What happens when we completely run out of ideas for pictures? When every iteration of an Avedon, Sander or Atget has been made? When every conceivable process and filter has been tried? Instead of well-made you get popular or infamous. You get book deals for blogs that scan sandwiches, that have disgusting fattening food pictures and run unflattering pictures of people who shop at Walmart.

Seth Godin wrote about this recently when talking about books that are cultural touchstones:

We can probably all agree that more than half of the culturally important cookbooks printed on paper have already been printed. From the Joy of Cooking to Julia Child to The Thrill of the Grill, there are some essential cookbooks that have laid a foundation for most that followed. Now that the original cookbook market has been decimated by TV, by free recipes online and by the growth of the ios app, it’s hard for me to imagine the pile of cookbook titles that millions read and trust to dramatically increase in size.

Similarly with photography, the culturally significant pictures are replaced with anything that reaches lots of people. That’s why something like this makes sense:

The POWERHOUSE Arena presents:

Jonathan Horton of the US Olympic Gymnastics team (Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images) 


The POWERHOUSE Arena is proud to present Olympic Portraits by award-winning Agence France-Presse photographer, Joe Klamar. The exhibition consists of color portraits shot by Klamar at a Dallas, Texas hotel during the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Media Summit this May.

Many of the photographs were first met with harsh criticism from a bevy of news sites and photo blogs quick to highlight the images’ alleged defects—citing the off-hand poses, the stressed lighting, the scarred backdrops—and labeled the work an affront to the elite status of the American Olympic athletic team.

Such criticisms miss the work’s powerful and nuanced compositions and display of personality. Here we see real individuals at the peak of their athletic career in ordinary and impromptu poses, sometimes playful, some quite intense, in an unplanned setting. You will not see world-class athletes like this anywhere.

The POWERHOUSE Arena is proud to bring these images to a U.S. audience starting July 27 to coincide with the 2012 Olympics in London.

Exhibition dates: July 27 – September 4


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  1. When we run out of ideas, we apparently lower the standard.

    • I think I would have to agree… *big heavy sigh*

      • (side note: Cynthia, I wanted to link to one of your pictures and tell an art director friend that I liked it. I could not. Your site is in flash. So I didn’t.)

        • Thank you, Ian…and sorry about that! There was a time when everyone loved Flash, and now it is reviled.

          (I’m currently working on a new website, which apparently will allow for individual page/image links, but this is not my area of expertise; I just have to hope that what they’ve promised me will in fact be true.)

          • Hope so. There are a lot of good options there for someone hoping to pull it together themselves, as well – but perhaps it’s a discussion for another time.

        • uh, yes you can. direct linking in flash has been around forever. livebooks was one of the first to do it. just grab the url and email it.

            • what a great discovery ! really like your work Cythia!

            • What the hell is that thing? Besides big, and dead!

              • Thanks so much, Nancy!

                @Jacob, that is (or was) a large feral pig — what the Hawaiians might hunt and use to make Kālua pork…but that one had been hit by a car.

          • yes, this works, just a shift in workflow. Thanks Rob.

    • no, it’s summertime, and it’s Olympics. I don’t think these photographs are terrible; they are distinctive and memorable; terrible photographs aren’t.

  2. What a bunch of crap and spin the POWERHOUSE text is….”Such criticisms miss the work’s powerful and nuanced compositions and display of personality. Here we see real individuals at the peak of their athletic career in ordinary and impromptu poses, sometimes playful, some quite intense, in an unplanned setting. You will not see world-class athletes like this anywhere.”

    face saving spin – thats all.

    • may be spin, but obviously they’re picking this up because the images went viral and have a hell of a lot of impact now just by their “difference”

    • Yes, they are memorable and distinctive. I think they are a proper anecdote to the jingoistic desire to show ordinary people with exceptional athletic skills as super human and implicitly projecting American might and prowess. These are ordinary portraits, uneven in lighting, and plain goofy. That is not something I have not seen before, and the media criticism was precisely that they were not heroic enough, which means they belong on a wall in Brooklyn immediately for people to make up their own minds.

      • ..but still memorably distinctively ordinary..

        • I love this phrasing. Honestly, truly. I think it’s something a lot of us seek to express, this love of the banal. And if something is exceptionally banal, is it really ordinary? God what a conundrum.

  3. On-point as usual — though aside from their rather clunky and blog-popular presentation, i consider Scanwiches not quite to fit the mold of ‘lowest common denominator’ imaging.

  4. Sad day in photography and book publishing – worst is the lack of human connection, lack of vision with all the bells and whistles of digital technology and still not one GREAT portrait. There is no integrity shown for the craft of the photographic portrait and for the individuals who were photographed. I shot Canadian Volleyball players in Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico. They raised money and volunteered to distribute over 1000 bags of food ; helped build a family a house and did volleyball clinics – it was a life changing experience. My assistant and I worked with available light; one speed light on location on the border and in the local gym. These women and the community exchange illuminated a positive story from the US/MEXICO borderlands.

    Here’s my link to making a series of portraits made on the fly using what we had to work with. Same flags, same idea but a very different LOOK because I really did care about my assignment and the people I photograph.

    I sure wish I could have had the Olympic assignment with no excuses for bad photography to rock out some GREAT portraits. This sounds like the story “Emperor’s New Clothes ” – It’s hard to believe such bad work is being tooted as great. REALLY-Where is the LOVE for the light, and the integrity of being a photographer /editor/ curator ? Let’s raise the media bar and stop feeding visual fast food to the masses. I am committed more than ever to make the best images I can after seeing this whole fiasco unfold before our very eyes.

    • I find your pictures boring, except for the last one. It borders on the unexpected.

      • Ian, I think Rachel’s point is that it doesn’t matter the situation you are in, you, as a professional photographer, should know your equipt., lighting and composition. Rachel’s are not the best images I have ever seen, but they are at least well composed and relatively well lit, for the limitations she had. Joe is a very prolific photojournalist, but he doesn’t seem to know studio lighting or working at a studio situation at all. He should have been responsible enough to decline the assignment OR hire the right assistants to help him with the shoot. I think what Powerhouse Arena is doing is blatantly taking advantage of Joe and the “viral” aspect to get people into their gallery. It is disrespectful in so many levels for them to have sent that press release. They are (again) blatantly insulting the majority of professional photographers that do amazing work out there.

