Joe Klamar is probably feeling…
Why? Klamer is fromAgence France Presse, and he took photographs of soon-to-be U.S. Olympians during the Olympic Media Summit in May. Then the internet got in the way. The photos leaked this week, landing on the aggregation website Reddit, and from there a firestorm of criticism for how these images portray the athletes has been lighting up the information super highway.
This all may seem like the usual online criticism from nameless folks holed in their bedroom who just like to complain, but the pictures are somewhat questionable. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps is cast in nearly total darkness (a cropped version of the image is above), with his face and body partially obscured, as though a film student were trying to do something artistic but didn’t get the lighting right.
A water polo player, shot from the ground up, looks like a character from a Tim Burton film; faces of some athletes look uncomfortable, like they’re being accused of a crime; a gymnast who holds an awkward pose that you know is an impressive act, does it aboce ripped photo paper makes it all feel very amateur.
Klamar said in a statement on July 5th that AFP had never before been invited to attend the summit, and did not know they would be able to set up a studio for the portraits. Indeed, he says he didn’t even know he would be shooting portraits. (Which, of course, forces one to question what he did think he’d be shooting that day.) “I thought I was going to photograph athletes on stage, or during a press conference,” offered 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.”
Agence France Presse dismissed the criticism against Klamar. The agency stated that Klamar had not been hired to do advertising, but rather journalism. “When I first saw Joe Klamar’s pictures of US Olympic athletes, I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about,” wrote Marlowe Hood for AFP’s Correspondent blog. “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.”