to be an area where mean-spirited criticism flows freely

Remind me to never be a photographer.
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:07 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Never be a photographer.
posted by shmegegge at 12:08 PM on July 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


Also, anger, shock and disbelief are appropriate responses to artwork just as much as veneration, joy and awe. Picasso could paint like a Resistance master at age 12, but it took him his entire life to learn how to paint this.

Think about that next time a technically accomplished artist does something "ugly" or "stupid".
posted by Avenger at 12:08 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I also like the idea that if I point out why these photos are terrible I must be OUTRAGED

I'm outraged that you're not outraged that I'm not outraged!
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:10 PM on July 6, 2012


or Renaissance even. It took me my entire life to learn how to spell, and now I mispell IN CREATIVE, ARTISTIC WAYS DAMMIT.
posted by Avenger at 12:10 PM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


griphus: ""I've finished building the house. We ran out of floorboards, so we just packed in dirt. Also the glass for the windows didn't show up so we just cut some large sheets of ice. What do you think?"

"Technically excellent."
"

shoot man are you saying that's NOT how houses should look? I guess I've been playing too much minecraft...
posted by rebent at 12:11 PM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


They look like real people.

No. The photographs look like the sort of pictures 'real people' (as opposed to professional photographers) take. You are confusing the photography with that of the subject.

With respect, that is a good photograph. It takes us outside of the "set" and shows that it is just a photo, that it's all staged, and it does so with excellent composition. Technically well-done, visually compelling, and conceptually interesting.

Excellent composition? Are you kidding me? The only technically good thing about it is the camera he shot it with and the fact that it's in focus...which I'm inclined to think is also thanks to the camera. Please tell me exactly what it is that you think is excellent about the composition.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:12 PM on July 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


Man, what genius. The only way he could've more successfully trolled aspiring/snobby prosumer photographers is if he'd shot these in HDR.
posted by mullingitover at 12:13 PM on July 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


Perhaps it's a trend. The new official portrait of the French president by Raymond Depardon also drew a barrage a criticism for being "amateurish".
posted by elgilito at 12:13 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


So just to figure this out. If he had shot all of these completely out of focus, they would be even better right? He could have freed himself from shackles of socially acceptable sharpness!

Then to take it to the next level, a pointillism filter in Photoshop, followed by 'Crystallize'! Render them completely unidentifiable!

FUCK YEAH ART!
posted by WinnipegDragon at 12:14 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


grobstein: "Anyway, for some reason, photography the internet seems to be an area where mean-spirited criticism flows freely "
posted by mullingitover at 12:14 PM on July 6, 2012


I have to say that, after spending my morning arguing with a friend about the ouvre of Paul Verhoeven, it's kind of hilarious to see a thread about whether these pictures are intentional subversion or not.


for the record: Starship Troopers is of course intentional subversion, these pictures are not.
posted by COBRA! at 12:16 PM on July 6, 2012


Perhaps it's a trend. The new official portrait of the French president by Raymond Depardon also drew a barrage a criticism for being "amateurish".

Wow. That is terrible.
posted by mazola at 12:16 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't get the people saying that these photos are subversive because they make the athletes look like "real people." Olympic athletes aren't models or actors; although they're physically fit and the more attractive ones obviously get more media attention, plenty of them have "normal"-looking faces, and athletes are typically photographed in plenty of situations where they're un-made-up, un-retouched, in weird positions making weird faces.

A poorly-lit and awkwardly-posed photo of an athlete doesn't make them seem more human, it just makes them seem more like they're being photographed incompetently. I mean, look at this photo of Natalie Coughlin. Now, I am far from a professional photographer, but even I know that illuminating someone's face with a bright light from above is a bad idea. Her facial features are casting weird shadows across her face, obscuring most of it and making her look really bizarre. Compare it to this photo, where she just got out of a pool and is (presumably) wearing no makeup. She looks not just better but more like a normal person.
posted by enlarged to show texture at 12:19 PM on July 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wow. That is terrible.

Just think, if the photographer had cropped out the top of his head, we'd be hearing about what a great, subversive artwork it was.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 12:22 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow. That is terrible.

Are you kidding? That photograph is fucking beautiful. It says: I am not going to be like Sarkozy the rockstar. I am at ground level like everyone. A little nervous, even, like anyone would be. I am approachable, I am here to listen. You can trust me.
posted by oulipian at 12:23 PM on July 6, 2012 [17 favorites]


This guy's torso clearly has its own face. ITS OWN FACE.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 12:24 PM on July 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think he was picked to shoot these photos because he was Joe Klamar, and not because he's the world's greatest athletic portrait photographer, and nobody who paid for them cared how they came out as long as they were shot by him. It's kinda like the reason people hire Terry Richardson for fashion shoots. He's an atrocious photographer (not to mention kinda creepy) who commits shocking (for a professional) abuses of on-camera flash, and he has no trouble finding work because he's Terry Fucking Richardson.
posted by mullingitover at 12:27 PM on July 6, 2012


I think the thing that gets me is saying that these are mistakes or carelessness. I think there was obvious intent, whether it worked out aesthetically or not. You can do so much in Camera Raw these days that there's no way that if they were accidentally under-exposed, they wouldn't have been fixed. It wasn't "Oops, I forgot to light subject," it was "I want these areas dark." Whether that pleases anyone but the photographer is of course a separate deal.
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:28 PM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


So just to figure this out. If he had shot all of these completely out of focus, they would be even better right? He could have freed himself from shackles of socially acceptable sharpness!

Heh, you say this like it's totally hilarious (and it kinda is for the context) but I did a multi-year project of photos that are deliberately blurry and out of focus. Many of them are beautiful, and I was accepted to a notable fine arts program on the strength of a portfolio that included a significant number of them.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:29 PM on July 6, 2012


And, that's not to say I'm the world's best photographer or anything (I'm definitely not) but just that LOLing at the idea of someone taking a GASP out-of-focus photo is kinda amateurish in and of itself. Like any decision it can be used poorly or well.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:32 PM on July 6, 2012


Heh, you say this like it's totally hilarious (and it kinda is for the context) but I did a multi-year project of photos that are deliberately blurry and out of focus. Many of them are beautiful, and I was accepted to a notable fine arts program on the strength of a portfolio that included a significant number of them.

No I get that. I completely understand that. However, how many of those were portraits paid for by a third party with the intent to use them to market the people in the portraits?
posted by WinnipegDragon at 12:36 PM on July 6, 2012


It's a battle of cultural capitalists! Who will win??

"Mount Judgeymanjaro"

This is the one thing I've enjoyed about this thread.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:37 PM on July 6, 2012 [11 favorites]


One of the amazing things about photojournalists who do portraits is how good they are at doing things on the fly: getting people to relax, spotting interesting framing, and getting people into impromptu poses and situations. It's as much a feat of interpersonal skills and hyper-attentiveness as it is of photography.

A subversive photo shoot with these athletes would have ditched the backdrops and props and shitty lighting setup entirely, and maybe taken things outside. He could have shown the olympians talking to each other, or milling about, or sitting around waiting around for the shoot to finish, like normal people would do when presented with such an artificial situation.* Instead, it looks like he was given a shitty project to complete and put as little effort into it as he could, in an attempt to give the agency exactly what it had asked for and nothing more.

(*I fail to see how putting someone in front of a blue background, with a flag, and with half their face in stark light and half in shadow makes them look more "normal." Unless I'm the only one here who isn't posting from their own personal supervillain lair.)
posted by evidenceofabsence at 12:38 PM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I did a multi-year project of photos taken in low light indoors during parties with the on-camera flash of a cheap pocket camera from the 80s, interspersed with out-of-focus motion blurred snowboarding pictures. I called the project "College."
posted by The World Famous at 12:38 PM on July 6, 2012 [10 favorites]


'Technically excellent' without a comment on its composition or artistic merit is rather like reviewing a restaurant and extolling the warmness of your food.

Or Mitt Romney tasting lemonade: "Lemon. Wet. Good."
posted by kirkaracha at 12:40 PM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


He shot this picture all blurry and I think it's swell.

Also, hey, it's not his fault the editors liked his photos best out of all their options:
He also points out that photo editors (AFP’s clients) had a wide selection of pictures to choose from – “serious, funky, official” – and that not all of them were offbeat. Nor does he make any apologies: “I work for a news agency and I wasn’t taking pictures for a Nike ad.”
posted by mullingitover at 12:40 PM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


(*I fail to see how putting someone in front of a blue background, with a flag, and with half their face in stark light and half in shadow makes them look more "normal." Unless I'm the only one here who isn't posting from their own personal supervillain lair.)

Everything I do on Metafilter is in front of a blue background (ok, sometimes it's green or grey).
posted by The World Famous at 12:40 PM on July 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think the thing that gets me is saying that these are mistakes or carelessness. I think there was obvious intent, whether it worked out aesthetically or not.

I really don't think there was. The articles indicate that this shoot was an unorganized fast-and-furious melee; that Joe Klamar had never shot this kind of event before; and that he was using borrowed and unfamiliar equipment. His previous work is all very traditional, with no apparent interest in breaking rules with artistic intent. These photos were submitted more or less unedited through Getty and were published on an obscure CBS gallery, probably without anyone ever looking at them twice. As shmegegge put it, nobody at any point gave a shit and so the universe sinks just a little further into heat-death by apathy
posted by theodolite at 12:41 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


"I thought I was going to photograph athletes on stage, or during a press conference," says the photographer. "But when I arrived in the morning, all my colleagues had already set up their mini-studio with professional lighting, backdrops, props and ... Me, nobody told me there would be the possibility to set up a studio. It was a very embarrassing situation. "

So that's that. God, I've been there.

Agence France Presse dismissed the criticism against Klamar, saying that he had not been hired to do advertising but rather journalism. Marlowe Hood, writing for AFP's Correspondent blog, wrote that she liked the pictures.

"When I first saw Joe Klamar's pictures of US Olympic athletes, I didn't understand what all the fuss was about. As far as I could see, Joe had done what he does best: bring an original, insightful vision onto whatever he trains his camera-ready eye, as often as not a sports-related story," she wrote.

posted by girlmightlive at 12:55 PM on July 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


His previous work is all very traditional

Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope.
posted by oulipian at 12:57 PM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


As Agence France Presse's chief photographer he is responsible for the work of photographers from central Europe.

Whether or not he was using borrowed equipment, or under working under unfamiliar circumstances, Karamar is a seasoned pro. It is not like he was given an etch a sketch or a set of oil paints and asked to create on the fly, he was in his element. To suggest that these were mistakes, is absurd, imo. The picture of Obama is very much like these in that he is editorializing much in the way Lee Freidlander does. The fact that people expect something else, or are trained toward the conventional, or simply do not like his work, well that is another story.
posted by snaparapans at 12:57 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Did anyone find Lolo Jones's portrait?
posted by bukvich at 1:01 PM on July 6, 2012


I personally think this can be summed up with Occam's razor. The most seasoned, in-demand and talented photographers make mistakes every day. It's just that those mistakes rarely see the light of day. It's a fallacy to think that a photographer, even an experienced one, can walk into any situation and always know exactly what to do. That's what makes good photography so difficult!
posted by girlmightlive at 1:02 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Did anyone find Lolo Jones's portrait?

It's there, he just shot it with the lens cap on to be artistic.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 1:04 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the most interesting thing about all this is we're discussing it. There is just enough meat here to chew. Was it intentional? Was it not? Maybe in some Borges-ian twist the photographer will admit on his deathbed that he indeed was trying to make a statement with these olympic athlete portraits. But he wouldn't, would he - because this is all sort of trivial anyway.
posted by victory_laser at 1:09 PM on July 6, 2012


I don't really care whether any particular effect was intentional or not-- the photos are the photos, and, at least given their extant context, I don't think there's much aesthetic merit to them whatsoever.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:13 PM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


“This is not the picture of a President, this is a picture of a guy in a garden.”

That's an amazing criticism of the Hollande portrait. Wtf did they think the president was, an alien?
posted by jacalata at 1:14 PM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


So, then it's possible for something to be subversive without that intent. Cool!
posted by victory_laser at 1:15 PM on July 6, 2012


"I thought I was going to photograph athletes on stage, or during a press conference," says the photographer. "But when I arrived in the morning, all my colleagues had already set up their mini-studio with professional lighting, backdrops, props and ... Me, nobody told me there would be the possibility to set up a studio. It was a very embarrassing situation. "

So he arrived completely unprepared and persuaded another photographer to let him share a space, and presumably his time. Interesting that he doesn't name this other photographer or give him/her credit, which would also allow us to compare the quality of photography.

As for the arguments that 'he's a professional, if he makes a mistake it's deliberate' - this is just an argument from authority. The sad fact is that most of these pictures are lame. I might feel differently if there were any pictures of the photographic assembly line with the athletes moving through it.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:16 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Was the event being held in a VFW?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:21 PM on July 6, 2012


That's an amazing criticism of the Hollande portrait. Wtf did they think the president was, an alien?