        • Why “should”?

          He had an opportunity to shoot with these people and took it.

          As pros, often we’ve taken assignments and risen to the occasion or bumbled it. Generally, one moves on – probably taking the one or two good images, or retouched images, and adding them to their portfolio. Try again later.

          Some of your comment ignores context of the shoot, but in the end I don’t feel like it matters that much. The images are interesting. People want to see them. The gallery is inviting people to see them. They are not like images often seen in gallery or in “professional” contexts, therefor, perhaps, worth being seen.

          I’m not exactly sure what you find insulting. If you feel that you can do better, laugh and do better. If you feel that you should have gotten that job, try to be in the right place next time.

          Again, even if it was a blatant insult… so what? Maybe it’s good for people to get insulted once in a while. Build up some calluses, maybe?

          • You are great, Ian. Are you a lawyer? You make great arguments to useless scenarios. No, I am not jealous for not having Joe’s opportunity to photograph these athletes. I am not a commercial photographer, but I do know what good photography is. I am merely talking about the basic technical standards in good portrait photography. There are some standards, you know. I think that these images are great for the viral environment but what Powerhouse is doing is skewing the importance of them. Yes, sometimes we all screw up and learn and move on, but I think what Powerhouse is doing is not moving on… They are brilliant at their business decisions, as you mentioned earlier.
            Anyway, good day. Gotta go work…

            • yes, I work in maritime law with a side practice in semiotic litigation.

              I’m glad you know what good photography is, because I’m still struggling with a good definition. When you get back from work, can you let me know what you’ve come up with?

      • Mega Douche.

        • What does one expect from plugging one’s own work in a thread about someone’s show?

  5. lets say we take the idea of “quality” out of the conversation.. and even dismiss the photographer’s intention – which history shows will happen with most vernacular photography, which perhaps this might be considered years and years from now – will these images be valued as being taken at a poignant moment in American history? perhaps transparent in a way that we’re not quite recognizing.

    • andres,

      I don’t think they will be valued. From what we can see and what Mr. Klamar himself said about the shoot, there was no intent on his part to capture what PH ARENA is spinning here. He is a professional photographer so the vernacular is quality, I doubt that the rest of his work looks like this.

    • yes – see, the “art” object here is the entire group of work and context. The images created and the resulting backlash.

      It’s hilarious. And I want a book of this so bad, ideally wrapped in the context of thousands of “professional” photographers yelling on internet forums that they would have done better.

      • I would agree with you Ian, if the “artist” Mr. Klamar produced it as an art piece, but he didn’t. It was a news story that he said he wasn’t prepared for. Is he an accidental artist? There has to be intent for it to be art or else it is just spin, and this is not a judgement of the work.

        If this is a work of art, please Mr. Klamar give us your statement about this work.

        • dude, I don’t care. Am I supposed to care about intent?

          The whole thing is interesting, right? Here we are talking about it. There we go looking at it.

          I put art in quotes because that’s the word that hooks ya, that’s the word that brings the rage. Who cares, dude, who cares. That’s just like, your opinion, man.

          Art is a context given to things when we desire separate placement, an above, an aside, to other objects, other acts of creation. The world moves too fast for self applied labels these days, no time, no time, for 10 years of experimentation, mistakes and “practice” – yes, “art” “practice” – the things so highly valued way back when ten, twenty, five, thirty years ago.

          Now just endless debates about the meaning of art, the meaning of craft, intentionality and statements. Who cares, dude, who cares. Give me something interesting to look at and I’ll find my own meaning.

          Make me a book to laugh at.

  6. The bar denoting ‘acceptable photography’ has been lowered, yet again. POWEHOUSE has officially moved to the head of the ‘part of the problem’ line. MWACs everywhere may now rejoice.

    • At least get our name right; your criticisms will carry more weight.

      • well semicoloned, sir

  7. Time transforms everything.

  8. when i was at the Gym on Sunday Cnn or Fox or or MSNBC or ESPN was doing a feature on one of themembers of Team USa and they were using a selection of Klammer’s photos. The serries worked very well and looked very fresh.

    No they weren’t traditionally “photogenically slick”, and I don’t think any single photo from the series was iconic in the way a traditional portrait “master” (Iooss, Heisler, Avedon, Penn, Mark, Watson, Seliger, Leibovitz, Kandar, Winters, Scholler, Ritts, Demarchelier, Gorman, all come to mind) creates a portrait that embodies and expresses the spirit of an idea and a cultural moment

    But seeing the series of them and the way they were edited together made the athlete portrayed in them seem far more alive and far more interesting as a real person. The series caught both their fierceness and their sense of humor.

    When I first saw Klamar’s portraits I didn’t like them. Now that I have seen what I think think he was after, I do.

    You can think like everyone else or you can “think different.” The choice is up to you.

  9. Despite how they have been packaged there is nothing powerful or nuanced about these portraits. They exist in the nebulous area between poor and average; it’s the only thing that makes them interesting. If slightly more thought had gone into the execution I don’t think I would have ever seen them. I think the reason they were met with such disdain, by photographers in particular, is because they represent a blown opportunity – a chance that most photographers would relish squandered by carelessness and lack of forethought.

    • yes, a chance to make the same athletic portraits we’ve always seen: impenetrable, stoic, impervious to adversity; well lit, well posed, and nothing out of place. Yes, that’s what we need more of and nothing different ever. Especially with our cherished national representatives.

      • Right. That’s what I meant to say. I just needed some help. Show me something pretty and perfect so I can get back to watching TV and scratching my ass – nothing different ever. If only I had an appreciation for the finer things. Consider this friendly fire. I like powerHouse Books and admire your direct responses but these images still look like they were done by somebody who was trying to knock them out so they could get to lunch. I did say they were interesting. It’s all good.

