Award-winning photographer Joe Klamar has been catching some flack for his less-than-flattering portraits of the US Olympic Team. The athletes are shown in front of torn backdrops and wrinkled flags in awkward poses, with lighting that distorts their hard-won bodies. At first, many saw this as a commentary on the polished, overly-heroic images that have become the standard for Olympic portraits. After all, the usual god-like images serve as handy pieces of propaganda in the international competition to see who can afford to train the best athletes.
Some speculated that Klamar’s images were a reference to America’s declining economic primacy or an effort to make the athletes more relatable to the general population. Many critics saw the photos as an insult to the hard work and dedication that the competitors put into their training. Professional photographers lambasted his technical mistakes as worse than amateur.
However, these photos were not intended to be any of these things. Klamar’s photos suffered from a lack of preparation. The field photographer thought he would be documenting a press conference and was unaware that he would be setting up a portrait studio with his own backdrop and lighting. Another photographer at the press event allowed Klamar to take some quick snapshots in his setup, which would explain the all-around awkward images.
Are Klamar’s photos still an effective, though unintentional, sendup of idealized sporting imagery? Take a look at the slideshow for Olympic portraits past and present.