Another way to look at that is that the President of a country is the head of state. In the portrait of Hollande, the Elysee palace is way off in the background, and almost blown out, making it difficult to see the flags of France and Europe. The man is advanced to the fore, the country he is responsible for governing is relegated to the status of a pretty background.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:21 PM on July 6, 2012


His action shots are much better.
posted by limeonaire at 1:21 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


the photos are the photos, and, at least given their extant context, I don't think there's much aesthetic merit to them whatsoever.

Is that another way of saying that you just do not like them? Because, to say that there is not much aesthetic merit is a bit absurd, imo, because they are at this very moment being discussed quite widely as regards their aesthetics.
posted by snaparapans at 1:24 PM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Here's the article I excerpted.

Klamar said in a statement today that AFP had never before been invited to attend the summit, and did not know that they would be able to set up a studio for the portraits.

It sounds like excuses but this isn't really beyond the realm of possibility. If you're a journalist working for a news organization you're going to press conference and meetings and what not, you're not going to portrait sessions. It's an entirely different ballgame and a different world. If I showed up to an event as a news photographer and someone said, "well, where are your lights and backdrops? Aren't you a photographer?" I am, but, damn, I don't even own half of that stuff.

All I know is I feel that sinking feeling in my stomach that Klamar must've felt.
posted by girlmightlive at 1:28 PM on July 6, 2012


That's an amazing criticism of the Hollande portrait. Wtf did they think the president was, an alien?

Another way to look at that is that the President of a country is the head of state. In the portrait of Hollande, his head is clearly visible. And whole. The Elysee palace is looking stately but is clearly secondary to the head. The juxtaposition implies this is not just a man. But a head. Of something. Like a stately estate. But where are his feet? The viewer is invited to ponder the mysteries of what lies below.
posted by mazola at 1:29 PM on July 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I like them. I struggle with the Olympics because it is such a massive, glossy spectacle that screams its glossiness and shininess everywhere you look (well, except for the wretched mascots) and eventually I just want to switch the damn thing off because it seems sometimes so sweatfree, so intent on selling the gloss and the shine. But these people, well I'd root for them. They look like people I want to win, who need my support. The photos (to me) also point out how much of being an Olympic athlete is about manipulation by the media, by the spectacle, by the photographer.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 1:31 PM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Avedon comparison is BS.

1. Avedon shot on large format film, by nature a much more generous medium.

2. In the American West Avedon shot in consistent light — always in open shade: against a building, in the shade, but open to the sky.

3. Avedon also did (or had his people do) extensive darkroom work to bring out the tones he wanted in his subjects. Many more hours of work went into each photo than this photographer would ever have been able to given the tight deadlines imposed for news photography.
posted by wemayfreeze at 1:32 PM on July 6, 2012


As for the arguments that 'he's a professional, if he makes a mistake it's deliberate' - this is just an argument from authority.

Must be mercury in retrograde. A top of his game pro journalistic photographer made mistakes, he decides to submit the photographs anyway. His editors, also top of their game professional editors made a mistake by publishing the images. The many professionals who like the photographs are making mistakes.

BUT NO ONE WANTS TO ADMIT IT THAT IS IS ALL A BIG MISTAKE
posted by snaparapans at 1:32 PM on July 6, 2012


the country he is responsible for governing is relegated to the status of a pretty background

On the contrary, Holland is standing in the country itself, on the land and in the open air. It's the trappings of power, politics and ceremony that are relegated to the background. Rightly so, for a Socialist president.
posted by oulipian at 1:35 PM on July 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


“This is not the picture of a President, this is a picture of a guy in a garden.”

Seriously. It's not a picture of a President unless you can see both the subject's chest and ass.
posted by The World Famous at 1:40 PM on July 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


> Oh, and the hoi polloi.

Thank you! For people too lazy to click (or in case some people have trouble accessing the site), here are the first few OED cites:

1668 Dryden Of Dramatick Poesie 65 If by the people you understand the multitude, the οἱ πολλοὶ.
c1821–2 Byron in Lett. (1830) I. 633 [We] put on masques, and went on the stage with the οἱ πολλοι.]
1791 in C. Wordsworth Scholae Academicae (1877) 323 Poor Quiz Carver is one of the οἱ πολλοί.
1837 J. F. Cooper Recoll. Europe II. 94 After which the oi polloi are enrolled as they can find interest.
1855 Read & Reflect i. 60 The hoi polloi [of Mauritius], as we say at Oxford, are mindless—all blank.

That was back when people supposedly knew how to write properly. And if you care to maintain that Dryden and Byron were ignorant about English and/or Greek, well, bless your heart!
posted by languagehat at 1:42 PM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Must be mercury in retrograde. A top of his game pro journalistic photographer made mistakes, he decides to submit the photographs anyway. His editors, also top of their game professional editors made a mistake by publishing the images. The many professionals who like the photographs are making mistakes.

BUT NO ONE WANTS TO ADMIT IT THAT IS IS ALL A BIG MISTAKE


Right, because here on Metafilter we don't think it's possible for corporations to make mistakes. Like when the two largest national TV news stations both got the biggest Supreme court decision in ~20 years completely wrong last week.

Look, the guy says himself that he arrived unprepared, which is partly the fault of the agency for not checking the event out ahead of time. This is not a bunch of people at the top of their game, it's a bunch of people covering their ass, and represents the kind of lowest-common-denominator media churn that the internet has made the norm. He did the best he could with his two usable lenses and single flash in a shared booth, and he has a generally good eye, but a lot of the pictures just suck. If it was meant to be a metacommentary on the whole sports photography thing, then he'd have done that with all the pictures. As it is, most of them are ordinary in concept and mediocre in execution.

Sometimes people just have a bad day. This was one. Because of the time factor, there's no opportunity to reshoot and the money is already spent, so you go with what you've got and put out some BS about how you were trying to be edgy and different. I find it strange that you insist on treating this as a considered artistic choice when the guy himself is telling you it was actually a clusterfuck.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:46 PM on July 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


If he was there for journalism rather than advertising he should have taken shots of the event itself. All the athletes moving between photographers & studio setups.
posted by the_artificer at 1:49 PM on July 6, 2012


Like when the two largest national TV news stations both got the biggest Supreme court decision in ~20 years completely wrong last week.

They didn't get it wrong. They were trying to show a different point of view, to show that they are real people. Couldn't you tell? When professionals do a bad job, that just means they meant to do it that way for some clever reason.
posted by The World Famous at 1:49 PM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


On the contrary, Holland is standing in the country itself, on the land and in the open air. It's the trappings of power, politics and ceremony that are relegated to the background. Rightly so, for a Socialist president.

Oh please, people who live in cities aren't authentic socialists, because they've lost touch with their bucolic peasant roots?
posted by anigbrowl at 1:49 PM on July 6, 2012


I don't find these pictures particularly striking, but I do generally like them.

More than that, they seem to me to very clearly embody a particular aesthetic, and I'm not at all surprised that they piss off more traditional portrait photographers. They're pretty intensely subversive in the way that they take bad conditions and emphasize their badness, and still manage to create good human portraits.

But then, I think most high art is pretentious crap.
posted by lodurr at 1:50 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have a camera. I take photographs. Therefore I am a photographer by definition.

If your aesthetic needs to be explained for ordinary people to understand that something is good or bad, then your aesthetic is broken.
posted by lodurr at 1:52 PM on July 6, 2012


When professionals do a bad job, that just means they meant to do it that way for some clever reason.

We should generalize this to other spheres of activity. Metalock: He doesn't know the law, but he can make one up!
posted by anigbrowl at 1:53 PM on July 6, 2012


Metalock?

Please let that be the best possible typo for this discussion.
posted by The World Famous at 1:54 PM on July 6, 2012


Man, the condescending snarkiness really adds a lot to the conversation. Keep it up, y'all.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:55 PM on July 6, 2012


Metalock: Not a lawyer, but this seems pretty obvious so he'll answer anyway.
posted by The World Famous at 1:56 PM on July 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


anigbrowl et al. clearly do not like the photographs, which is fine. What I do not understand is why some insist that everyone must realize that they are simply bad photographs, mistakes, and/or the result of corporations or individuals covering their ass.

Some regular people, including me, really like the pictures. I do not insist that others should as well. Although I like to put out threads for others to grab on in order so that they could get some enjoyment out of looking at the pictures too. Others have done that for me when I was scratching my head, sometimes it helped me see, sometimes not.
posted by snaparapans at 1:57 PM on July 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


So he showed up woefully under-prepared -- that quote wasn't in the first few links I looked at, & I regarded the pictures before I read any of the criticism. So maybe I was wrong about intent, and it's just happenstance. I still think he did a decent job of working with what he had to make a cohesive set of pictures.

The outrage seems to be out of proportion to the circumstances & intent of the whole thing. A news agency sent a photographer to a media event, and this is what he came back with.

In the end though, it's still doing what I think art should do, which is to make people think. That part is cool.
posted by Devils Rancher at 1:57 PM on July 6, 2012


I think that some of these photos are pretty good and do a decent job of showing what, if anything, Klamar was going for. I think claims that he was trying to subvert the overriding aesthetic of sports photography are specious.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:02 PM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


These shots are fantastic.

Challenging, difficult to understand, subversive, anti-Olympics, anti-technology (the one with the torn paper is my favourite). How many images do you see in an average day like that?

How any intelligent person could believe, for a nanosecond, that this experienced photographer 'just fucked up' or wasn't up to the job, is beyond my comprehension.

You can learn how to take decent photos in a weekend - and that's just the technical stuff about getting light into the camera, aperture, speed etc. The 'composition' elements are even simpler - intuitive, any child can frame a shot in a balanced way.
posted by colie at 2:02 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bad art should make people think about how bad it is.
posted by found missing at 2:04 PM on July 6, 2012


> snaparapans: Is that another way of saying that you just do not like them? Because, to say that there is not much aesthetic merit is a bit absurd, imo, because they are at this very moment being discussed quite widely as regards their aesthetics.

The visual arts are based on aesthetic principles developed over a long history. It is perfectly legitimate to make judgments about works based on these principles. Every work does not have equal merit.
posted by spindling at 2:04 PM on July 6, 2012


shocking (for a professional) abuses of on-camera flash

If we are talking about making interesting images here, in a world hypersaturated with visual stimulus, this kind of criticism is meaningless.
posted by colie at 2:06 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's really easy to overstate the intentionality of a professional's response to a bad situation. But that's not to say that the response is un-intentional.

He probably didn't have a grand plan. But he walked in, made aesthetic decisions on the fly, lit and posed people the way he lit and posed them in response to the situation.

It is what it is. There were very clearly conscious decisions made to make it that way. If people want to say "I don't like these shots" and explain why they don't like them, fine -- but if you want to say "these are bad photographs", you should have an aesthetic theory to back that up that give you the authority to decide whether something is "bad" or "good." I'm not seeing that here.
posted by lodurr at 2:09 PM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Another thing you can learn in 1-3 minutes in a photo hire shop is how to set up the lights for these kind of shots.

It's inconceivable that the dude 'fucked up.' The pics rock.
posted by colie at 2:11 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


The instant somebody else disagrees with your opinion, yours stops being the only one that matters. Duh-doy.

It's funny that MetaFilter needs to argue over shit like this as if there's a "professional" opinion that is somehow worth more than any other observer's. Perhals a professional can shed illumination on the thought process (or lack thereof) that goes into work like that but your expert authority ends there. Has anybody noticed, though, that in threads like these the people who actually work in the field are way chiller than the people who have seemingly no authority other than "insistently says 'you're wrong' on the Internet"?

"aesthetic merit" is one of the worst phrases.
posted by Rory Marinich at 2:16 PM on July 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


On the contrary, Hollande is standing in the country itself, on the land and in the open air. It's the trappings of power, politics and ceremony that are relegated to the background. Rightly so, for a Socialist president.

Even more appropriate is that he is left of center.
posted by brain_drain at 2:19 PM on July 6, 2012


Bad art should make people think about how bad it is.

Well, had these just been normal, or mediocre even, we wouldn't be having this tread, so yeah, that too, if you find it bad. I like to give a lot of latitude before I judge, probably because of all the years I've spent as a bad artist.

He probably didn't have a grand plan. But he walked in, made aesthetic decisions on the fly, lit and posed people the way he lit and posed them in response to the situation.

I think he made out alright.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:19 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


How any intelligent person could believe, for a nanosecond, that this experienced photographer 'just fucked up' or wasn't up to the job, is beyond my comprehension.

Would your comprehension be assisted by reading the article where the photographer discusses the reason why the pictures came out looking this way? Here's an excerpt:
Klamar, however, said that the real reason the photos came out looking the way they did was because he didn't know he was being sent to take portraits.

Klamar said in a statement today that AFP had never before been invited to attend the summit, and did not know that they would be able to set up a studio for the portraits.

"I thought I was going to photograph athletes on stage, or during a press conference," says the photographer. "But when I arrived in the morning, all my colleagues had already set up their mini-studio with professional lighting, backdrops, props and ... Me, nobody told me there would be the possibility to set up a studio. It was a very embarrassing situation. "
posted by The World Famous at 2:23 PM on July 6, 2012


How any intelligent person could believe, for a nanosecond, that this experienced photographer 'just fucked up' or wasn't up to the job, is beyond my comprehension.