        • If you knew Joe and his background no, it wasn’t phoned in…I do honestly think he really tried to do something albeit in constrained circumstances, and his public commentary on the results and my view are fairly different, though his view may be evolving… He is a very reserved European and deservedly freaked out by the white hot focus, and perhaps spoke prematurely. Yes it the shoots were ad hoc, but I don’t think it takes away from the result; a superbly fresh and really de-deified (if that’s a word, meaning making un-god-like) portrait of the American athletes; really you look at these images and you don’t forget the subjects or the images, and that’s at least one hallmark of notable photography. Terrible photography is work that is neither distinctive nor memorable.

  10. I don´t know why so many noise about that photos, they are ok, not the best but not worst, they are fine. I like more on the ground shoots instead the over retouched and produced photos that are common today. Klammar acted fast after he knew that his assignment would not be an usual press presentation and got a borrowed stage.

  11. I think I will refrain from my original smart ass comment and just say “really?”.
    Perhaps they should look up “integrity” in the dictionary and try to apply it to their business model.

    • Powerhouse has produced some of the most interesting projects in the internet age of art. They bring the discussion – as they are here. And sometimes, I think, they even get that statements are more to rile people than to actually describe what is seen.

      If it’s truly descriptive, just read the statement… no point in attending the show.

      • Ian has it exactly right. When broken (first written about) by dubious media sources (Daily Mail), citing “photo experts” complaining about the lack of “heroic” presentation and “production finesse”, that means the material was well worth another look. If they say it’s bad, it has to be good. Good for looking at, good for talking about. And it’s Olympics time, so let’s talk about it.

        • Hey Daniel, nice to see you weigh in.

          Interesting to see all the old horses being beaten, isn’t it? Not far from the 1800s are we?

  12. I don’t know what to say.

  13. Clearly Powerhouse thinks they can make some money off this, and perhaps they will. It’s being presented as “fine art”, even if that was not the original intent of the photographer. They may end up being better received as fine art, where they will be judged in a different context and by different standards, ones I admit I frequently struggle to understand.

    • Absolutely. Powerhouse has made a great business decision here.

      A comment right on point.

      • bad quality, poor representation.

        • Craig, have you actually ever looked at your website?

          • yeah, I dont publish 1/2 finished photographs for both clients or customers.

            • yeah, I’d say your photos are finished.

  14. These photos are not at all inspiring. I hope this doesn’t become the new trend or standard for photography just as reality TV did to television programming.

    • No, they’re not inspiring. And that seems to go perfectly with “You will not see world-class athletes like this anywhere.”

  15. In an age where superlatives rule and are used often to describe the most mundane of photographs, it seems that we, as photographers, really don’t even need to try anymore. This contrasts so well with yesterday’s post on Martin Schoeller. Please, let’s talk about those photos. I should too, heading over there now to make a comment.

    • yes, it’s the contrast that’s interesting, isn’t it? Certainly a lot more to talk about now.

  16. I find no longer looking for photography jobs to be extremely satisfying. My cushy position now affords me the bold middle finger I wish to raise to the camera based imagery status quo.

    I’ve always, of course, been more interested in a proper relativistic rage than the tired tired discussion on “technique” and “skill.”

    This series says as much about the industry of professional portraiture as the last five years of sports illustrated covers. Maybe more.

  17. I am very happy for Joe Kalmar. Despite all the bashing there is someone out there who is willing to see the work for what it is. It is a work of art. We may like it or not, that in my opinion doesn´t matter. What matters to me is, this work is different from all the Olympic portraits i have seen sofar. I prefer this type of photography to the ones that have been manipulated to perfection. But that may just be me, afterall i like william klein´s work too. He didn´t care about the rules either.

    • I enjoy viewing it for the same reasons. Maybe Kalmar will come to appreciate what he has done as well, I’m sure it’s starting to grow on him with all the publicity.

      But Klein, I think, isn’t the best comparison. Kalmar cared about the rules, I think, and simply couldn’t live up to what he was trying to do. His photographs are closer to mall or senior portrait photography, “professional” but not exemplary. Like some have said in this thread, they’re in the no man’s land, the middle between acceptable and excellent. The juxtaposition with the media forced “excellence” surrounding the idea of the Olympics is what has brought his imagery to the forefront.

      • *Klamar, sorry.

      • well, I think Alec soth´s for example care about the rules too, yet his work is not up to the mark. But that doesn´t hinder the photobook world from calling his work seminal.

        • I enjoy Soth’s work a lot personally, but I’m not sure where it figures into the discussion here. I don’t think it really challenges what it means to be a professional photographer or work in commercial contexts.

          • what i am trying to say is, if someone like Alec soth or Paaul Graham makes photograhs like this everyone will be praising it. But hey this is JUST Joe Klamar …he gets all the Bashing.

            • haha perhaps. I think that there’d be a fair amount of bashing for a self professed fine art photographer as well, perhaps differently phrased.

              Instead of being incompetent and an insult, maybe the creator would be.. I don’t know, pretentious and insulting?

              • Ahem…douche.

                • Ok, I get the one above, what with me being just a little cryptic and bringing in the surfer bro to wrap around my relativism, but why here?

  18. One need only look to Hollywood and the number of “remakes” of old films, even old TV shows, that are produced to understand the problem of a lack of new ideas.

    • I hope so to. Time to boycott… Times like this, I am glad I don’t live in NY… Not that I would go to Powerhouse anyway…

      • haha boycott. That word has gotten completely out of control. Someone should really give the word boycott a stern talking to, see if they can get it off drugs and back on the right track.

    • We said no such thing; Joe did a quick shoot; and I think the results are impressive. He may appear to be apologizing for lack of production finesse (not embarrassment) because he has been, I think, intimidated by the reaction. Much of which, in the beginning, was jingoistic, and more recently petty, from other photographers. He’s also a Slovakian photojournalist, not a sports photographer. Which I think is good. Here’s a good article about the work: http://www.bagnewsnotes.com/2012/07/a-few-words-about-joe-klamars-viral-and-obviously-terrible-olympic-portraits/

  19. Please let there be a book tour with an artist’s talk/discussion. Please?

    If Klamar can tour the country – nay, the world – and discuss how his Olympic work is an “art piece” and deserves to be considered so, in spite of him not even realizing his own genius when doing the work, then Klamar will have pulled off one of the greatest performance art pieces in history.

