For the last week the interweb has been amusing itself mostly at the expense of Agence France Presse photographer Joe Klamar. Assigned to shoot the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Media Summit, the AFP staffer delivered a set of portraits which are…well…different.

Response to the pictures was overwhelmingly negative as only the interweb can be. Amateur, terrible, shoddy, pitiful, horrific, shit and abysmal were just a few of the compliments doled out to Klamar’s work, along with the oft-repeated “I could do better with my cell phone”. Comments threads descended into outright brawls as the web’s photography experts fought over which of them would have produced the best set of pictures in Klamar’s situation. The level of self-awareness on display was perhaps best illustrated by KameraDude:

“As a Flickr Pro who has won hundreds of awards there, I can tell you these pictures suck. I know I could have done better had I been invited to take those pictures. Even with only one flash, my experience with Strobist more than qualifies me to take better flash pictures. I couldn’t even find this fellow on Flickr or 500px. What kind of editers or art directers choose him?
(Nikon D800E, Olympus OM-D, Fuji X100, Olympus OM-2 (used with Tri-x 400) IMac/Ipad. Silver Nikonian, Muti award winning Flicker Pro)”

There were of course some contrarian opinions. A few brave souls tried to claim the work as Art. Michael Shaw at BagNews pushed his luck to breaking point by trying to claim the “photos take a silent sledgehammer to the jingoistic adulation of the American team”. And of course the web’s nutty conspiracy theorists used the fact that the photos had gone viral as proof the whole scandal was a cunning plot by AFP & Getty to score some free publicity.

In fact only Ken Jarecke came close to the truth when he wrote: “this is what you get when you fire everyone that has talent and cares enough to use it.” But Jarecke was only half-right: his conclusion still points the finger of blame at Klamar, whereas the true responsibility lies elsewhere. What really happened is both disappointingly banal and depressingly familiar to actual working photographers, as opposed to interweb photography experts: the photo desk fucked up and left the photographer to carry the can.

The clues are in an AFP blog on the fiasco. Mladen Antonov, AFP’s photo director for North America, attempts some positive spin, claiming “Joe was sent to this assignment to do exactly these kind of pictures. We wanted something different and we got it!” But Klamar gives a rather different version: “I was under the impression that I was going to be photographing athletes on a stage or during press conference where I would take their headshots for our archives.”

Both these statements can’t be correct. Either AFP briefed Klamar that what was needed was an off-the-wall portrait session, or they told him it was a press conference. Since Klamar showed up with a classic wire photographer’s press conference kit of two cameras, 17-35, 80-200 and 300mm lenses, and a transmission laptop, it’s clear who’s telling the truth. Add to that the fact that this was the first time AFP had attended a U.S. Olympic Committee Media Summit and it all becomes rather obvious: the AFP editor handling the assignment was either too lazy or incompetent to check the details with the organisers and so misled Klamar into thinking he was heading to a simple press conference.

Arriving to find other photographers from rival agencies – ones that had bothered to research the story – setting up lights and backdrops, he was forced to beg for space on another photographer’s set. In other words, he was essentially left to fix the assigning editor’s unfixable mess.

So if the interweb should be ripping anyone to shreds over the photos it’s not the hapless Klamar, but the AFP desk jockey who failed to brief him. But since only AFP know who the editor was don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

*Shiny Bum: noun, abbr. Shiny Bum Picture Editor. Professional news photographer term for photo desk editor, usually one lacking field experience. Generally not used to the subject’s face.

What I’m thinking…

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