Talented, experienced people fuck up all the time.

I don't know any photographer who learned everything they know in a weekend or 1-3 minutes. Colie, are you perhaps bionic? I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.
posted by girlmightlive at 2:23 PM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


The visual arts are based on aesthetic principles developed over a long history. It is perfectly legitimate to make judgments about works based on these principles.

True, but aesthetics is the field that discusses beauty. There is much of that sort of discussion going on here. My sense was that shakespeherian did not like the pictures or the aesthetics of the photographer. To say that there was no aesthetic merit does not seem possible to me if the discussion is about beauty or visual artistry of a thing. Maybe it just boils down to making judgements that are personal, rather than making a universal statement that basically says these photographs are not worthy of discussion.
posted by snaparapans at 2:25 PM on July 6, 2012


What I do not understand is why some insist that everyone must realize that they are simply bad photographs

Like most people (I think), my initial response was 'meh, these are really quite poor,' but then some people came along insisting that they were subversive and that because they're the output of an experienced photographer, they must be good. Which is nonsense.

you should have an aesthetic theory to back that up

I do, but this comment is too small to contain it. At a minimum, if you're going to shoot with artificial light then you should know how to control it. when I found that he turned up with only a single flash, well that explains a lot because there's only so much you can do with a single flash. On the other hand you should know enough about exposure not to blow out your picture, and if you've only got one light source but you do have a roll of background paper, then you should consider bouncing your light to diffuse it instead of making the subject inaccessible to the viewer.

Put it this way, suppose you're watching a foot race and one of the competitors trips and falls flat on his face after 10 yards. You can argue that s/he's making a statement about the limitations of good intentions, or about wanting to be closer to the earth, or about the effect of climate change on human development if we don't take action right now, but it's probably more accurate to say s/he faceplanted and lost the race.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:32 PM on July 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sometimes when things go wrong, the unanticipated result is better than the thing you were trying to accomplish in the first place. This mediocre shot is what I was trying to take. This is the previous accident that I nearly deleted after fumbling in the dark for the remote, & failing to get the biggest flash to fire at all. It's also the one that the editor chose for the cover our our newsletter. It just rolls that way once in a while.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:36 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Would your comprehension be assisted by reading the article where the photographer discusses the reason why the pictures came out looking this way?

Some of my best works are generated by mistakes. Some artists put themselves in awkward situations, or rely on chance just to get outside of themselves and their normal choices. In the end good artists know which mistakes to edit out, and which ones to keep.

And another way to look at the quote is that Kamar is responding to the question: Why are these pictures not traditional portraits?

He may have been embarrassed by the fact that he was the only photographer who did not have a mini-studio, but he did in no way say that he was embarrassed by his work.

The fact that the editors got what they wanted by putting him in a tough situation, suggests that they knew what kind of work he does and wanted to see what he came up with under the circumstances. Had they wanted something else, they certainly could have provided him with assistants and all the equipment he wanted or needed. They chose well, and wound up pleased.

And as far as the outrage goes, well, all that are involved are taking that right to the bank.
posted by snaparapans at 2:36 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


snaparapans, I said that I don't think there's any aesthetic merit, not that no one is allowed to think there is. I reserve the right to believe that they are wrong, however.

I'm not outraged by these photos. I think they're pretty shitty, and I think that they're pretty shitty because the photographer didn't know what he was getting into until the last second and wasn't prepared and they somehow wound up going out on the wire service anyway, which-- oh well. I think he's a pretty great photographer judging by his other stuff (that Obama in Prague photo is ace), and I think he took some shitty pictures in this instance. Shruggo.

If anyone in particular thinks that these photos are great, then I'm glad that those anyones have found something that they enjoy-- and I mean that sincerely. However, like Bruckheimer movies and the works of Ratt (which each have their fans) I occasionally indulge in the right to say, without reservation, that those things are shit, aesthetically. I'm not a professional photographer, but my wife is, on occasion, and several of my good friends are [not photographerist], and I've taken and made enough art to be able to say with confidence that this is not good photography, regardless of subversion or metacommentary or whathaveyou. I'm better-versed in metacommentary than I am in photography.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:39 PM on July 6, 2012


but then some people came along insisting that they were subversive and that because they're the output of an experienced photographer, they must be good.

So you decided to do the same thing that others did, insist? Just because you have a theory about the images, and you like them or don't, does not make the images one thing or another. People can't be wrong about liking something particularly when it comes to art. Sure people can change their view when given additional information, or due to general experience or mood, but they can't be wrong. To insist that point is basically an unnecessary put down, imo.
posted by snaparapans at 2:42 PM on July 6, 2012


Is this something I'd need to know the background of the photographer to understand that it is good?
posted by found missing at 2:46 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Would your comprehension be assisted by reading the article where the photographer discusses the reason why the pictures came out looking this way?

This is insane.

I clicked the link and the photo at the top shows an Olympic jock guy doing his thing in front of an infinity cyclorama, and the photographer has shown us the edge of the paper and drawn attention to the artifice of the moment in a way that seems to make perfect sense (at least to me, living in London, where the anti-Olympics mood is just getting going).

Can anyone really believe that he did that as a mistake? Perhaps he slipped and was falling over as he pressed the button.
posted by colie at 2:47 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


shakespeherian: I don't know for sure but I think that you are getting into deep water when you argue this:

I've taken and made enough art to be able to say with confidence that this is not good photography

Mainly generally agreeing on what is good photographyis a very slippery subject. And particularly with this photographer who makes statements with his work by using both photographic language (dark/light) and signifiers (ripped seamless) to construct meaning, getting into what is good on absolute level is pretty impossible.

And the photographer said he was not prepared to do set up portraits, but he did not ever say, as far as I can tell, that he thought his work was poor.
posted by snaparapans at 2:50 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Perhaps he slipped and was falling over as he pressed the button.

I'v gotten good shots this way, too.
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:51 PM on July 6, 2012


And the photographer said he was not prepared to do set up portraits, but he did not ever say, as far as I can tell, that he thought his work was poor.

I don't see how that matters?
posted by shakespeherian at 2:51 PM on July 6, 2012


I don't know any photographer who learned everything they know in a weekend or 1-3 minutes. Colie, are you perhaps bionic? I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

I take that comment back, I was only a photographer's assistant, and you're right the dudes I worked for had heaps of technical knowledge and technique that took ages to build up.

But they'd all have gladly traded it for the kind of impact that these images, or some of Terry Richardson's, have had recently.

Regarding the 'showing up with a single flash' stuff - I think he's a reportage photographer, and so he 'reportaged' the event? Amazingly well in my opinion.
posted by colie at 2:53 PM on July 6, 2012


Can anyone really believe that he did that as a mistake? Perhaps he slipped and was falling over as he pressed the button.

I don't think anyone has asserted that he took the picture by mistake.

And the photographer said he was not prepared to do set up portraits, but he did not ever say, as far as I can tell, that he thought his work was poor.

So?
posted by The World Famous at 2:53 PM on July 6, 2012


Can anyone really believe that he did that as a mistake? Perhaps he slipped and was falling over as he pressed the button.

well, that's the thing is we don't know for sure. But from what I'm reading it sounds like he was incredibly rushed, and that perhaps there wasn't really all that much editorial oversight as the pics went from his storage media to Getty and then out to the news orgs. Which sounds to me like, yes, a situation in which a photographer can have a mistake that wasn't intending for publication go out to the world. did that happen? I don't know. Seems possible to me, though.

I think too many people are forgetting that it's not like this guy got an assignment from a publisher and this was how he fulfilled it. He did make-work and it ended up on a site that said "gimme a bunch of photos." For all he knew, no one would see a single one of these, and while that could be the perfect opportunity for a photog to try out new stuff or make some kind of artistic point, it could also be where he doesn't try very hard and mistakes get through.
posted by shmegegge at 2:57 PM on July 6, 2012


Can anyone really believe that he did that as a mistake?

The thing is that it doesn't matter. Simply doing something on purpose doesn't make a piece better.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:59 PM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't see how that matters?

It matters only because some are using an anecdote (quote) to support their opinion of the work. It is weak in that he only talked about tough conditions, but did not comment on the pictures themselves which is the subject of the discussion.

At best it is an interesting anecdote/quote, at worst it is irrelevant. The pictures stand on their own.
posted by snaparapans at 3:02 PM on July 6, 2012


Can anyone really believe that he did that as a mistake?

The thing is that it doesn't matter. Simply doing something on purpose doesn't make a piece better.


I agree, but I just think the image in question really has something interesting about it and I doubt that it could have gone public without someone, not necessarily the photographer, feeling the same way.
posted by colie at 3:03 PM on July 6, 2012


And even if he did comment that he did not like the pictures he took, the worth or quality would still be irrelevant, although it would lead to another more difficult discussion.
posted by snaparapans at 3:05 PM on July 6, 2012


Proposition: It is impossible for a good photographer to make a bad series of photos. By definition they are good because he is good.
posted by found missing at 3:06 PM on July 6, 2012


Which is why I don't understand people continually talking about the series looking that way intentionally.
posted by shakespeherian at 3:07 PM on July 6, 2012


Read over the photographer's statements one more time; you can't actually disprove the possibility that he was reacting to the embarrassing situation by choosing subverting it. So we must return to using aesthetics to prove/disprove the act of intentional subversion.

It all come back to one thing: framing and intention are really important.
posted by victory_laser at 3:09 PM on July 6, 2012


Yeah, no, it's not a mistake, and it's entirely reflective of the culture. When I said "the Terry Richardson effect" upthread ... let me unpack a bit. This is the flip side of Andy's coin, the turning of a soup can or movie still into the essence of what is iconic. This is taking it the other way, giving the viewer an undone presentation of "athlete" or "hero" or "President" in a way that's if to say, Hey, you, ordinary Facebooking person, you are just a photo posting or a pin or an instagram away from being a star too. There's nothing to it. Greatness is within reach and it's just as sloppy and unkempt and offhand and regular as you are. It's more special snowflake syndrome.
posted by thinkpiece at 3:09 PM on July 6, 2012


The fact that the editors got what they wanted by putting him in a tough situation, suggests that they knew what kind of work he does and wanted to see what he came up with under the circumstances. Had they wanted something else, they certainly could have provided him with assistants and all the equipment he wanted or needed. They chose well, and wound up pleased.

Are you familiar with the expression 'putting a brave face on it'? I personally do not believe that AFP deliberately sent him in to take portraits without much experience or equipment as a way of getting him out of his comfort zone and expanding his photographic pallette.

Regarding the 'showing up with a single flash' stuff - I think he's a reportage photographer, and so he 'reportaged' the event? Amazingly well in my opinion.

Yes, that's why there are no shots of the assembly line of photography setups the athletes are moving through. He didn't reportage the event, or he'd have walked around taking pictures of athletes being photographed by other photographers. Instead, he persuaded an organizer to let him double up with another photographer.

I agree, but I just think the image in question really has something interesting about it and I doubt that it could have gone public without someone, not necessarily the photographer, feeling the same way.

He's the agency's only photographer at this event, so it's publish or get no revenue at all. In this age of the internet, throwing a bunch of content out there and seeing what sticks is far more common than carefully editing it; this is the downside of the all-digital pipeline. There's an amusing example in one of the photography blogs in the FPP where the author refers to 'Mark Phelps', having confused Michael Phelps with with previous world-record-holder Mark Spitz. This is later corrected with a 'LOL late night my bad', but back in the days of print publication this would have earned a stinging rebuke. Today it's all about speed, not quality.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:10 PM on July 6, 2012


This is taking it the other way, giving the viewer an undone presentation of "athlete" or "hero" or "President" in a way that's if to say, Hey, you, ordinary Facebooking person, you are just a photo posting or a pin or an instagram away from being a star too.

I would buy this if he had shot them on a phone.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:12 PM on July 6, 2012


My mom loved Metalock and was sad when Andy Griffith passed away.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:13 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


The pictures stand on their own.

Until someone says that their merit springs from their having been intentionally flawed.

If you like the pictures, that's fine.

It looks to me like he really did make the most of a tough situation with a few of them. But with others, there's no way in hell that he intended them to be blown out or to have bad lighting on purpose. Again, if you like them in spite of or even because of those characteristics, that's perfectly fine. But I don't think there's any evidence to suggest that those particular characteristics are intentional subversion of the paradigm of professional photographs usually not being blown out or having bad lighting.
posted by The World Famous at 3:13 PM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I still would like to know why there are typical sports portraits mixed in if what we're doing here is not an attempt at that.
posted by shakespeherian at 3:13 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Which is why I don't understand people continually talking about the series looking that way intentionally.

I think that there is merit in discussing the intentionality of the photographer in that the images are consistent with his style. The body of the artists work make the specific work more interesting, as you get to understand the language the artist is speaking.