    If it weren’t for PowerHouse coming to our cultural aid, we’d all have let the unsung artist of the century slip into obscurity without another thought.

    Yes, I’ll buy one. You better believe it.

    • I think there’d be some interesting contradictions and perhaps flat out lies if a tour was presented that way.

      But, I noticed, nowhere in the release is the word “art” mentioned.

  20. When you run out of ideas?
    You get Terry Richardson.

  21. So running out of ideas is now a license to create crap?

    Not sure I agree with that at all. The spin of this ‘show’ is so transparent it is laughable. The terrible (OK, not his fault and yadda yadda) images are now the forward point of the spear of artistic genius according to this drek.

    Problem was that Joe already admitted that he simply wasn’t prepared, wasn’t ‘into it’ and had to get something. HIS words.

    So now, creating art is to be uninspired, unprepared, and uninterested in the finality of the work.

    We must always be vigilant for those inside the group who have motivations that are neither helpful, nor particularly even good. They can be insidiously difficult to ferret out.

    Powerhouse Arena makes it so much easier by outing themselves. No matter what, this show and PR stunt will go far further in the cheapening of photography than Instagram will ever be able to do.

    • I’m really not sure where people are getting the words “artistic” and “genius” from.

      I said ” “art” ” earlier as a jab, but besides that…

    • You’re right Don, how silly of us to think the one art form readily capable of human discourse and possibly social change should be celebrated as such. It really cheapens…the common perception of accepted art.

  22. I wonder if there’s an Ed Wood Film Festival in the area…

  23. Saw these highlighted in the English press a few days ago and it has drifted down my Twitter feed again.
    I like to think I know a bit about photography, I’m not afraid to be challenged but I don’t see the point of this. It just seems to fall between two stools, not Getty ‘quality’ but neither is it ‘artistic’ in the senses that I understand the word.
    It looks amateurish. If that was the aim, then well done. Mission accomplished.
    But for the most part, none of the images will stick in my mind for any length of time.

    • “Getty quality”? Not sure what standard that is as they are all over the place qualitatively. But these pictures were done for Agence France Press whose production is distributed through Getty. So maybe this IS Getty “quality”. A better example of high quality portraiture of athletes would be, as some have suggested here, Martin Schoeller’s work in Time this week, or Walter Iooss’s many excellent portraits of athletes, to name just two. In any case, maybe it’s time to stop using Mr. Klamar as a piñata.

  24. Crap photography no matter how you spin it. Why is that so hard for people to grasp?

    • Because the “standard” in commercial portraits has become the polished superman with aura comic book character image that not only looks positively disgusting but tells little about the subject’s character. There was/is a need for a different type of image that shakes the ridiculous pretense and shows some humanity. The people who are upset are mostly involved in the industry of making pretentious images, or so it seems. They are afraid that people will see through their images and start asking for something new, something beyond polished use of light.

    • Agreed!

  25. Facebook Likes, 500px Affection, Tumblr reblogs: a measurement of mass popularity, not of quality. Klamar’s prom photography of Olympic athlethes is the other side of this: popularity is everything, and bad taste is always good for a lot of clicks.

    There will be a paradigm shift on social media, reviving the classic channels to connect to a quality audience.

    One good photo editors’ appreciation is worth more than 100 000 Facebook likes.

    Social media might be good for photos of puppies, naked girls, and half eaten, fatty food, but it looks like it’s strangling quality content by the sheer mass of bad content. Social Media more and more looks like a digital land fill.

    I just pity those athletes who were made ridiculous by Klamar’s work, making them look like sideshow curiosities.

    • I wonder. Are they sideshow curiosities? Or is the only freak the kind that is ugly and less functional than “normal” people?

      Do we round them up and have them jaunt around for our pleasure? Are their bodies freakishly deformed with muscles foreign to the most of us? Are they only useful for their uniqueness, knowing their talents will expire and happy to grab whatever product they can put their face next to?

      What exactly have these exemplary people done to deserve such pedestals, such placement above and beyond the unflattering lens the average person much suffer. Why are these titans worthy only of the very best trick lighting, the very best photoshopping and L series lenses?

      What do their thanksgiving pictures look like?

    • Social media has changed the appreciation and understanding of photography and image-making more than any other popular invention—and the art form is nothing but an ongoing series of popularizing inventions—in 160 years. That is not a bad thing, that is a good thing. It is a more literate audience, not necessarily mass in its literacy, but savvy and knowledgeable nonetheless. And it has nothing to do with Klamar’s work other than making people aware of it either by a) jingoistic media critiques, or b) us talking about it.

  26. This is like watching shoddy reality TV take over the airwaves – when you know there is better programming which just doesn’t get aired.

    And I used to have a lot more respect for Powerhouse!

    • It’s not like we’ve been on PBS for 17 years, so not sure what you’re saying. We’ve always been reality TV,, American Playhouse, Twilight Zone, and maybe Dallas once or twice. All PBS all the time? zzzz.

  27. Spin it all you want, the images are a disgrace to the US team, and a joke to the US if they’re put on exhibition. If this is what is good images for AFP, the quality has gone way down. How about a case of Oklahoma wine for him to drink to celebrate his shoot? Its about as fitting.

    • I am sorry to have abdicated my American responsibility to uphold the inviolate rectitude of the U.S. Olympic Team in Portrait Photography by showing this work in the national homeland. I promise to include your comment in the exhibition as my penance.

      • ooh, that’s really interesting. What kind of context are you presenting at the show? The internet backlash is included in some way?

      • Forgive me, I’ll be unable to make the show, I’ll be stuck in the San Fran Freako. (The city of San Francisco, nicknamed so due to its large liberal extremist population. Urban Dictionary, thanks.) Interested in any info about the exhibit.

        • Hadn’t planned on Internet backlash but this site’s article and comments have given me a few ideas…plan was to have 20-30 images on display (we are printing here in NYC) with captions of athlete names, but this site is incredible in showing how passionate (sometimes literally so) people are in reacting to set project series.

          • I wonder if there is image specific backlash that could be presented alongside.

