The Olympian Image Dust Up… Are There Lessons?

The Olympian Image Dust Up… Are There Lessons?

Over the weekend a ‘controversy’ began with a small firestorm of criticism of the images of American Athletes taken at a “media event” in Dallas. The images show cut off limbs, torn background papers, shooting off the sweep, terrible lighting and a longer list of amateur fuckups. What else can you call them?

You can see those images here.

There are a considerable amount of people wanting to find excuses for this work: It was a media event, he didn’t have control of the situation, there was too much pressure, they are out-takes and on and on.

While there are many with good intentions who want to find ‘reasons’ and/or ‘excuses’ for the photographer, I would like to point out that the images he shot were taken at the same event that these photographs were taken.

The ‘reason’ for the bad imagery doesn’t fly when you see what others did. He chose his equipment poorly, shooting terrible angles with light that doesn’t work. His choice of lenses and angles are completely his… he owns them.

The light was NOT brought in by the photographers, but set up by the event coordinators (also known as PR hacks). But as a photographer you need to KNOW what to do with problems like this.

The excuse that they are ‘outtakes’ and were not assigned doesn’t fly either… they are currently on CBS site as images of the Olympians. So clearly he and his agent – and CBS for that matter – consider them worthy of publication. (Get that creepy skin crawling thing… maybe the photographer who keeps telling us that photography is dead is right… I hope not, but then you see this…)

As to the pressure and the time constraints and all the other ‘waa waa waa’ shit… buck up or go home. This IS a stressful, time constraining, full on pressure cooking time. This IS what the professional photographer – at least those who cover media events – has to deal with every day. Every Damn Day.

If the heat is too strong, go home. And that is OK too. I am NEVER gonna do this kind of gig as I know MY own constraints. I think it is important that we all know our limits.

In the end, we have a photographer who took terrible images and felt they were good enough to show. We are now free to believe that they are or are not good enough to view. CBS agrees and has published them on their website.

So maybe we are wrong… maybe these are amazing, edgy, hip, cool, ‘out of the box’ images that we little simple people don’t get. Maybe… Maybe not.

I believe they are some of the worst images I have seen in a long time – especially bad because the photographer had interesting subjects to work with… Olympians. Even with the obviously shitty light, there could have been ways to make the images work. Others did… at least they did a better job.

(To the asshat who put up a wrinkled flag for a background – get another job you incompetent twit.)

Now, for sure, there could have been other things that could have caused this to happen… maybe gear was not familiar or whatever. As to making them ‘hip’ or ‘edgy’ may have been attempted, there is no evidence that shooting people on ripped seamless and squatting away from the light is either hip or edgy. There is no reason to assume any reason other than this is the photographer’s vision.

There may be some lessons for the emerging shooter here:

NEVER let a photograph out of your possession if you are not proud of it. It’s YOUR image. You OWN it.

NEVER show your bad work, only your best. (We all shoot shit while working to the final image… those are called sketches or whatever, not for public consumption.)

Admit failure: Although it rarely happens, there may be days when it simply doesn’t come together… for whatever reason. Man up. Screw the Pooch and be on with it. Admitting failure on one assignment is better than having to defend obvious shit for the rest of your career.

We are only as good as the last gig we do. A thousand great images will not be enough to keep these images from tarnishing a well respected career. These photographs will be attached to this guy for a long long long time.

That is both unfortunate and a hard to watch lesson.

(UPDATE) It is entirely possible that these are NOT Joe’s best work, and that the edit (or lack of one) could be to blame. That is very possible, and if that is the case, it is more than tragic – it is nearly criminal. Sometimes we are contractually obligated to deliver all the shots, and that could have been the case.

But in the end, it will be these images that are now associated with him.

And yes – even if this is a case, it is a powerful lesson.


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  1. Like I said elsewhere…. The guy is a paparazzo….. No concept for lighting…”.

    • Remember that the lighting was ‘provided’ – but I agree that is NOT an excuse for not understanding the light.

  2. If I understand correctly (which is pretty iffy these days), these photographers were invited to this event. So my first question is, who invited them and why them? I have to assume that SOMEONE thought this group of shooters could get the job done with a high level of competence.

    IMVHO, even the 2nd set isn’t all that great. They all looked forced, as if the shooter was under a lot of pressure to crank something out as fast as possible, without an opportunity to think about what to do. Just shoot and get out.

    Personally, had I been one of the “invited” few, I might well have said screw it, and walked. While I don’t have a professional reputation (much less a great big professional reputation) to protect, I do care about what I do and what I show. And I’m not so over-confident in my abilities as to think that I can create something great when conditions are such that I know I can’t even before I pick up the camera.

    But I think that you bring up a couple of points that beg one more question — was the original concept of the shoot, as conceived by the event organizers, to produce bad photos? Not that they all sat around saying, “let’s bring in a bunch of shooters and have them shoot bad photos.” Maybe they all wanted something “different” (which they certainly got). An old friend once told me that if you stick a high enough price tag on it, you can call anything “art,” regardless of it’s actual quality. Maybe someone thinks this is “art.”

    • Nope.

      Not that I know of.

      Usually these are where the different news organizations get an opportunity to make some ‘press images’ that can be pulled from the pool for use in stories.

      Need a shot for the athlete who just did something cool? Grab it from the pool.

      I have heard all kinds of excuses and ‘reasons’ and conjecture… but nothing rings all that true to me. Just looks like bad images… images that most would not have even clicked the shutter on.