But generally, what artists say is not the holy grail, as most artists, contradict themselves often, and are are to close to their own work to see what is going on. One of the reasons that curators/museums are happiest when an artist is dead.
posted by snaparapans at 3:14 PM on July 6, 2012


(It does seem apparent to me, however, that he recognized the risk that, by using another photographer's gear and setup, his photos would end up looking exactly like those of the other photographer unless he did something dramatically different. It's clear that he intentionally took a risk in a tricky situation. And I respect that, regardless of how the pictures actually look.)
posted by The World Famous at 3:15 PM on July 6, 2012


He didn't reportage the event, or he'd have walked around taking pictures of athletes being photographed by other photographers.

I feel like I've seen pics like that before, maybe in the 60s. People even do that at weddings nowadays.

For me, he reportaged the feeling of the precise moment in which athletes create these ridiculous poses for our benefit, not theirs, that actually have nothing to do with their real job as incredible performers, and the empty feeling it gives them was portrayed.

After seeing these I find it much harder to take seriously the usual Coca Cola athlete images. That sounds simple but surely it's a hell of thing to pull off?
posted by colie at 3:18 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Intentional use of unflattering portrait lighting that supports the concept of the photograph: Arnold Newman's portrait of Alfred Krupp
posted by spindling at 3:22 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Which is why I don't understand people continually talking about the series looking that way intentionally.

Eh, in my case, I was just torturing logic for accidentally liking something that's objectively bad.
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:23 PM on July 6, 2012


I still would like to know why there are typical sports portraits mixed in if what we're doing here is not an attempt at that.

Well, I do not really know what typical sports photographs look like, mainly because I have little interest in sports. But I would be happy to analyze each photograph with you and see how they do or do not relate to the artists aesthetic, or other conventional sports photographers.

And I am no expert on this photographer, but the brief look I have had at his work via this discussion, suggests that he thinks about the entire photograph as a group of signs in a frame, rather than a the main subject in a background.
posted by snaparapans at 3:23 PM on July 6, 2012


I can't help it, this just keeps going through my head.
posted by Evilspork at 3:50 PM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I still would like to know why there are typical sports portraits mixed in if what we're doing here is not an attempt at that.

Oh, I see what you mean. I had only looked at Kalmar's pics.. In the bunch there are some other odd ones, but Kalmar's are pretty out there compared to the rest. As far as the attempt at 100% typical, it does not appear to be the editor's intent, otherwise they would not have included many or most of Kalmar's pics.
posted by snaparapans at 4:05 PM on July 6, 2012


The one I linked to is one of Klamar's but looks a lot more like the sort of thing that is to be expected from these sorts of shoots.
posted by shakespeherian at 4:29 PM on July 6, 2012


This has nothing to do with airbrushing. The photos from my brother's wedding look better than these. It is in fact possible to photograph regular people, sans makeup, in such a way that they do not look like outtakes from a mockumentary about Wal-Mart.
posted by gentian at 4:39 PM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the Slate article outlines a lot of good reasons why the photos are what they are. But I would also Nth that these were deliberate stylistic choices, whatever you may think of them, not some kind of horrible accident. Dude was probably pissed at getting such a shitty, disorganised job, decided to shoot a series taking the mickey out of it, surprised anyone bought it.
posted by smoke at 4:41 PM on July 6, 2012


Oh, that is what I thought you were saying, but then I thought you meant all of the pictures on the cbs link.

Yes I agree, although a bit darker than most pics of him which show of his torso. The face, the tattoo, and the black strap, and the tattoo partially washed out, seems editorial to me. But I do have a very active imagination. The only one I did not particularly care for at first by Klamar was this one.

I find it hard to read. Although looking at her google images, it is really striking. Most are glamourous or sexy. This could be a cindy sherman mid life crisis series pic.
posted by snaparapans at 4:47 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I work in a visual field and have off days: I've taken to reassuring myself by saying "even the best batsmen get out for a duck".

As a professional myself, I wouldn't raise the middle finger in response to a difficult situation by trying to create a meta-commentary on the athletes - who the fuck am I to impose my thoughts on Olympic portraiture, thoughts that I would have had to have come up with in a few seconds while I was trying to organize a studio to shoot in. These athletes have been giving their whole life to the sport, I'm going to take the best photos I can.

The fact is that Klamar is not a studio photographer and had this assignment foisted on him at the last minute. I imagine that the ripped paper photo was later in the shoot; he had had enough of shooting people standing and wanted to try something different but by now the paper was torn from all the athletes traipsing through. He only had a couple of minutes, "Surely, they can photoshop that rip out easily and quickly," he thought.

Unless Klamar is an asshole, of which there is no evidence, I think he tried to do a professional job under impossible conditions. He went home had a beer and thought, "Thank fuck today is over. Hopefully tomorrow will be better."
posted by meech at 5:31 PM on July 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


This really shouldn't go without being answered: The visual arts are based on aesthetic principles developed over a long history. It is perfectly legitimate to make judgments about works based on these principles. Every work does not have equal merit.

Where to start.....

How about: This statement has no merit.

Why?

Because it's pernicious, and promotes a view of art that is stagnant and normative, which is nihilistic to the actual function of art.

The function of art is to answer conflict: logical, emotional, literal, developmental... the function of art is not necessarily to resolve the conflict, but to integrate or re-integrate it in some sense. (Or maybe to intentionally leave it un-integrated.)

That is to say, art exists because things aren't perfect.

Good art is often quite ugly. Beautiful art -- art that's aesthetically pleasing -- is often quite uninteresting by comparison with the ugly stuff.

By some standards of "good" -- and I'm thinking of functional standards -- it's not even very important for the art to be recognized as interesting by other people, if it accomplishes its main purpose.
posted by lodurr at 5:38 PM on July 6, 2012


I'm also still utterly failing to understand the responses along the lines of 'unless he's [an asshole / incompetent] this is a fuck up and not intentional.'

You're presuming a professional standard that exists only because and as long as you say it does. As soon as someone else thinks they're good pictures, and if they look as they're intended to, that judgement is meaningless.
posted by lodurr at 5:40 PM on July 6, 2012


Hi-larious! I love these shots. More, I love that this photographer managed to get under so many critic's and expert's skin. I've been ignoring the Olympics but these shots got my attention.
posted by evilDoug at 6:41 PM on July 6, 2012


I'm also still utterly failing to understand the responses along the lines of 'unless he's [an asshole / incompetent] this is a fuck up and not intentional.'

Well, I mean, I don't really understand the responses along the lines of 'no professional would produce portraits like these unless he was making a metastatement on photojournalism and the commercialization of the Olympics.'

I don't mean that that's the wrong interpretation; for all I know this was an artistic choice and some of us (including me) don't understand it or it doesn't engage us. But it's also just ninety degrees from my experience of sports photography, and what I need those shots to be and do. As a shooter/editor, I don't engage with the artistic value of photography at all- I need photos to reproduce well, tell a particular story, etc. I sometimes say that I think of photography as a craft, not an art. As craft, these shots wouldn't be my first choices for an editorial spread about Olympic athletes. But, I mean, as art, what the fuck do I know?!

(I actually don't even know what makes a photo artistically good; I mean, I can sort of tell if a photo is badly composed, but...let me put it this way, I'm too embarrassed by my lack of understanding of this stuff to post my photos on Flickr or any of the photo-critique sites because I can't tell if they're, like, a couple degrees from being good or complete amateur bullcrap.)
posted by Snarl Furillo at 7:01 PM on July 6, 2012


Olympics™.
posted by srboisvert at 7:02 PM on July 6, 2012


I don't mean that that's the wrong interpretation; for all I know this was an artistic choice and some of us (including me) don't understand it or it doesn't engage us. But it's also just ninety degrees from my experience of sports photography, and what I need those shots to be and do.

Wait, I feel like I phrased that badly. I guess what I meant is that editorially, I'm not concerned with what the photo is or means artistically. I need an editorial photo, not an artistic photo. They're different. It's possible for a photo to succeed artistically and fail editorially. I think these fail editorially, and I don't have the expertise to critique them artistically. (As an editor, they would irritate me and any defense of them along the lines of, "But they're supposed to irritate you! They are intentionally ugly!" would irritate me more and I would feel like, "Well, do art on your own damn dime." But again, that doesn't mean anything about their artistic value.)
posted by Snarl Furillo at 7:26 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


This thread- it is like a haystack of stupid onto which I would like to drop a match, walk away, and never speak of again. Years of what I interpreted to be intelligent commentary on Metafilter have now been called into question. How many threads about subjects on which I have limited/no expertise have been similarly filled with such specious information that I took at face value?

This one field though, I know too well. I am a photographer. Specifically, I am an editorial photographer. Even more specifically, I am, most days, an editorial portrait photographer.

This whole thing? Colossal fuckup. The AFP desk fucked up and the photographer fucked up. News photographers are not often comfortable or capable with studio gear and setups. His desk should have sent someone who was and he should have stuck to red carpet coverage. Do I feel for the guy? Sure. The internet is like a billion angry bees/schoolyard bullies when it smells this kind of chum in the water.

While I can't even begin to get on board with the conspiracy theories suggesting these portraits are intentionally bad and subversive, I prefer that interpretation to folks out there insisting these are actually good photos.

If this is the level of visual literacy I'm up against, I fucking quit.

Anyone want to buy $20k worth of camera gear?
posted by TheGoldenOne at 7:56 PM on July 6, 2012 [18 favorites]


> lodurr: Beautiful art -- art that's aesthetically pleasing -- is often quite uninteresting by comparison with the ugly stuff.

I never said that art must be beautiful for it to be interesting or successful.

My point is that there are established visual principles that can be used to judge visual art.

Have you ever read reviews of films or of pieces of music? What do you think critics' opinions are based on? Each of these forms has criteria that can be used to judge works.
posted by spindling at 8:00 PM on July 6, 2012


As both a professional and fine art photographer, let me just say, it is the god-given right of any given photographer to fail, miserably, at his or her craft.

In return, it is given unto the hoi polloi to strike down such failure with savage snark.

Yet... Let me defend. Dude was stuck in a studio without lights, reflectors or softboxes, and a time horizon that included "yesterday"... Yosuf Karsh had the entire electrical grid of Iceland upgraded to handle his strobes. Dude is =clearly= no Karsh, yet does the best he can with the on-camera strobe. Respect.

The pictures still suck, tho. Objectively, as an educated and experienced photog.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:54 PM on July 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


While I can't even begin to get on board with the conspiracy theories suggesting these portraits are intentionally bad and subversive, I prefer that interpretation to folks out there insisting these are actually good photos.

If this is the level of visual literacy I'm up against, I fucking quit.

Anyone want to buy $20k worth of camera gear?


But there is no such thing as a 'good photo'. If there is, it probably isn't one that requires 20k worth of kit.

While I respect your expertise absolutely, your enraged reaction suggest that you have indeed been trolled, whether it was the photographer's intention or not. And it is a fact that there are now some images right out there in the mainstream which subvert the GO US-Coca Cola nothingness of the standard form used for this kind of visual communication.
posted by colie at 12:27 AM on July 7, 2012


visual literacy

Surely this is something in constant change and dialogue, and culturally defined, not by you or any other photographer.
posted by colie at 12:34 AM on July 7, 2012


Reminds me of the thread speculating about what went through Zimmerman's head in Florida. In the end it's largely a reflection of how we make judgments, more than anything.

On this point, I think it's interesting to note:

It looks to me like he really did make the most of a tough situation with a few of them. But with others, there's no way in hell that he intended them to be blown out or to have bad lighting on purpose

i think the reason we were able to debate the intentionality and merit of these photos for this long is that theyre somewhat varied and in our minds we were able to cherry pick the ones that supported the story we liked best, without cluing the others in to which photos we were referencing.
posted by victory_laser at 1:05 AM on July 7, 2012


But there is no such thing as a 'good photo'. If there is, it probably isn't one that requires 20k worth of kit.

I wish you were my art director. Show up with a p&s, take a few snapshots of a model or product, and declare that whatever the one-hour lab shat out of its printer to be perfect and inviolate "art". Much easier than shooting medium or large format, and hey, onboard flash, right? Who needs monolights?

Or maybe this kind of photography is about craft rather than art? I think you'd be a bit peeved if a custom cabinetmaket stapled an empty beer case to the wall, scrawled "cabinet" underneath it with a sharpie, and then charged you a custom cabinet price for their edgy and transgressive art...
posted by Slap*Happy at 1:30 AM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Surely this is something in constant change and dialogue, and culturally defined, not by you or any other photographer.

No, basic visual literacy is not up for constant change and dialogue. These photos are wrong in the same way that it was wrong for you to use reportage as a verb, when the word you wanted was 'report'.

This is the lowest-common-denominator internet factor that I was talking about above; although I used to be a fervent evangelist for the democratizing effect of the internet, I've changed my mind because over the last 20 years it's become increasingly clear that the internet promotes mediocrity by providing anything with a critical mass of believers on short notice. I know that sounds terribly old fartish of me, but all this talk about subversion and unintentional trolling...it's bollocks. I feel sorry for the photographer, but while you're praising the idea that he's subverting the presentation of the athletes by marketing people you're just regurgitating the marketing speak from the press agency, which is of a kind you're less familiar with and thus more willing to take at face value. No offense mate, but you (unintentionally) sound like a camera salesman.

i think the reason we were able to debate the intentionality and merit of these photos for this long is that theyre somewhat varied and in our minds we were able to cherry pick the ones that supported the story we liked best, without cluing the others in to which photos we were referencing.