            A lot of good options for an accompanying catalog. I’ve always wanted to see something like that. I’ve got a longtime habit of screenshoting flames on my own work.

  28. Michael Bolton: You think the pet rock was a really great idea?
    Tom Smykowski: Sure it was. The guy made a million dollars. You know, I had an idea like that once. A long time ago.
    Peter Gibbons: Really, what was it, Tom?
    Tom Smykowski: Well, all right. It was a “Jump to Conclusions” mat. You see, it would be this mat that you would put on the floor, and it would have different conclusions written on it that you could jump to.

    You guys are funny. Shake those tiny fists. Shake ’em hard.

    • well- its sommer we are all freaking out a bit…and don´t forget we are photographer too.

    • Oh thanks Rob! I was wondering when you were finally going to say something. These people are on crack

  29. Let’s see how long this work matters to anyone other than the photo community. Poor Joe is in the wood shed. Hell I can’t find his website, yet he’s gone viral! If all of this noise moves his career along I hope he understands that he can now tear off seamless between shoots.

    I’m ready Powerhouse… Give me a buzz.

    • Hear hear. Tempest in a teapot. The world is big, the photo world small. But passionate! Great debates, am glad it is happening.

  30. Have We Completely Run Out Of Ideas? No… no, I don’t believe we have.
    The world is constantly changing every moment. How could we ever run out of ideas?
    So much contemporary photography is technique and post obsessed and produces imagery without any ‘soul’.
    First time I saw Klamar’s images I reacted in much the same way as many did. I was appalled. Since looking several more times I really think there are some good portraits in there. Some are still a little cringeworthy though!
    The thing is I prefer many of Klamar’s images to the empty, aesthetically perfect images without any ‘substance’.
    I want to see an x factor in a photograph. Something that makes you pay attention. Something that connects.
    Unfortunately, I don’t see that very much despite the surge of ‘photographers’ cropping up everywhere on the web.
    Watch the documentary about the September issue of Vogue and the comments made by Grace Coddington. She’s spot on. Where have mistakes gone? The delete button along with the ‘soul’.
    All imho of course :)

    • Sean, I think you’re closer to what makes these images intriguing. In that top one, if it was photo-shopped “correctly,” I doubt I would have looked at it for more than a second. As it is, that tear in the seamless garners most of my attention. As a “professional” it’s downright jarring to think of it in a published context, much less at the head of an email pr blast.

      And then, hey, there I was looking at a pr blast for longer than the second or two it usually takes to delete it. So, mission accomplished, Powerhouse.

      • Powerhouse house clearly made some adjustments to the images with color and contrast from the original publication. I imagine they did more than just that to make these images somewhat palatable…

    • Bingo. We crave real, we crave “not perfection”. That’s where the art comes from. That’s what I think these images achieve, even, ironically, if Joe (not an American btw) does not; I think ultimately they are epically bold for being so out of the traditional production and posing and framing standard; they are real things instead of airbrushed creations.

  31. Ian…I’m sorry, but do you have a dog in this fight? You seem remarkably vested in defending Klamers work. Or maybe you just crave the attention…I dunno…..enlighten us!

    And POWERHOUSE Arena…Eff you guys for keeping this guy’s 15 minutes ticking even one second longer. I have lost a considerable amount of respect for you by championing this ridiculous ‘project’, whether you want to call it art or not, and I doubt I’m alone.

    • ah Brad, my friend. This is good fun!

      And honestly, I’m not sure what you think I’m defending. Playing foil a bit, sure, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually said his work is any good. I do think it’s fine to show it, though. If being any good was criteria for being in a gallery… well, that’s a firestarter right there on its own.

      In any case, I don’t think I’ve ever seen any “good” work that’s sparked this much response on this blog. And I bet if there was anything that actually pushed the envelope featured here (like one of Dis magazine’s latest features) people would just scoff at it, or hardly comment at all.

      Commercial photography, in this context, is usually “Quality” over, well, quality. Lacking seriously in the superficial beauty, quality of the first kind, this work can only open up questions about quality of the second..

    • really, eff-us for….thinking something uncommon and different is worth looking at besides a right-wing blog site or conservative newspaper? I am sorry we’re not worthy of a different verb….you don’t know us very well, we’re deserving of many verbs, if you indeed know what our retail store and our gallery as well as our publication company does…..something tells me your respect was newfound for purposes of this eff-ing comment..but let me me know if I am wrong.

      • Daniel, just to clear up a few things, I do know POWERHOUSE and I do respect what you have done for the photography industry AND the photography art market. I’ve spent plenty of time in your store and think it’s one of the best outlets around for photo books that would otherwise go unnoticed. Bravo. And that’s why I’m so disappointed to see you champion mediocrity by giving these photographs…a body of work so uninspired that it has created outcries of disgust from just about every respected photo-related media outlet…one inch of wall space in your gallery. If you wanted to continue the conversation about whether or not Klamer’s work had artistic merit, fine…give him a show and let the public decide. But you went the extra mile to say you’re “proud” of this work, and go on to describe it as being, “…powerful and nuanced compositions and display of personality. Here we see real individuals at the peak of their athletic career in ordinary and impromptu poses, sometimes playful, some quite intense, in an unplanned setting….”. On this I respectfully suggest that you are simply wrong. These images don’t display power…their amateur quality shouldn’t be mistaken for craft or ironic intent. The athletes in the photographs don’t display personality. In fact, in most of the shots they simply appear bored or worse, confused by what was likely poor direction from the photographer. Your decision to open a show “to coincide with the 2012 Olympics in London” reeks of profiteering. And based on the responses in this one little part of the interweb, I’d say you’ll probably be successful. Or at least you’ll manage to squeeze a lot of bodies into the gallery. Having attended a couple of openings in my time, I’m sure the high-handed talk amongst the attendees will make you feel vilified that you saw fit to present Klamer’s art so the unwashed can bathe in it’s glory.

