Bad Olympic Portraits Rewarded with an Exhibition in NYC

You know the expression, “there is no such thing as bad publicity”? It’s certainly true in the case of Joe Klamar’s “bad” Olympic portraits. After getting the Internet talking about (and criticizing) the images earlier this month, Joe Klamar has been given an exhibition in NYC at the Powerhouse Arena. Here’s the description of the show:

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 exhibition is set to kick off on July 27th to coincide with the London Olympics.

Image credits: Photographs by Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images

  • Mike Nguyen

    There’s nothing nuanced about posing with a birdie on your head.

  • derekdj

    That is a joke right?
    Powerhouse lost some credibility in my book. Powerhouse is a great company, unique in today’s shrinking publishing world, being intelligently provocative and taking risks with photographers and artists. I’m not too sure what they’re trying to prove here.

  • Brobphoto

    How about giving the space and attention to someone who needs and deserves it?

  • Alex Koast

    Loving the birdie-on-head photo

  • Tam Nguyen Photography

    Who needs an
    exhibition for these photos? I know a few Uncle Bobs.

  • Brian Heffernan


  • Celine

    So every time someone takes a bad photo, it’s actually “powerful and nuanced.” Then I’m sure the gallery will be glad to show my stuff next.

  • Sean Murphy

    I am so sick of what passes for even “good” photography these days
    This is all crap photography, My 10 year old son could do better work with his point and shoot camera.
    It is horrible!
    even 5 minutes in photoshop could have made these so much better.
    I cannot believe this man was trusted with our olympians!

    Powerhouse Arena should have just lost all respect, but I’m sure “The Emperor’s New Clothes” effect will take over, and they will bank.

  • Mansgame

    Only goes to prove that often times art is absolute garbage. You make a bad drawing? No problem, call it art! Bad pictures out of focus? “I meant to do that, I’m famous”.
    On another thought, does he even own the pictures to be able to display them? I thought he was working for hire for the wire service or whatever.

  • Michael Bury

    “You will not see world-class athletes like this anywhere.” I guess we can all be thankful for that…

  • Mark Mulder

    This idiot Joe Klamar is everything that is wrong with the industry nowadays. It’s always been a bit about “who you know”, but at least you still needed to know how to take somewhat decent photos. Well, this Klamar proves that isn’t the case anymore. And to think of all the much more talented, unemployed photogs out there who can’t get noticed because hacks like this get in the way. Makes me mad.

  • Economist2011

    wow. those photographs B-L-O-W-S.

  • Bob

    When I first saw these, I thought they were horrible. Then I thought they were ironically brilliant. Then I read he was unprepared. He should have sold them better.

  • Foreskinner


  • checkmate

    I can’t wait for this one to marinate for a while…I’ll check back later to see what kind of messages the haters leave…

  • Ranger 9

    I was hoping I could get my comment in BEFORE this news re-ignited the inferno of “my kid could do better” and “whatever happened to real photography?” comments… but I see I’m too late.

    So instead I’ll just say: Pull the stick out, guys. Bad photos have gotten attention before and will again. I know you’re all hacked because you’re sure YOU could have done 1000 percent better if only you had been given the opportunity… but think how romantic it is to remain an Undiscovered Genius…

  • Brian Braun

    This makes me want to smash my camera

  • Peter Arboine

    So let me ask you Sean, what would you have done in photoshop to improve these images?

  • 9inchnail

    Stop complaining, you’re whining is the reason this guy got his exhibition in the first place. If his photos had not created the kind of outrage it did, no one would bother. The whole controversy made those photos interesting for galleries because now people want to know what the fuzz is about.

    “I could have done a thousand times better”
    Yeah, maybe, but no one would have wanted to see that. There ARE better photos of the athletes, do they get an exhibition? No. Why? Because none of you even know the name of one of these photographers, you’re all too busy crying about this one and that’s why he’s famous now. Good job, guys.