There's specific photos linked upthread for being blown out, having mixed lighting, or the subjects being so in shadow as to be almost hidden. I was just too lazy to re-link them. Shakespeherian's comments, I think.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:55 AM on July 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Or maybe this kind of photography is about craft rather than art? I think you'd be a bit peeved if a custom cabinetmaket stapled an empty beer case to the wall, scrawled "cabinet" underneath it with a sharpie, and then charged you a custom cabinet price for their edgy and transgressive art...

You're way behind the curve. Find yourself a hobo, and wrestle away his shopping cart. Take it home, and shove it in the corner. That is your drinks cabinet, one you will truly appreciate every time you finger the scars you incurred while appropriating it.

I? I was merely the genius - the creator of the idea that caused you to begin seeing stolen shopping carts as furniture. With only a concept, I have invaded your mind, and changed this universe.

$2 million is not too much to ask for such a bauble. A bauble of the mind.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:03 AM on July 7, 2012


spindling: If this is the level of visual literacy I'm up against, I fucking quit.

I'm tempted to say, "please do," but instead I'll point out that you use the term "literacy", which implies a language. That's a problematic enough concept to start with, since the whole concept of visual language has been massively overblown, but let's just go with it and point out that literacy must be learned. If people aren't learning it, there must be reasons -- and one of the biggest of those reasons could be and probably is that people don't see a need to learn it.

And why should they, when they have a "visual language" that is more culturally appropriate to them and their circumstances?

Why, really, should people care about the specific "visual literacy" that allows you and others here to say "these are bad photos"? I'm just not hearing that -- I'm hearing "there are aesthetics" and "there are standards", but nobody seems to be able to say what those are and why we should care.

Sheez, I mean, at least the type fetishists occasionally make at least implicit claims to data via phrases like 'better readability'. But here -- I guess the metric for 'bad' is 'professionals inculcated with the standards of the professional field dislike it.'

Well, frankly: Fuck that. If that's our standard, we'd never get new music, new visual art, new poetry, new prose, new anything much.
posted by lodurr at 4:17 AM on July 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


No, basic visual literacy is not up for constant change and dialogue.

Yes, actually, it kind of is, as long as the concept you're trading is "literacy." Because that's how literacy works.
posted by lodurr at 4:19 AM on July 7, 2012


spindling: Have you ever read reviews of films or of pieces of music? What do you think critics' opinions are based on? Each of these forms has criteria that can be used to judge works.

I'm left to infer your point, which I take to be that since someone somewhere that some people rely on as an authority has used standards to make evaluations, that means there are transcendent criteria.

If you have a less strong statement of the point than that, please by all means provide it, but if it's anything less than that, I'm not sure how it's relevant to anything.
posted by lodurr at 4:21 AM on July 7, 2012


Basically, as far as I can see, all of the condemnation and (really more important) dismissal from the professional wing amounts to 'he's not following our conventions for portraiture.'

Fine: By the standards that you hold for your craft, he's being a poor craftsman.

The same could be said of legions of artists throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, whether showing in galleries, printed in books as illustrations (and later as comic art), shown in film as animated stories, or published in various venues as advertisements. All of these things broke the aesthetic conventions of their time, and in the process defined the aesthetic conventions of ours.

If you want to say that Klamar is somehow violating the conventions in a more transcendent way, then I'm all ears -- but I'm not seeing any evidence or even actual arguments supporting that view, just assertions that these conventions exist.
posted by lodurr at 5:44 AM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I find it fascinating that this is the topic that Metafilter has suddenly gone all traditionalist about.
posted by gjc at 7:21 AM on July 7, 2012


> colie: there is no such thing as a 'good photo'

> lodurr: someone somewhere that some people rely on as an authority has used standards to make evaluations, that means there are transcendent criteria.

Have you ever watched a movie and afterwards thought to yourself: "wow that was good"?

How did you come to that conclusion?

Do you really think it's not OK to have opinions on art and to make judgements whether pieces are successful?
posted by spindling at 7:22 AM on July 7, 2012


Have you ever watched a movie and afterwards thought to yourself: "wow that was good"?

And a subtile point because we often say "wow that was good" to ourselves, or to close friends who share the same tastes and values, but in a diverse group stating that as fact is provocative.

I think it makes for a more interesting discussion when someone says I really liked that movie rather than that movie was good because that is stating an opinion, rather than stating a fact.
posted by snaparapans at 7:35 AM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Basically, as far as I can see, all of the condemnation and (really more important) dismissal from the professional wing amounts to 'he's not following our conventions for portraiture

No, it's that he's making rookie studio mistakes. It's possible to circumvent the conventions of the studio with purpose and skill, and it happens pretty much monthly in any given fashion magazine with one layout or another. Its possible to play with the medium, using deliberately "wrong" equipment choices, lomo cameras and instagram app, hello.

This isn't that. It has all the hallmarks of a sports photographer who's not as strong in the studio, crammed into a terrible situation with unfamiliar equipment and a ludicrously chaotic environment.

Now, some folks believe being a "name" in the field entitles the artist to uncritical adoration and acceptance. I don't subscribe to that point of view. It's crass elitism. Its possible to have an off day behind the camera, even if you're famous.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:37 AM on July 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


No, it's that he's making rookie studio mistakes.

Is it a rookie studio mistake to have torn seamless featuring prominently in the shot? If he thought photoshop it later, why didn't he?
posted by snaparapans at 8:33 AM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


If he thought photoshop it later, why didn't he?

He would have been fired. Like most photojournalistic wire services, AFP probably have a strict code of ethics (in line with their values on the AFP website) which would prohibit photoshopping out rips in a paper. I've never worked with AFP, but have signed plenty of other contracts with agencies and publications that specifically forbid photo manipulation.
posted by msbrauer at 9:02 AM on July 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Have you ever watched a movie and afterwards thought to yourself: "wow that was good"?

How did you come to that conclusion?


Seriosly, is that your justification for claiming there are universal aesthetic standards? Because I'm not getting the connection at all.

Do you really think it's not OK to have opinions on art and to make judgements whether pieces are successful?

Oh, no, I think that's fine. But that's not what you're doing. You're saying "this is an error", "this is bad", and appealing to some kind of professional or other aesthetic standard to justify that. You're not saying "this is successful" / "this is not successful." What you are saying is "this is not successful from the perspective of a professional portrait photographer", or "this is not successful according to the aesthetic that I personally deployed as a photographic editor for a news organization" -- and then proceeding to generalize that to a statement about the value and professional quality of the work.
posted by lodurr at 9:40 AM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Y'all who are playing the "rookie mistake" card seem to be assuming that there are only two possibilities, here: He either fucked up, or he had a grand plan to subvert the portrait genre.

Anyone who's ever responded creatively to a bad professional situation ought to bloody well understand that that's rubbish.
posted by lodurr at 9:41 AM on July 7, 2012


Here is a link to an AFP website article about Klamar's Olympic pics. It somewhat fleshes out the issue of "mistakes" (not), Klamar's pov, and shows more images and variants that were not chosen by CBS.
posted by snaparapans at 9:43 AM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Now for 'way better' portraits (6) of Michael Phelps in the current edition of Details magazine.
posted by ericb at 9:52 AM on July 7, 2012


yep, those are great Details magazine shots alright.
posted by lodurr at 9:55 AM on July 7, 2012


No, basic visual literacy is not up for constant change and dialogue. These photos are wrong in the same way that it was wrong for you to use reportage as a verb, when the word you wanted was 'report'.

Interesting that the photos are now worse than 'bad' - they're actually wrong!

It doesn't matter to me what his kit consisted of or what he was thinking or what you think of the technique/lack of it/haste/commercial pressures involved. The images are out there and they have an impact. The internet reaction to them - which I find delicious - is all part of the context as well. Surely this is not a 'haystack of stupid' but an opinion that most people on MeFi would find pretty uncontroversial?
posted by colie at 10:05 AM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, mustn't forget the great book Olympic Portraits by Annie Leibovitz.
posted by ericb at 10:11 AM on July 7, 2012


There's specific photos linked upthread for being blown out, having mixed lighting, or the subjects being so in shadow as to be almost hidden.

But where's the mistake or incompetence likely to have occurred here? Don't modern pro digital cameras shoot a bracket for you instantaneously anyway? 'Mixed lighting' sounds like fun.

Sorry, I just don't get the technical argument.
posted by colie at 10:16 AM on July 7, 2012


your enraged reaction suggest that you have indeed been trolled

Oh please don't read anything I write as enraged. Think more along the lines of "dry." Mojave Desert dry.

I'll point out that you use the term "literacy", which implies a language

Yup.
Hell, written language is just a bunch of pictographs strung together.
One "reads" a scene, body language, a photograph. If one does not know how to interpret the visual jumble, I would argue one is at a bit of a disadvantage in life. Granted, there are as many ways to interpret a photograph as there are a paragraph and it does take a great deal of practice to do so in nuanced ways- but the fact that we don't bother to teach even intermediate visual literacy in schools is problematic. Folks should understand what it is they are seeing.

Thanks for posting those Details portraits of Phelps, ericb. #2 and #3 are examples of doing it so very, very right.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 10:17 AM on July 7, 2012


I'm just not hearing that -- I'm hearing "there are aesthetics" and "there are standards", but nobody seems to be able to say what those are and why we should care.

Maybe you missed it?
posted by shakespeherian at 10:44 AM on July 7, 2012


I'm just not hearing that -- I'm hearing "there are aesthetics" and "there are standards", but nobody seems to be able to say what those are and why we should care.

> Maybe you missed it?


I read that and it said stuff like 'there was an ugly shadow on his face because the lighting was done poorly.'

This means nothing outside of a set of ideas about 'craft' - which are fine, but cannot be substituted for a theory of aesthetics.
posted by colie at 11:23 AM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Now for 'way better' portraits (6) of Michael Phelps

WTF Did that photographer not even notice all the water in the way? What a rookie mistake.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:48 AM on July 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Maybe you missed it?

Maybe I did, and I guess I still am, because all I'm seeing there are aesthetic choices made by a photographer, not reasons why those aesthetic choices are objectively B-A-D.
posted by lodurr at 11:51 AM on July 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I like the Velvet Underground and The Pixies and The Raincoats. They had purpose and style and intent behind the way they broke the rules and made noise into music/music into noise.

I even like The Shaggs, who did not, really, intend much of anything. But I'm not going to argue with someone who listens to their stuff and says, "That's not music. That's noise."

Because they're half-right, and the part they're wrong about is very personal.

It's bizarre to suggest that these Must Be Aesthetically Wrong on some fundamental, particle physics, provable level. But it's also pretty absurd to say they're good photographs without including some rigorous justification or a disclaimer that like, it's just my opinion, yo, don't hate on me for liking them. Because they may be to photographs what The Shaggs are to music, or they may just be shit, but they aren't terribly obvious about what they bring to the table other than a flash-in-the-pan internet furor, which will disappear right along with that one tweet that time everyone talked about for ten seconds.

The Shaggs, ladies and gentlemen! They are great.
posted by jsturgill at 11:58 AM on July 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


but they aren't terribly obvious about what they bring to the table other than a flash-in-the-pan internet furor

It's rare to see something you've never seen before. Of course I've seen a photo with an ugly shadow or an odd composition. But I've never seen a number one ultra pumped-up athlete guy, ready for the biggest thing in his life, looking somehow afraid, with ripped paper under his arse deflating the hideous corporate madness of the Olympics, and all of it coming from right inside the machine itself (whatever news agency or whatever it was), the official source of all this mega-money spectacle stuff. It's like a photo committing suicide in front of you.
posted by colie at 12:06 PM on July 7, 2012


But I've never seen a number one ultra pumped-up athlete guy, ready for the biggest thing in his life, looking somehow afraid, with ripped paper under his arse deflating the hideous corporate madness of the Olympics...

Yes me neither. In a way it is journalism about mainstream news: MetaNews.
posted by snaparapans at 12:15 PM on July 7, 2012


Some of these photos are aggressively compelling. And of the rest, most still have something interesting going on. Even the panned Tunicliffe photo seems to me to be using the washed out look as a means to emphasize the overwhelming bling of that medal. There's no way I'd look at that series and think for a second that it was done by a bad or unprofessional photographer. From my perspective, it's excellent, full stop.
posted by xigxag at 8:27 AM on July 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


But where's the mistake or incompetence likely to have occurred here? Don't modern pro digital cameras shoot a bracket for you instantaneously anyway? 'Mixed lighting' sounds like fun.

Because when you are doing a good job as a photographer, you know what image you are going to reproduce. When you you are over or underexposed, you lose control over the way the image will be reproduced. If you want to make a point of that, then you can do it by multiple stops, but when it's just creeping in there, it smacks of carelessness. 'Mixed lighting' refers to clashing color temperatures/conflicting light directions. Again, you can certainly do these things for effect, but that requires embracing it rather than merely bumping into it.