        What also bothers me is that in defending your decision to show Klamer’s photographs you seem to criticize the work of other photographers who have shot athletes in similar situations to what Klamer was faced with by claiming they just spewed out, “…the same athletic portraits we’ve always seen: impenetrable, stoic, impervious to adversity; well lit, well posed, and nothing out of place…” Really?!! Is that what you think sports portrait photography taken by a qualified professional photographer has become? I don’t know Daniel, but that seems a little simplistic and if you’re as smart a I think you are you probably wish you could have taken that one back. Especially since I’m pretty sure I have seen examples of such “stoic” portrait work in your gallery. If you want to see “…ordinary portraits” that are “uneven in lighting, and plain goofy”, fine, but tarring and feathering the work of a whole slew of other photographers to prop up your argument that Klamer’s work has merit goes a bit too far, and quite frankly, as someone else has already pointed out, it does make you look like a parody of the New York Art-World Intelligencia.


        PS: I just re-read this and I should probably apologize for that unwashed bathing in glory jab…I’m a cynic by nature and while that might have been a low blow, I just can’t see fit to remove it…

        • Hey Brad, excellent comments, thanks for raising the bar in commenting on your viewpoint. And also of course thanks for visiting us on the Brooklyn waterfront! A few clarifications:
          1) yes I looked him up after seeing the dubious slams in right wing newspaper Daily Mail and thought to myself this is ballsy stuff; I like how the photograph more or less deconstructed traditional sports portraiture (much of it is derivative, therefore uninteresting, or bad, in my view; be different, be new, express a visual, a statement, an emotion, a layered
          perspective in a way no one else is a mantra of art schools and review sessions. I thought that it would be good to let people see for themselves. That and July is a slow month, and the Olympics are not news in September; a show of medals is boring, and kind of jingoistic. If by profiteering encouraging people to come into a bookstore to maybe by books as they look at photographs on our walls yes; no in that the photographs are not for sale, they are only backdrop for the bookstore. That and I’ve spent two days having someone print these and two sets of Canon paper for the IPF 6100, after which the damn thing will need ink. Out of pocket, but maybe we sell a few pieces extra of stationery (yes that’s how it is spelled).
          –power: look at that male gymnast; how is not that innate power, self-confidence, and determination? I think its magical, as are the boxing image and the fencing one, and several others. Making the mundane, or the familiar, remarkably new is really hard; that he did it by accident is one thing, but that result can be reviewed as such on its own merits is entirely another. I really think there is something provocative and fresh and layered, whether intended or not, which of course is the magic of photography. The results are totally out of the image makers hands; the individual viewer alone decides its fate.
          –boring heroic work: I’m not necessarily against it, I’m not a big fan of it and many other things in photography precisely because it is commonplace. The art form develops when the commonplace shifts terrain; better yet when it splinters. I see this work no different than a lot of superb photographic work being in magazines (to wit, Vice) not traditionally associated with the photo industry and completely flying under the radar of this blog and most others. That’s where the volcanic activity in photography is taking place, and that’s what making the art form richer.

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    • I think this might be the best response yet……..

      • with you there.

  33. Powerhouse Arena deserves a punch in the dick for publishing this kind of garbage and embarrassing our Olympic athletes.

    Can any one of his subjects say that they’re honestly happy with the way they’ve been portrayed? Lolnope.

    • hehe you said “dick”

    • Oh Alan. We are not publishing anything. We are having an exhibition for the Olympics. I want to extend a personal invitation to you to come to Brooklyn to the opening and have at my genitals, I am not sure what they have to do with either the photographs or the photographer, or anything at all, but this is your area of focus, and am happy to debate you at this level.

  34. They all suck, Joe doesn’t suck he just sucked the day he shot the athletes. we all have those days where we just suck. The real question is have we completely run out of ideas and if so do we allow ourselves to produce crap or do we flush the crap and try again? I really care less about the discussion above. It is like a bunch of lemmings….

  35. I didn’t like the images when I first saw them and found them to be uninteresting and poorly executed ‘shots’… and I still do, no matter what editor loves them. That being said, you know what they say about opinions. ;)

  36. Ugh…. If this is what gets book deals now I’m selling gear and going to bartending school.

    • Is there a book deal?

      • No. It is an exhibition during the Olympics only. There is The POWERHOUSE Arena, which is a bookstore and exhibition and event space, and then there is powerHouse Books, a publishing company. They share the same space (on different levels) in Dumbo, Brooklyn, but are completely independent. The lesser informed often confuse the two.

        • This is as I understood it. Thanks for the clarification.

    • Are you saying photographers are better than bartenders? For me not. I hope Klamar gets a book deal- i wish i am in a position to offer him such a deal, but we are not there yet.

    • Nobody said life was fair.

      I’ll have an old fashioned please.

  37. I learned something years ago living in Texas,
    You can’t serve Haute Cuisine to the chicken fried steak crowd.

  38. > Can any one of his subjects say that they’re honestly happy with the way they’ve been portrayed?

    I dunno. But I am, as a viewer (happy). And I ain’t the only one. Refreshing … Realist … Interesting … Enlighting … Am I supposed to apologize?

    I think too many have been thinking for too long in the cozy world of Bron or Pro-photo “how things should be”, composition this, make up artist that, prop this, Photoshop healing brush that, and oh my god, is that a torn background sheet I am seeing? Oh god, please shield my poor pro photographer (or art director) eyes …

    This doesn’t mean I don’t like (for instance) Serrano’s exceptional portraits, or the latest time magazine swimming cover, or (and on and on and on). But to all of you screaming bloody murder: how about a little trip down the unconventional path, once in a while? It’s not like there is a world wide shortage of technically perfect, yet insipid pics …

    This photo series sure broke the rules, un-intentionally to boot. In this specific case, I for one am greatful for that. So, he didn’t plan it. And?

    • Well-said, imho. Variety is the spice of life. And photography is not a doctrinaire discipline.

  39. @ dennings
    I’m with you on this. And, I don’t think this is the last we will see of style. I hope all the celebrities get the treatment.

  40. Clarification.

    As I read the comments by D Power it finally got through my dipshit non-newyorker brain.

    If we don’t like the work, we are stuck in the mud luddites who worships Glenn Beck, are incapable of understanding the nuance of work created by a photographer who insists there was no nuance intended and want puppies to die.

    OK – I made the puppies dying part up.

