Joe Klamar's Olympic photos caused a slew of controversy, going viral and being criticized as "shoddy," "unprofessional," and an "embarrassment" to the U.S. athletes photographed. The photographer was commissioned to take pictures of various Olympians, but they came out much differently than in past years.
Joe Klamar's Olympic photos were the product of a perfect storm of unfortunate events, according to the AFP photographer himself. The pictures, taken in May, represent the first time AFP was invited to photograph Olympians, but apparently the style of the pictures was not communicated to Klamar.
"I was under the impression that I was going to photographing athletes on a stage or during press conference where I would take their headshots for our archives," Klamar wrote on the AFP website. "I really had no idea that there would a possibility for setting up a studio. … It was very embarrassing to find out that I wouldn't be able to take advantage of a studio."
Because of the mix-up, Klamar had to improvise, borrowing equipment and from other photographers at the Hilton Hotel in Dallas, Texas. The lack of preparation proved to be a daunting task.
"I had no particular concept prepared beforehand, so I had to jump into the water and swim," he told DenverPost.com. "But it's really not a disadvantage, because in our job we have to improvise to conditions about 50 percent of the time."
Critics disagreed. Reddit users slammed the pictures, and from there, a host of other sources ridiculed Klamar's work as "appalling" and "amateurish." The pictures were left untouched, some unfocused, with Olympians in a wide array of awkward poses. Michael Phelps appears shirtless, while Tony Gunawan, a badminton player, is shown with a shuttlecock on his head.
Amid the widely negative comments were some who believed Klamar had taken the unflattering photos on purpose.
"There is no way any photographer with a mind for composition would make these mistakes. … For that reason, I think he must be making a statement about the way society paints athletes as perfect," wrote Hiranyagarbha, a Reddit user. "Especially considering about half the mistakes could be fixed by any redditor that has photoshop."
Klamar, however, has dismissed the theory, noting that the Olympic athletes didn't seem to have a problem with his ideas at the time.
"My only goal was to show them as interesting, as special people who deserve their fame … They were willing to work with my concepts," he explained.
Regardless of the criticism, the AFP pictures went viral, being shown and discussed on many national publications.