The reason I (and I suspect others) haven't been presenting a full aesthetic theory for why we consider thise things to be objectively bad in the context of these photographs is because the aesthetic arguments for why you shouldn't do this or that have been made at length in many many books on photographic technique - eg leaving your subject's eyes in shadow is bad idea in portraiture because the eyes are the most expressive part of the face, or flat frontal lighting is a poor idea because it ends up making the subject look fat, and so on. Of course any of these conventions can be bucked for aesthetic effect, but it's easy to spot when someone is doing so deliberately because they commit to it. If all the portraits had some unusual element in common or if there was a strong progression through the series of exploiting some particular photographic effect, I'd reserve judgement. But instead there's a few hits, a lot of near-misses, and some straight-up failures, and nothing tying them together other than the subjects.

Sorry, I just don't get the technical argument.

Fair enough, but then you are hardly in a position to go on about the subversive effect and so on. Arguing that the pictures are out there and are already having this effect, intentional or not, is tautological. I could just as easily argue that they are communistic (made-up example) because they remind me of social realism.

But I've never seen a number one ultra pumped-up athlete guy, ready for the biggest thing in his life, looking somehow afraid, with ripped paper under his arse deflating the hideous corporate madness of the Olympics, and all of it coming from right inside the machine itself (whatever news agency or whatever it was), the official source of all this mega-money spectacle stuff.

You're projecting your own opinions into that picture, which is fine, except that you're conflating your reaction with the photographer's intention. The ripped paper isn't deflating anything; it's just ripped paper, and unless you have reason to believe that the photographer chose to set things up that way it's more likely the case that he overlooked it in the rush (a highly typical circumstance).

To go slightly more in-depth, look at this picture. The concept is excellent and innovative (under the awkward circumstances): photographing a diver, get he to make a diving pose and gaze at the ceiling, then turn the image upside down. There's nothing subversive about this, it's just making the best of the challenge at hand. Bad part; there's a big shadow from her shoulder over her mouth which obscures part of her expression. With more time, it would have been better to put her left hand above her right, or arch her back less. Or take this one; this is a cute girl in front of the US flag, very mom-and-apple-pie, let down by the excessively harsh light on her face - again, poor technique, that might have been avoided with more equipment or more time (eg to put some extra diffusion on the flash). Nothing subversive here, just sloppy exposure. Same problem with this. It's just failing in an uninteresting way.

On the other hand, this is great. In fact, most of the good pictures in this set have something in common; he played it safe with the lighting and the framing, but used his wide-angle lens to exaggerate the perspective and deliver a sense of dynamism and movement. It may not be an accident that the shots employing this technique all involve some sort of strong visual prop - a bow, a target gun, a boxing glove - projected into the foreground by an athlete focusing on a point beyond the camera. Here's an uninteresting portrait of Joshua Richmond by Ronald Martinez, and here's Joe Klamar's much better picture of the same guy. Note how the focus is on the athlete and the activity he engages in rather than on the sponsor and the staging (lights reflecting in safety glasses, which render the subject almost anonymous).
posted by anigbrowl at 3:24 PM on July 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


The reason I (and I suspect others) haven't been presenting a full aesthetic theory for why we consider thise things to be objectively bad in the context of these photographs is because the aesthetic arguments for why you shouldn't do this or that have been made at length in many many books on photographic technique....

Let's just pretend that's not a cop-out: Why should we care?

If the photographs have power to layfolk -- say, at least as much power as those objectively beautiful Details magazine shots -- then who are the professional photographers to say that they're bad?

The position you and others seem to be taking here looks an awful lot like the position taken by each previous generation of visual and concrete artists to resist the innovations of a new generation -- many of whom did not see themselves as particularly radical, until their elders radicalized them. Or, for that matter, of generations of musicians...of novelists...of poets....

All you're giving us are reasons you don't like it. These are not objective criteria -- they're quantifiable criteria. There's a difference. Don't conflate objective truth with quantifiability.
posted by lodurr at 3:33 PM on July 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sorry, I just don't get the technical argument.

> Fair enough, but then you are hardly in a position to go on about the subversive effect and so on.


Why ever not?
posted by colie at 4:11 PM on July 8, 2012


The position you and others seem to be taking here looks an awful lot like the position taken by each previous generation of visual and concrete artists to resist the innovations of a new generation...

Except what Klamar was doing is nothing particularly new or innovative as an artist... the innovation came from editors willing to challenge the conventions of commercial Sport's Photography by including his photographs in a conventional setting which made then stand out.
posted by snaparapans at 4:50 PM on July 8, 2012


Except what Klamar was doing is nothing particularly new or innovative as an artist...

Which is completely irrelevant to the question of whether it's valid to claim that the work is objectively bad.
posted by lodurr at 5:09 PM on July 8, 2012


Yes, I agree, and some here do sound like visual and concrete artists [who] resist the innovations of a new generation..., but just wanted to opine as who was pushing the envelope here. Not to say that Klamar is not doing really interesting work, it is just not particularly new in the bigger picture of photography history.
posted by snaparapans at 6:02 PM on July 8, 2012


Actually, if I'd seen these outside the context of this discussion, I would have agreed. I feel like I've seen lots of stuff like this (and especially a lot of stock shots with this kind of feel). I actually find it kind of weird that it's getting such a strong negative reaction. But then I don't hang with photographers these days so I don't have a strong sense for what annoys them. This seems to be a sort of comic sans thing, almost.
posted by lodurr at 6:15 PM on July 8, 2012


The captions to the photos hint that they're not portraits in and of themselves:

Rebecca Bross of the US Olympic Gymnastics team poses for pictures during the 2012 Team USA Media Summit on May 14, 2012 in Dallas, Texas.

As if it's a news report about the athletes posing. Like the photographer of these shots should've been standing behind the photographer who was taking the portraits. Combined with the bad quality -- it makes the whole thing even weirder.

Maybe the person writing the captions was like "how can I justify posting these bad pics? I know! Let's pretend these are shots of athletes having their portraits taken! Whew! I think they'll buy it!
posted by vitabellosi at 6:29 PM on July 8, 2012


shots of athletes having their portraits taken! Whew! I think they'll buy it!

Exactly what these pictures are, and super interesting as a result, imo. They are not sports portraits, Klamar is a AFP photojournalist, not a portrait photographer. He was sent on assignment to document the event, not to take portraits.

If you are interested in Sports Illustrated, there is plenty of that, but not much photo journalism about the sports industry and its depiction at least in the mainstream as far as I know. Hard to not see how this is not fascinating, but then again, most people take comfort in gazing at a seamless fictive window that conveys a corporate narrative.
posted by snaparapans at 6:48 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the major issue here is that some people are conflating 'the professional' with 'the artist' (and, yes, a professional can be very artistic and an artist is often professional, but they are not the same thing).

A professional is someone hired to achieve the aim of the employer - they will be selected because of their technical proficiency and ability to get the job done to the standards required by the employer. The more skills we have, the more likely we will successfully achieve our tasks. This is not controversial. It is the reason professionals are hired; why we write resumes and get qualifications.

On the other hand the artist is often not commissioned, and when they are commissioned are usually given more freedom to achieve their artistic aims.

Joe Klamar was hired as 'the professional' by AFP to photograph some Olympians as suggested by the only statement we have from him:

"I thought I was going to photograph athletes on stage, or during a press conference," says the photographer. "But when I arrived in the morning, all my colleagues had already set up their mini-studio with professional lighting, backdrops, props and ... Me, nobody told me there would be the possibility to set up a studio. It was a very embarrassing situation. "

Klamar, as a professional, will know that he made technical mistakes in the rush of an unplanned shoot. Professionals see things that, from an objective point of view, are technically incorrect. The democratizing of photography has meant that some think everyone's opinion is equally correct. It is not.

There is nothing wrong with loving the pictures but why are you dismissing professionals in the field of photography? If an amateur offered an opinion in your field of expertise would you value their opinion equally? An amateur's opinion on clumsy coding? A messy paint job on a house or a botched heart transplant?

You find these photographs artistically beautiful and insightful - fine - but the professional who took them was very unlikely to be trying to achieve those things you find so admirable in the results.

On the other hand, this is great.

That was my favourite too. Klamar is obviously a talented photographer, he just had a difficult day.
posted by meech at 7:52 PM on July 8, 2012


as suggested by the only statement we have from him

Well not the only statement we have from him. Marlowe Hood, editor of AFP blog Correspondent, digs a little deeper.

Here is more from Klamar:
“I had no particular concept prepared beforehand, so I had to jump into the water and swim. But it’s not really a disadvantage, because in our job we have to improvise to conditions about 50 percent of the time.”...

Joe brushes off most of the criticism, but wanted to make clear that he had no intention of casting the athletes – for whom he had the highest regard – in a negative light. “My only goal was to show them as interesting, as special people who deserve their fame because they are the best as what they do. And for the little time we had together, they were willing to work with my concepts.”...

He also points out that photo editors (AFP’s clients) had a wide selection of pictures to choose from – “serious, funky, official” – and that not all of them were offbeat. Nor does he make any apologies: “I work for a news agency and I wasn’t taking pictures for a Nike ad.”
posted by snaparapans at 8:31 PM on July 8, 2012


I work for a news agency and I wasn’t taking pictures for a Nike ad.

Which just shows that his approach was all about being 'the professional'

There is an interesting story from a Reuters photographer who managed to achieve more at this cattle-call photo shoot.
posted by meech at 8:47 PM on July 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Klamar, as a professional, will know that he made technical mistakes in the rush of an unplanned shoot.

I'm still failing to see the "technical mistakes." Everything I've seen so far suggests that most of the stuff you identify as "mistakes" was intentional. That means that by definition, it's not a mistake.

This could be the root of a lot of the conflict in this thread: The critics keep calling these "mistakes" when they should be calling them "errors." What you're basically saying (unless you presume incompetence, which is a dubious presumption in this case) is that he made errors of professional judgement. And that hinges entirely on the results.

People point to exposures and lighting that produce results you don't like, but given his level of experience it's pretty doubtful that those were unintentional. Poses, settings -- also no evidence that they were unintentional. That means that by definition they're not mistakes -- but they could be errors.

None of this is a mistake unless it doesn't achieve the desired end. And that is a totally subjective assessment, and it's not made in one place. You (professional photographers) are not the audience. We (news photography consumers) are the audience.

What matters -- what makes these "errors" or not -- is whether we like it.

And yes, I'm aware that the editor is the "second audience" (every artist or craftsperson's first audience is themselves), and is critical, but a good editor is also going to be thinking about what their audience wants. The audience that matters is the consumer. To appeal to the 'editor as audience' is basically like saying that breakfast cereals are designed for product managers.
posted by lodurr at 4:00 AM on July 9, 2012


I think Klamar might have really opened the floodgates for some new images a bit here. He's hitting exactly the right spot of irritation with the Olympics that so many people are feeling, giving us a visual version of that unease (respect for the athlete, distaste at the marketing spectacle, distrust of the event's consequences, etc).

(And as I said above, I don't care at all whether he did it by mistake or messed up or his editor didn't like it, or if this wasn't his intention).

I think we might see more of this amateur-mistake look, obviously it's all done in fashion photography and people have mentioned Terry Richardson, but it becomes something different when it's real news, real people, rubbing up against the Nike ad stuff.
posted by colie at 4:37 AM on July 9, 2012


lodurr, where are you getting your definitions of 'error' and 'mistake' from? That's not a distinction I am familiar with.
posted by jacalata at 11:14 AM on July 9, 2012


It's a distinction I'm drawing.

It's become quite clear to me that it's necessary (in this discussion at least) to distinguish between stuff Klamar did intentionally, and stuff he might have done unintentionally, which people here don't like the results of.

One implies incompetence; the other implies something quite different -- for example, disagreement on aesthetic standards, or a risk taken that does not produce a desired result.

If you don't like those terms, feel free to pick others. It's a necessary distinction; this whole discussion doesn't make a lot of sense without it.
posted by lodurr at 12:09 PM on July 9, 2012


Exactly what these pictures are, and super interesting as a result, imo. They are not sports portraits, Klamar is a AFP photojournalist, not a portrait photographer. He was sent on assignment to document the event, not to take portraits.

We've been over this. where are the pictures of the other photographers, or the line of athletes working their way through a sequence of mini-photo studios? Or the handlers rushing athletes from set to set? Or anything? Your entire evidence for this is some crumpled infinity roll and a bit of brick wall and an extension cord behind the paper. The shots are all portraits. It's just that most of them are poor examples of portraiture.Not one of them documents the event 'in the round'. Not a single one.

If you are interested in Sports Illustrated, there is plenty of that, but not much photo journalism about the sports industry and its depiction at least in the mainstream as far as I know.

And there isn't any here either. I have no idea what the event actually looked like in the large, how many people were present, what size of building it took place in, or anything.

Hard to not see how this is not fascinating, but then again, most people take comfort in gazing at a seamless fictive window that conveys a corporate narrative.

Complete wank. You are not more media-savvy for building a narrative around a set of pictures that do not actually exist. I would be quite interested in seeing this event documented in terms of assembly-line image production, but there are no pictures of that.