    Seriously… if someone doesn’t like the work they are guilty of reading right wing blogs?

    Where the hell did that come from?

    Nevermind… sorry Daniel, you are sounding like a parody of the New York Art Scene from some old Saturday Night Live skit. Holding up a bag-o-crap and ‘bestowing’ the blessings of the art scene doesn’t magically transform it into a bag of gold.

    No matter what the landshark said it was, it was still a landshark.

    They scare me.

    • hahahaha well, all good parodies have to have some root in reality, don’t they?

    • I don’t think I called anyone a muddy Luddite, but I did take issue with the generic disparaging comment that this work is a disgrace to American Athletes, as if posing them in anything other than magnificent surroundings or heroic backdrops was…an insult. That’s kind of Beckian. If a thoughtful approach can be used to describe positive value in a work, then the same can be done to highlight its negative side, instead of resorting to “it’s shite” and “it’s crap”. People without much experience critiquing photography tend to resort to black-and-white absolutes. As we all know that’s not the case in art or life. Unless you’re Glenn Beck. Maybe more Bill Reilly.

  41. If these were not Olympic athletes, we would not be discussing these images. Joe Klamar will become the next Richard Prince.

    • He would need to photograph magazines to be that! But in a way you’re right, it’s the fact that American Olympians are involved—a symbol of might, prowess….of right perhaps that gets people up in arms.

  42. Well today it hard to be creative and some people just lazy because being creative it’s hard job and you find yourself run out of ideas all the time.
    I really hope that I will never run out of ideas!

  43. Yo, Ian Lawyer!
    Go fight some fish.

    • are you available for assisting?

  44. What is really pathetic to me, are comments here, and on other forums. Especially when comparing them with comments about other, pretty similar quality set of photos.
    Everything is so wrong with these photos, while everything is so great with Instangram photos of Brad Mangin. Did you guys actually look at those photos, which are obviously so great, or just name who took them is enough, they are great by default? Considering who Joe Klamar is, his name should suffice for everyone to tell these photos are just as great as those Instangram ones.

  45. The graphics are pretty lame, too. Replacing the “O” in “Olympics” with the Olympic circles? It’s like they used the first obvious idea that came to mind, and just used that–why work at it?

  46. I can’t help thinking of Annie Leibovitz’ 1976 portrait of Jimmy Carter in a Holiday Inn motel room for Rolling Stone. She used one strobe with an umbrella which was prominently reflected in the mirror behind then-candidate Carter. A famous art critic later wrote an essay on how the reflection of the umbrella was a bold statement by the artist that she was a PHOTOGRAPHER, that she had consciously included the tools of the process in the final image to make that clear. Years later, in one of her books, Annie explained that Carter had only given her three minutes, that there was nowhere else to put the light, that she was still relatively inexperienced using strobes and that if she had had more time and space she would have done it differently and with more care. I think Mr. Klamar did the best he could do in a very difficult situation for which he was unprepared. But let’s not call it art. Not that I would know how to define art any better than anyone else.

    • Very cool anecdote. Do you know where the essay was? I’m curious how they contextualized the photograph.

      Annie has always seemed very straightforward about her earlier work, to me.

  47. In any normal situation these photos should never of been released to go viral. What made them go viral is not their quality but their lack there of. Any good A.D. or photo editor would have scheduled a reshoot with another photographer.

  48. Klamar Calamity

    I suspect that Powerhouse equates past Olympic athlete photography and their hero posturing as a symbol of American arrogance, chest puffing, flag waving, the win-at-all-cost attitude and all the attributes of a country that interferes in other countries affairs and engages in wars that results in great collateral damage.

    Yes we are all tired of seeing the overly-produced, body centric, hero pictures that are personified by the Herb Ritts brand of photography and now being practiced by so many others.

    But is “average Joe” Klamar the answer to this? I don’t think so.

    No matter how one spins it— this is nothing more than a blown commercial assignment.

    Powerhouse being so bold flies in the face of convention and they alone see the real truth in these photos that are being slandered by the high-minded and illiterate masses alike, as well as the sour-grape, commercial shooters.

    The real victim of this whole affair is Klamar (if one can say that having a New York Gallery show is being a victim). Klamar is being “played” by Powerhouse. He should have laid-low and hoped the memory of his blown assignment would go the way of peoples short attention spans. Instead he is now a part of the Powerhouse Reality Show. Well like they say—no such thing as bad publicity.

    • no, I never asserted we alone see anything, other than interesting photographs that a lot of people, seemingly photographers, or those aspiring to what remains of the journalistic profession, seem to think is dumb, which traditionally has been a premature opinion to new developments in the plastic art forms. I think only people should see the work for themselves, for the duration at least of the Olympics, and come to their own conclusions. Very little can be extrapolated from online slide shows except hive mind comments. And yes, this blog post and your comments are now part of our reality show and will be included in the exhibition :)

      • Well, I think you say a bit more than “interesting pictures”. In your PR release you are proud to proclaim the photographs “powerful and nuanced compositions and display of personality”. Really?

        There is a marked difference between fine art and commercial art. The commercial artist works on an assignment which comes with a ready-made problem to be solved. It comes with certain rules. The artist interprets the clients brief and undertakes the assignment for a specific time and for a specific payment. In the end the client is happy, the artist goes on to another assignment, careers are made, rent is paid.

        A big role in commercial art is clear and honest communication. As a commercial shooter Klamar had an obligation to his employer. The fact that they ran his pictures would seem that he indeed honored the contract. After that, being judged as “Bad” or “Good” is just a subjective judgement after all.

        But now the pictures are to grace a gallery wall, usually a showcase for “higher” art. I’m sure this arena (no pun intended) comes with it’s own set of rules.

        I’m also sure that controversy is not the only criteria.

        I don’t knock Powerhouse the need to bring people to their doors to help pay the rent. I just think clear and honest communication applies here also.

        As was told to Spiderman- With Great Power (house) Comes Great Responsibility. ;-)

  49. It gives me no pleasure to say this, but I told you so.

  50. They went further. Thought it would be forgotten forever lol, but an exhibition? They are filling the guy’s ego.

    • I think you wanted to say “feeding” the guy’s ego; an ego can, and perhaps should be, fed, but filled….with what, would be a grammatical response.