  • misund007

    If there only had been a theme that displayed a though process behind the photos, but it’s all very random. It’s like looking at snapshots my grandmother takes. “Set the camera to automatic and aim…”

  • brob

    so the guy does a crappy job because he was ‘unprepared’ and everyone laughs at him, then some people call him brilliant and give him an exhibit. makes total sense to me

  • Matthew Wagg

    It makes me want to smash his camera

  • Matthew Wagg

    I know what I’d have done, Ctrl A, Shift Delete.

  • HiramJones

    The “portraits” are utter c..p. It is obvious the gallery is cynically cashing in on their ill-gotten fame. The blather about “powerful and nuanced” is utter bilge.

  • Jon Asher

    I commented on this once before and am happy to do so again. As a 47-year professional shooter I can only say that the composition of these photos is anything but nuanced and powerful. They’re simply bad photos taken by someone who cared little for his subjects, but only cared about making a “name” for himself. Personally, when I get a major assignment I try to do my best work that will highlight the subjects and put them in the best light possible. Olympic athletes deserve better than what they got here. These shots are simply trash. They are not “art.”

  • Pete Winkel

    If it’s kinda bad, you lose the client or get fired. If it’s really bad, you get a show!

  • CTmedia


  • MLee Kneer

    Dear Powerhouse:
    My son takes some wicked shots at his sporting tournaments where the viewer appears drunk. Focus is optional and his creativity is boundless. I will be forwarding you his portfolio so that you may show the “real” side of our future professional athletes before they become the elite. I am sure they’ll be worth millions and can’t wait to see his show!
    Proud Mom.

  • Jay Lensch

    Pro Photog here also and these are horrendous. I would have to try to make mine look that bad..

  • David Jong

    I kinda like the bottom left photo.
    Only thing i’d change with it, would be the flag. Instead of being so “rippled”, I’d have stretched it taut.

  • texasphotochick

    There is no sign in any of these awful mistakes were intentional. They look like so many shoots I’ve seen from photographers who just don’t understand what it really takes to produce a professional looking portrait. Poor technical skills and no attention to detail just don’t get the job done.

  • dbphoto

    Next thing you know, they will have an exhibition showing the powerful images displayed on facebook profiles. “In this section are the beautifully posed duckfaces.”

  • Clark

    who ever said the client asked for perfect pictures, if they really thought they sucked they wouldn’t be on the internet would they? maybe instead of going to a professional photographer who would use gels, softboxes, and a retoucher- they went to an artist so they could get photos that ‘you will not see anywhere else’. Maybe you could have done a ‘more perfect’ job, but is that better? A picasso is not a realistic portrait, but it’s more likely to get an exhibition than a boring portrait, these pics are getting an exhibition because they are different from the norm! FWIW I am a pro photog, and exhibiting artist- some clients ask for the pro tog Clark, others ask for the artist Clark- when they don’t ask, they get my special mix of both.

  • Clark

    just think about these pictures for a day or so, don’t get distracted by going to work, or by reading the news, just sit down, stare at the images and think, eventually you’ll figure it all out- don’t be so quick to judge, think about it for more than 5 seconds, it’s a puzzle, it’s not as obvious as it seems, it’s not art, it’s just the truth

  • S0lidSnake

    The way I see it, this exhibition would have been a great opportunity to showcase this guy’s REAL talent, which is photojournalism and sports. Instead, Powerhouse has given everyone yet another opportunity to lambast the guy. Should he become a portrait photographer? No. But is he a bad photographer? I wouldn’t go that far.

  • Jamie Buckner

    Are you serious?!? Next sell ice to eskimoes! Goes to show you can be uneducated and blind, and be a supposed art critic!

  • RG

    You know what else would be as equally “powerful and nuanced”? The athletes sitting on a toilet during a #2. That too would qualify as: “…in ordinary and impromptu poses, sometimes playful, some quite intense, in an unplanned setting. You will not see world-class athletes like this anywhere.”

  • David J.