I'm still failing to see the "technical mistakes." Everything I've seen so far suggests that most of the stuff you identify as "mistakes" was intentional. That means that by definition, it's not a mistake.

Several of them have been explained in detail. What is it that suggests to you that overexposure is intentional? I understand that you would like it to be, but there's no evidence that it's anything other than the result of too little time and too little equipment, which the photographer himself has attested to.

The critics keep calling these "mistakes" when they should be calling them "errors." [...] People point to exposures and lighting that produce results you don't like, but given his level of experience it's pretty doubtful that those were unintentional. Poses, settings -- also no evidence that they were unintentional. That means that by definition they're not mistakes -- but they could be errors.

The two words are synonymous, and you are completely talking out of your ass. As I said several days ago, assuming that because someone is an experienced professional everything s/he does is deliberate is just an argument from authority, and as someone who has been in these situations many times, it's just not true. I've been taking pictures for about 20 years, I'm good at it, and I'll sometimes fill up a whole card with experimental pictures where I try breaking some rule and fail repeatedly in interesting ways...other pictures I think are fine but when I look at them later I find I've made some mistake through carelessness or circumstances. I spent a decade working professionally on film crews (mainly as the sound guy, though I do a little cinematography on the side) and I'm sorry to tell you that professionals screw up like everyone else. If we were all as awesome as you seem to imagine we wouldn't need to shoot multiple takes or take multiple pictures of a single subject.

It's a distinction I'm drawing.

It's become quite clear to me that it's necessary (in this discussion at least) to distinguish between stuff Klamar did intentionally, and stuff he might have done unintentionally, which people here don't like the results of.


It's become quite clear to me that you're inventing specious new distinctions to salvage a sinking argument, and then defining them retroactively when challenged. If Klamar had had all the time in the world and chose to make his photos this way, then I'd certainly give consideration to the idea that he made deliberate choices, because he is an experienced guy with strong photographic skills. But when he says himself that he arrived uninformed and unprepared, expecting to shoot a press conference (the stuff he normally does), and ended up sharing another photographer's limited space and time, then the probability of simple failure is much higher.

As for the editorial selection: I've said it before, it's a sunk cost. Even if the photos are no good, one might as well put them out there because it's better than people thinking you didn't bother to cover the event. It's a numbers game.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:37 PM on July 9, 2012


It's become quite clear to me that you're inventing specious new distinctions to salvage a sinking argument....

Um...what?

I am not aware of anyone having actually made any arguments in response to mine. (Perhaps you could correct that by making one.) Therefore my metaphorical "argument ship" cannot very well be "sinking." (I am well aware that may people have appealed to various supposed sets of well-established aesthetic criteria that they have refused to explain because, tl;. Well, if you won't explain them, perhaps you could link to them?)

But when he says himself that he arrived uninformed and unprepared, expecting to shoot a press conference (the stuff he normally does), and ended up sharing another photographer's limited space and time, then the probability of simple failure is much higher.

This is where the distinction matters: Unless you presume incompetence to explain the kind of errors you're supposing (unintentionally including torn paper in the shot, unintentionally framing things badly, unintentionally getting the lighting wrong, unintentionally posing the subjects badly, etc.), you have no aesthetic basis for claiming these pictures are "wrong." If you get rid of this idea that there's an objective error happening, you're free to make whatever judgements you want -- about what you like.

You could be saying "he made errors in judgement that produced poor results" -- you could be saying "this doesn't work if his goal is to do that." Instead you're saying "he's fucking up because PROFESSIONAL AESTHETIC RULEZ." Which is just....saurian. Really. Get past it: Things change. Seriously.

But this nonsense about objective badness and objective errors -- it's just that, it's nonsense. If you are willing to explain some higher aesthetic truth without copping out to "centuries of tradition tell us it must be so," I'm all fucking ears. But you are refusing to do that.
posted by lodurr at 12:49 PM on July 9, 2012


BTW, if you will bother to look at the arguments throughout this thread, intentionality is not a new distinction. It's been there almost from the top.
posted by lodurr at 12:50 PM on July 9, 2012


Well I do not see the distinction as being relevant. As Klamar made no errors of judgement or mistakes, as far as I can tell from what he and the editor at AFP said. Although he did mistakenly think that the job was going to be different. Given that this happens 50% of the time and is normal, he did the same type of job as he usually does. And as usual submitted a range of photographs that were "serious, funky, official" for the editors to choose from.

Error of thinking on his part that everyone will be like his work? I also do not think that was remotely a consideration for him. Perhaps, it was an error for the editors to think that there would be no controversy, but then again, more likely that they correctly reasoned that there may be some controversy and that controversy is great for business.

What you may be getting at was that many people are swearing up and down that most or all of Klamar Olympic photographs were mistakes that should never have seen the light of day. And for whatever incomprehensible reason, instead of destroying them, he sent them to the editors who for some inexcusable reason (cya, drunkenness, blindness, incompetency), published bad photographs that were fraught with obvious mistakes that every beginner is taught to avoid.

It appears to be that Klamar made no mistakes, nor did his editors. The errors are only coming from those who believe that there is an objective standard which defines a bad photograph, and they know what a bad photograph looks like and Klamar's Olympic photographs are bad photographs. The mistaken thinking goes further in that anyone who does not realize the fact that there is an objective standard has either poor taste, is ignorant, or just simply loves to be a contrarian. The error is to mistake an abstract idea from a beginners photography textbook as an objective standard to judge all photographs.
posted by snaparapans at 12:53 PM on July 9, 2012


What you may be getting at was that many people are swearing up and down that most or all of Klamar Olympic photographs were mistakes that should never have seen the light of day.

Yes, that's exactly what I'm getting at. I'm trying to provide a framework within which people can condemn the photographs as "bad" without claiming access to some kind of objective criteria for value.

You're phrasing your response in an interesting way: you're saying things like "it would appear to me" and "I do not see the distinction." So it seems to me that you don't need to make the distinction -- you've already internalized it, are already compensating for it in your evaluation.
posted by lodurr at 12:56 PM on July 9, 2012


where are the pictures of the other photographers, or the line of athletes working their way through a sequence of mini-photo studios? Or the handlers rushing athletes from set to set? Or anything?

They're there in your imagination and mine, because they already exist. They're cliches. When you describe them, I'm already bored. I don't want to see them and I presume neither did Klamar. So he took pictures that are not usually seen in this context.

And I would love it even more if he did it all by mistake. When I worked in the industry, I must have been lucky because the guys I was usually working with were particularly chuffed when something crappy or accidental or stupid got into the mainstream. They didn't give a crap about all this craft and knowledge stuff because in their hearts they realised that photography was a bit of a chancer's game and you can get lucky - or unlucky - with your images.
posted by colie at 1:03 PM on July 9, 2012


Yes lodurr... sorry for not being clear. I do not see the distinction you made between error and mistake as relevant as they are pretty slippery and somewhat interchangeable words. Mistakes can be jewels, or disasters, errors can be technical or judgement.. while it is interesting to think of the difference between the two words, I believe the main problem here is not confusion between these words but arguments about taste being defended by claims that there is an objective standard. All made worse by some arguing that it has nothing to do with taste but objectivity.

As far as saying "it would appear to me" I have limited knowledge as to what Klamar thought, so it would appear to me based on what I have read that Klamar did not make any mistakes or errors.
posted by snaparapans at 1:06 PM on July 9, 2012


colie, sounds like you're describing news photographers. I've known a few of those. still though they did often pride themselves on being up to the challenge when it presented itself.

and anyway, that's true of many professionals: we're at our most excited when something unexpected happens, when something doesn't work, because it gives us a chance to see or do or at least try something new.

(To belabor: this again is where the distinction between mistake and error could come in handy. Mistakes as accidental; errors as the result of choice. Progress is build largely on errors.)
posted by lodurr at 1:15 PM on July 9, 2012


snaparapans, I'm not criticizing your wording, sorry if it seemed that I was.
posted by lodurr at 1:16 PM on July 9, 2012


This is where the distinction matters: Unless you presume incompetence to explain the kind of errors you're supposing (unintentionally including torn paper in the shot, unintentionally framing things badly, unintentionally getting the lighting wrong, unintentionally posing the subjects badly, etc.), you have no aesthetic basis for claiming these pictures are "wrong." If you get rid of this idea that there's an objective error happening, you're free to make whatever judgements you want -- about what you like.

But I'm not saying he's incompetent. I'm saying that under the circumstances - under-equipped, unprepared, and with insufficient time - bad results are unsurprising. Furthermore, he's apparently not very familiar with this sort of photography, as it's not his bread and butter. Which makes screwups even more probable. You can be very competent and still have a bad day or make a lot of mistakes because you're in an unfamiliar situation.

Instead you're saying "he's fucking up because PROFESSIONAL AESTHETIC RULEZ." Which is just....saurian. Really. Get past it: Things change. Seriously.

No I'm not.

But this nonsense about objective badness and objective errors -- it's just that, it's nonsense. If you are willing to explain some higher aesthetic truth without copping out to "centuries of tradition tell us it must be so," I'm all fucking ears. But you are refusing to do that.

Bullshit. I already gave several examples and explanations. So have other people.

BTW, if you will bother to look at the arguments throughout this thread, intentionality is not a new distinction. It's been there almost from the top.

You said you were drawing a distinction between mistakes and error. You can't go defining that at the bottom of the thread and then claim it's been there all along. Well, you can, but good luck expecting me to take such a claim seriously. And your evidence for intentionality is that Klamar is a professional, as if professionals never made oversights or came apart under pressure.
-
What you may be getting at was that many people are swearing up and down that most or all of Klamar Olympic photographs were mistakes that should never have seen the light of day. And for whatever incomprehensible reason, instead of destroying them, he sent them to the editors who for some inexcusable reason (cya, drunkenness, blindness, incompetency), published bad photographs that were fraught with obvious mistakes that every beginner is taught to avoid.

You keep avoiding the perfectly comprehensible reason, even though it's already been offered: the time and money are already spent, and the reputational hit from not turning in work or not covering the event (for the photog and agency respectively) would be higher than that from publishing and hoping some bits sell and the bad ones are overlooked.Being a photographer is a business, so is running a press agency. Nobody has to go to jail, but I'm pretty sure that nobody's going to be hiring Klamar to do portraits in this style either. The point of this business is to sell pictures. If you get a reputation for not submitting pictures that you were paid to take, or for not obtaining pictures of newsworthy events, then that makes it harder to do business.
-


where are the pictures of the other photographers, or the line of athletes working their way through a sequence of mini-photo studios? Or the handlers rushing athletes from set to set? Or anything?

They're there in your imagination and mine, because they already exist. They're cliches. When you describe them, I'm already bored. I don't want to see them and I presume neither did Klamar. So he took pictures that are not usually seen in this context.


But the claim made above (to which I replied) was that they don't exist:

If you are interested in Sports Illustrated, there is plenty of that, but not much photo journalism about the sports industry and its depiction at least in the mainstream as far as I know.

So apparently the photos are subversive because they are photo journalism about the sports industry, but there's no need to show any actual pictures about the industrial side of sport (like assembly-line photography) because they already exist and are cliche, to the point of boredom.

Please, keep going. This is like watching a Twister game.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:12 PM on July 9, 2012


Bullshit. I already gave several examples and explanations. So have other people.

For why we should accept that these photos are objectively bad? No, you did not. You and others gave examples of why those photos don't meet your aesthetic criteria for being "good." So: Bullshit back atcha, buddy.

You said you were drawing a distinction between mistakes and error. You can't go defining that at the bottom of the thread and then claim it's been there all along.

Yeah, let's get all lawyerly on this, why don't we? Yes, I drew a distinction using those terms at the bottom of the thread, trying to describe what had been going on throughout; the distinction between intentonality and accident has also been in this thread since nearly the top. Your claim otherwise is sophistry.

You keep avoiding the perfectly comprehensible reason, even though it's already been offered: the time and money are already spent, and the reputational hit from not turning in work or not covering the event... [etc.]

And you keep avoiding dealing with the main point of the counter-arguments: that that doesn't fucking matter. It makes absolutely no difference with regard to the objective quality of the photos.

You're talking about what circumstances made them objectively "bad." We're saying "where do you get off saying they're objectively bad?"

Which is to say: we're saying you have no objective criteria for badness, that aren't determined by some arbitrary standard of craft.

I've pointed out repeatedly that advancement in the arts (and the crafts) always comes through the modification or even considered abandonment of previous aesthetics, and you have studiously chosen not to repond to those arguments. Why is that? I'd like to hear you respond to them now: Are they accurate? Does an art or a craft advance by adhering to the established standards, or does it have to violate them? Or is there a third way, and if so, what is it? You're being silent on the matter, stuck on your right to say "this is bad."

You have to presume error to explain badness; you should just admit that you think they're bad because you think they're bad. You could then proceed to justify this. Instead, you have to make it about some objective, transcendent aesthetic that you conflate with aesthetic choices (see your reference to examples).

The only thing that really matters -- and I find it interesting that you do not respond to this -- is that people respond to them.