      • Alright Daniel, it works lol, but I was thinking on ego like a balloon, that can be filled, inflated. English is not my main language, I appreciate your response!

  51. The controversy over these Olympic Athlete photos didn’t move me one way or another. I agree the photos are pretty bad. I believe that when a photo needs a lengthy explanation to justify it, that it’s an admission of sorts that the photo is not good. When a recipe is deconstructed it is for the purpose of then reconstructing it into something new, and in the process creating something delicious and showing the cooks thought process. Now, in the case of the Olympic photos, the process has been deconstructed, but then that’s it, nothing new is created. Am I supposed to be outraged that the photographer wasted an opportunity? Well, he did waste the opportunity, but I’m not outraged. If he didn’t want a turn at bat, he should have handed the “bat” to me. I’d swing for the bleachers. That’s what life is about — trying and heart.

    • Long explanations are necessary to explain to people why something is not “bad”, which in and of itself is not a valid critique; your assertion that he did not swing for the bleachers is a valid argument though, and not a bad one, and I would use that instead of saying “bad”. In 23 years of editing and viewing photography I’ve learned the only “bad” photography, the only bad anything, is derivative: work that copies, or emulates without any effort. This sort of work is also not memorable nor distinctive, two hallmarks of good photography.

      • In 1981 I had the great fortune to assist photographer Ron Harris in Los Angeles. From time to time he would invite me and a few others to his house to discuss photography. One evening while trying to convey what made one photo good and another bad, he held up a mixed drink in front of a light bulb. The drink went from blah to being illuminated. He went on to say that during a photo shoot, when things came together the atmosphere in the studio changed, became charged, and everyone had “that look” on their faces. In all arts when it’s right, you will see that look. So it is with these Olympic photos, the overwhelming majority is in agreement. Fait accompli. Long explanations, long goodbyes, and the IRS long form share the same lodgings.

        • Lol what. “the majority” and “that look”? In the history of art, almost every time someone has done something actually interesting, “the majority” made a “look” similar to one taken when stepping on a dog turd.

          Conversely, don’t even get me started on the majority looks at jesus camps and fascist political rallies.

      • The F’ed up thing is that PH probably receives dozens of awesome ideas from aspiring photogs every day ( I know cuz I’ve sent my Death Metal portraits in to, of course, no avail) and to have them decide to grab some kinda internet zeitgeist for that paper kinda sux. I have mad <3 for pH and and PH equally, but even in the student world (my intern and I talked at length about this) this glorification of mediocrity is a sad day for photography…

      • All “art” is derivative in one way or another. What is bad about this specific photography is it is not derivative of something good. It’s derivative of a bad photo shoot. Its not derivative of anything worth anything except the images went viral and got attention. If that is the bar for an exhibition at powerhouse thats your prerogative. If a museum is interested in these it will be “The Museum of Bad Photography” and they can live next to other great examples of the genre.

  52. too bad it’s not bad enough to be good. a little more self parody and …

  53. … but then, it’s never too late to go HDR.

  54. This work is nothing if not polarizing. That’s what made it so popular. Initially, I hated this body of work, but it’s growing on me now that I’m seeing more of the images.

  55. The F’ed up thing is that PH probably receives dozens of awesome ideas from aspiring photogs every day ( I know cuz I’ve sent my Death Metal portraits in to, of course, no avail) and to have them decide to grab some kinda internet zeitgeist for that paper kinda sux. I have mad <3 for pH and and PH equally, but even in the student world (my intern and I talked at length about this) this glorification of mediocrity is a sad day for photography…

  56. The POWERHOUSE Arena should be ashamed of iself, as should Joe Klamar.

  57. i wonder if the athletes were in on it. it just seems fair that they knew these would turn out horrible on purpose, at their expense, to glorify the genius of a journalist photographer. {holding up my ‘sarcasm’ sign}.

  58. This whole debate reminds me of Kander’s portraits of the Obama team, from nearly 4 years ago – http://www.nytimes.com/packages/html/magazine/2009-inauguration-gallery/index.html. Kander was criticized for his portrayal of Obama’s staff, and people were in an outrage… BUT the difference is that Kander’s portraits were (mostly) interesting and beautiful. Same basic debate about portraying people heroically in official portraits, except Kander’s images were actually good (just not the way some people would shoot them), whereas Klamar’s are just plain uninteresting. Klamar’s portraits, without the Olympic athletes and the media attention, are just an average series of photos of people in athletic gear. Kander’s portraits, even in the absence of being pictures of powerful people in Washington, would still be terrific. THAT’s the difference…

    Good job POWERHOUSE for making some coin off of this, but I just don’t buy that carelessness is a worthwhile counterpoint to the usual way of doing things. You can’t throw the rules out the window unless you make up some better ones. Simply failing to make images the “right” way doesn’t make them interesting or worthy of attention. More likely than not, it just makes them wrong. Trying to tell people that obvious flaws are “artistic intent” when faced with criticism is the kind of thing that art students do when they’re trying to talk their way out of a “C”. Asterisks don’t turn mediocre images into art.

  59. […] whether this constitutes an affront to the Olympics, American values and the world at large—as some have suggested—is another question. I would never argue that these are “good” photographs in any […]

  60. As a semi-young photographer what I find most disturbing here is the lack of discussion about what makes this work relevant and interesting other than “its different and not overly polished look of athletes like we are accustomed to”. I’d like to see something new too but not like this. I assisted with photographers when film was common so thank god I got to learn the value of good light and composition. I think the obvious poor lighting and technique have got people riled up, myself included.
    But if you put that aside (heavy shove) what I’d like to know is other than showing a crappy technique what makes this image so interesting, so new? That’s it right? Why couldn’t the photographer think of a different way to show these athletes in a more approachable / interesting / less polished way.
    You think you’re challenging people?Provoking thoughtful discussion and inspiring a new way of looking at our culture? All you are highlighting is the ever popular craving for something new or controversial even when its not, its just crap photography. I hope the younger generation of photographers that may see this series are able to see this for what it is.

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