    This should have died a quiet death.
    I accepted the shooters explanation of poor preparation, lack of equipment, and ridiculously little time. From there this work really should have slipped into unconsciousness. Allowing them to be hung, is really him saying that he is ok with the work, therefore the previous explanation / apology becomes moot.
    Shame on him, he found his 15 min of fame, and is milking it.

  • Michael Kemper

    Looks like there’s a place for photos that weren’t overworked in post for sales after all! In defense of the critics of these photos, they do look like they were taken by a family member… And we all know how worthless family is. Wait. I like real looking people occasionally too.

  • Daniel Power

    We’re not publishing a book, only presenting photographs that are not terrible—photographs that are derivative, unmemorable, not distinctive are—for people to see on the wall for themselves and make their own decisions. The Arena is also not a gallery but a bookstore and event space; the photos are not for sale, as he did not print them, we did for decoration for the store. So come into the store and leave your comments. Any dialogue in photography is good, as long as it is intelligent and respectful, and much I see could use more effort in these areas.

  • Daniel Power

    You’ll have to do better than that if you want to critique work; you’re inviting comparison to your own analytic abilities….

  • Daniel Power

    He presented American Olympians in a way I have never seen before, that is why i searched him out after reading the dubious slams in that bastion of journalistic integrity Daily Mail. Work that challenges preconceived notions instead of reinforcing them is to be celebrated, not spit at, but art history is littered with spitters before change happens.

  • Daniel Power

    no, he did not do anything; I sought him out because I liked several of the pieces of work I saw in the Daily Mail slideshow and thought it a shrewd approach and not interesting comment and how Americans view and hold national symbols. The lower left image of the male gymnast is intense and arresting, as is the fencing portrait (not here) and several of the female gymnasts; you’ll not soon forget them. Hallmark of good photographs.

  • Daniel Power

    Yes, all of our ten year olds can make drip paintings too…but they are not the same, and that canard has been settled back in the 50s. There is something at work that disturbs, pulls and repels, and that is what good art does: it does not leave us untouched. And no, the photographs are not for sale; we have shows to decorate the large walls of the bookstore. They’re there for people to look at. But now we will add a comment section, for those that can express themselves intelligently and respectfully.

  • Daniel Power

    You know what would be bad for photography? No one giving a crap. Good photography, like good art, leaves you sometimes bewildered, confused, inspired, enraptured, puzzled, or stirred up; bad photography leaves you…with no comment. Vital to dialogue is intelligent, and respectful, observation and viewpoint; do also keep in mind the Arena is a bookstore, and the photographs, not for sale, are decoration for the art walls, something we do each month. That the Daily Mail—a right wing newspaper—would call them scurrilous meant I should seek out this photographer to show them to the public to see for themselves. We will have comment boards and post its in the Brooklyn waterfront space for those wishing to add something insightful. If level of discourse can be kept civil and intelligent, we’ll extend online. Thanks for commenting.

  • upurwhoha

    Hey Clark, whoever said your f%$6ing opinion counts.. ever seen photographs before, not the one you or your grandma took. Oh wait maybe those are also at the gallery. Not everyone uses gel, softbox and retoucher, but most professionals know how to take good photograph without using anything but camera. Photographer knows lighting, angle, subject and his her assignment..not just gel, softbox and retoucher. Do you homework before you write something online. Bringing Picasso in the conversation tells me you are pretty far off your reality. Good photographer is good artist. now go take some art class numb nuts. Art is talent not BS.

  • Unbelievable

    Can an exhibition of Instagram images be far behind???

  • Unbelievable

    ohhh, wait a minute Sports Illustrated already published that feature of instagram leading off images in it’s magazine a few weeks ago, they were a joke!!!

  • worldartrep

    Burn it, what a shame…
    what a total disrespect to these athletes. Oh and let’s not get artsy here people.. the only ones calling these art are the people from the gallery looking to bank on some guys mistake and laugh at some the most amazing athletes of our country. “You will not see world-class athletes like this anywhere.” Wow… Bravo!!

  • claw

    good one brian…
    better one matthew….