Yes, people like a lot of crap. That's their right. Who are we to say they're wrong about it? We can certainly argue that some of that crap is bad for them -- I've often argued that, I'll never deny someone's right to argue that -- but I'm not hearing you argue that consuming these Klamar photographs is bad for people. (Maybe it's bad for their aesthetic sensibilities.)

I don't actually hold colie's view that these were intended to be subversive in a grand sense (and maybe that's not colie's view), but it is abundantly clear to me that they piss the aesthetic establishment in photography right the hell off -- and I like that. If your attitude and the attitude of the haters in this thread is representative of that establishment, I like seeing them pissed off a lot. I think they need to be kept pissed off, because they are clearly way, way too self-important.
posted by lodurr at 2:34 PM on July 9, 2012


Keep going, you guys. You're so close to winning the award for most ridiculous and pointless argument in the history of the universe that it would be a shame not to actually win.
posted by The World Famous at 2:38 PM on July 9, 2012


You haven't seen the typography threads, have you?
posted by lodurr at 2:47 PM on July 9, 2012


It's about quality, not quantity, man.

And anyway, it looks to me like they're just mistakenly ridiculous and pointless, whereas this one here is clearly intentional and transcends the banality of the usual pointless argument.
posted by The World Famous at 3:05 PM on July 9, 2012


For why we should accept that these photos are objectively bad? No, you did not. You and others gave examples of why those photos don't meet your aesthetic criteria for being "good." So: Bullshit back atcha, buddy.

Incorrect.

Because when you are doing a good job as a photographer, you know what image you are going to reproduce. When you you are over or underexposed, you lose control over the way the image will be reproduced. If you want to make a point of that, then you can do it by multiple stops, but when it's just creeping in there, it smacks of carelessness and leaving your subject's eyes in shadow is bad idea in portraiture because the eyes are the most expressive part of the face, or flat frontal lighting is a poor idea because it ends up making the subject look fat, and so on.

If you're losing control over the fidelity of your image or distorting your subject when that's not your intention - which Klamar says it was not - then your pictures are bad. This is not the same thing as finding an interesting accident and running with it. I do that all the time, but that doesn't mean every accident is necessarily aesthetically interesting. Most of the time, they're not.

You keep avoiding the perfectly comprehensible reason, even though it's already been offered: the time and money are already spent, and the reputational hit from not turning in work or not covering the event... [etc.]

And you keep avoiding dealing with the main point of the counter-arguments: that that doesn't fucking matter. It makes absolutely no difference with regard to the objective quality of the photos.


Good thing that I wasn't speaking to the objective quality of the photos, but rather explaining why they would have been released even if they were objectively bad.

I've pointed out repeatedly that advancement in the arts (and the crafts) always comes through the modification or even considered abandonment of previous aesthetics, and you have studiously chosen not to repond to those arguments. Why is that?

I have responded to it, on several occasions. Your mistake is to equate deviation from the norm with progress. Progress is one possible result, but not the inevitable one. I have hundreds, if not thousands of pictures that were taken in deliberate violation of some convention of other, and most of them don't work. They are usually easily distinguishable as experiments, though, because they embrace a particular deviation from the norm. I have thousands of other pictures that are nice but that just failed for being improperly focused or lit or composed or whatever, and that can't be easily fixed by simple 'development' type operations such as exposure adjustment, white balance adjustment, or scaling and cropping. In those pictures, the deviation is incidental rather than central. I have a smaller number of pictures which are happy accidents, where the deviation is in harmony with the other elements of the picture.

The only thing that really matters -- and I find it interesting that you do not respond to this -- is that people respond to them.

I have responded to that.

it is abundantly clear to me that they piss the aesthetic establishment in photography right the hell off -- and I like that. If your attitude and the attitude of the haters in this thread is representative of that establishment, I like seeing them pissed off a lot. I think they need to be kept pissed off, because they are clearly way, way too self-important.

Has it occurred to you that being part of the 'establishment' is why Joe Klamar gets worldwide publicity and royalties for photographs that wouldn't make it into a typical school yearbook? The photos don't piss me off, they're just weak (with some exceptions). Shit happens, and under the circumstances described, Klamar did the best he could. What pisses me off is this nonsense about how subversive and clever it all is, and your repeated denials that this could possibly be a simple case of failure.

Or, to take another perspective on your argument:

None of this is a mistake unless it doesn't achieve the desired end. And that is a totally subjective assessment, and it's not made in one place. You (professional photographers) are not the audience. We (news photography consumers) are the audience.

What matters -- what makes these "errors" or not -- is whether we like it.


Judging by the overall negative reception, it appears that you don't. Perhaps they'll sell like hotcakes on posters and t-shirts and prove me wrong, but somehow I doubt it.

For reference, here is some actual photojournalism documenting the shooting environment, and here is some more with additional info on camera and lighting setups, from the photographer that shot this collection for USA today.

You're so close to winning the award for most ridiculous and pointless argument in the history of the universe that it would be a shame not to actually win.

Oracle v. Google already got the gold medal medal for that one, I'm just hoping for silver.

posted by anigbrowl at 3:52 PM on July 9, 2012


Depends on what your criteria are. The typography threads definitely get a lot more hyperbole going. Civilization is at stake in those things. So, more drama, at least by some standards. And the degree of personal insult is definitely higher. Of course, my ideological framework doesn't permit me to claim that they're objectively superior, but....
posted by lodurr at 3:53 PM on July 9, 2012


Good thing that I wasn't speaking to the objective quality of the photos

No, you were just finding a rationalization for not having to.


lodurr: The only thing that really matters -- and I find it interesting that you do not respond to this -- is that people respond to them.

anibrowl: I have responded to that.

Are you talking about this: Fair enough, but then you are hardly in a position to go on about the subversive effect and so on. Arguing that the pictures are out there and are already having this effect, intentional or not, is tautological. I could just as easily argue that they are communistic (made-up example) because they remind me of social realism.

... if so, then your response is kind of odd, since it claims that the argument is invalid because it's "tautological." Apparently we can't judge the impact of the photos by judging their impact, or something, I guess.

Judging by the overall negative reception, it appears that you [sic] don't [like them].

I guess that depends on what "you" you're talking about. We'll see what the popular reception is -- do they get used in a lot of stories, etc. Right now, the negative impression is mostly from people who seem to be enraged by the violation of their aesthetic. One would hardly expect the average photo consumer to have an opinion that's expressed otherwise than by looking / not-looking, sharing / not-sharing.

Has it occurred to you that being part of the 'establishment' is why Joe Klamar gets worldwide publicity and royalties for photographs that wouldn't make it into a typical school yearbook?

Yes, it has. Absolutely. There's so much packed into what one question that a quick answer doesn't suffice: Absolutely, Klamar gets those pics out there because he's a professional photographer. (Obviously also, though, he's not part of the aesthetic establishment, or his pictures wouldn't be pissing people off so much.) He would not have gotten the opportunity to take the pictures otherwise. There's a power structure that's pragmatic and cultural and aesthetic and can be characterized in a lot of other ways. But then there's the whole bit about whether they'd be accepted in a yearbook, which you would well know is a completely irrelevant criterion, but what the hell: Yearbooks have certain aesthetic frameworks of their own, and absolutely, that's not going to make it into a yearbook. Neither would cindy sherman, neither would diane arbus, etc., etc. So what? This question is of course simply your way of asserting that we all really know they suck and that those of us defending them are being disingenuous, because, hey, they wouldn't make it into a yearbook! Klamar is just getting them published because he's a Name!

The photos don't piss me off, they're just weak (with some exceptions). Shit happens, and under the circumstances described, Klamar did the best he could. What pisses me off is this nonsense about how subversive and clever it all is, and your repeated denials that this could possibly be a simple case of failure.

Right, fine, then be pissed off about that. I will accept that this is just your judgement of failure; you think they're a failure. I think you're applying aesthetic standards at a scope that's unwarranted, and making a lot of assumptions that are unwarranted about the photographer's response to the conditions.
posted by lodurr at 4:16 PM on July 9, 2012


People keep talking about the Oracle v. Google thread. I have never seen it. At least, I don't think I have. Dear god, I hope I didn't actually participate and then forget it...
posted by lodurr at 4:17 PM on July 9, 2012


Hey anigbrowl: Your mother smelt of elderberries.
posted by lodurr at 4:18 PM on July 9, 2012


anigbrowl: If you're losing control over the fidelity of your image or distorting your subject when that's not your intention - which Klamar says it was not - then your pictures are bad. This is not the same thing as finding an interesting accident and running with it. I do that all the time, but that doesn't mean every accident is necessarily aesthetically interesting. Most of the time, they're not.

Sounds at best that you are distorting what Klamar has said, and at worst making things up.
posted by snaparapans at 4:28 PM on July 9, 2012


People keep talking about the Oracle v. Google thread. I have never seen it. At least, I don't think I have. Dear god, I hope I didn't actually participate and then forget it...

Oh, I meant the lawsuit itself, which turned out to be rather an anticlimax. Also, my mother was a hamster; it was my father who smelt of elderberries.


anigbrowl: If you're losing control over the fidelity of your image or distorting your subject when that's not your intention - which Klamar says it was not - then your pictures are bad. This is not the same thing as finding an interesting accident and running with it. I do that all the time, but that doesn't mean every accident is necessarily aesthetically interesting. Most of the time, they're not.

Sounds at best that you are distorting what Klamar has said, and at worst making things up.


You quoted Klamar yourself above saying that he wanted to show the athletes as special people who are the best what they do, so I think it's fair to say that he did not intend to distort his subject. And that's all I'm ascribing to him; the rest of the sentence is about my views, not his.

Incidentally, this is the blog of the US Presswire photographer that I referred to above but didn't link properly.
posted by anigbrowl at 6:42 PM on July 9, 2012


You quoted Klamar yourself above saying that he wanted to show the athletes as special people who are the best what they do, so I think it's fair to say that he did not intend to distort his subject. And that's all I'm ascribing to him; the rest of the sentence is about my views, not his.

You must be kidding if you think that nonsense is going to fly. Joe Klamar is Agence France Presse's chief photographer. The statement I quoted and you are distorting, at best, was said in response to critical comments similar to yours. He was pleased with his work, satisfied that he did his best, which is a high standard for a pro of his caliber.
Speaking on behalf of Mr Klamar, Director of Photography for AFP Mladen Antonov told the MailOnline: 'The results of this photo shoot are exactly why we sent Joe Klamar in the first place. He has a very unconventional view and approach to both photography and the world.
'We are a news agency, not a PR or advertising agency hired by the Olympics and may I stress - as some internet sites have suggested - that these are not the official portraits of the U.S. Olympic team but only the images distributed by us.

'We have made them look like human beings, as was Joe's intention, not like pieces from Madame Tussaud's as other agencies did. They are real people, not works of art.

'And further, for him to be criticized for not using Photoshop or any other kind of digital touch up is incredible, considering how much photographers are usually criticized for this. It is not our policy to use these.

'We are very happy with Mr Klamar's work and he is very proud of it himself. He was given one minute with each athlete for which he took more than a dozen shots for each which in itself is a remarkable achievement. These are only a small selection of the hundreds he took.
'He is one of the best photographers we have.'

DailyMail
posted by snaparapans at 7:35 PM on July 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


Xoebe: "Kaufmanesque. You don't know how long I've waited to use that term in the perfect context."

Agreed.

He's far too talented for this to be an example of him having a "bad day at the office", or "being rushed", or "not giving a damn."

These are intentionally bad. And that's kind of awesome. They're deconstructionist bad. Like Rodin's clay blobbiness on his finished pieces, waaay before that was "a thing" in sculpture: he's poking fun at the polish of conventional craft.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:23 PM on July 9, 2012


Clearly, you have a great future in PR.
posted by anigbrowl at 10:04 PM on July 9, 2012


Even most of the commenters on the Daily Mail thread seem to understand why these images are neither 'bad' nor 'wrong'.
posted by colie at 11:21 PM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


He was given one minute with each athlete for which he took more than a dozen shots for each which in itself is a remarkable achievement.

High praise indeed on the artistic merits of the photos, from the people who commissioned them.
posted by meech at 2:55 AM on July 10, 2012


Wonderful. Anything that makes the art of photography look foolish is cool with me.

Decent promo pics in a PR session. What are you expecting, Liebowitz?

It is pretty remarkable to me that people care so much. OK, you don't like the pictures ... o.O .. then what.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:22 PM on July 10, 2012


Decent promo pics in a PR session. What are you expecting, Liebowitz?

I dunno, some of the stuff from other photographers who were there that day turned out pretty good. The Details magazine shots (linked above) are very much in their "style", which I happen to like, and certainly look pretty polished and professional.
posted by antifuse at 4:35 PM on July 20, 2012


Martin Schoeller’s Intriguing Shots of US Olympic Athletes.
posted by ericb at 12:30 PM on July 23, 2012


Of course - many of Schoeller's shots have the benefit of actual locations to shoot in (pools, homes, lakefronts). Of his 15 shots posted in that article, only 3 of them (#s 5, 8 and 10) could realistically have been taken at the kind of event where Klamar's shots came from. Also, some of those aren't really SFW.
posted by antifuse at 6:47 PM on July 23, 2012


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