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Photographer explains controversial Team USA Olympic Portraits

By dpreview staff on Jul 6, 2012 at 23:00 GMT

Photographer Joe Klamar's portraits of US Olympic atheletes have caused a lot of controversy this week, especially in the USA. Reaction to the shots, taken for French photo agency AFP, has been varied, with many commentors dismissing his images as unprofessional at best, and at worst unpatriotic. Others have defended Klamar, arguing that his apparently unpolished images represent a deliberate attempt to challenge the conventions of portrait photography. The truth, it turns out, is more mundane. It seems Klamar was simply caught unprepared.

According to Klamar, '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 [and] I really had no idea that there would be a possibility for setting up a studio'.

Trey Hardee of Team USA, photograph by Joe Klamar for AFP

Responding to the negative reaction of some commentors to his work, Klamar has insisted that 'my only goal was to show [the athletes] as interesting, as special people who deserve their fame because they are the best [at] what they do. And for the little time we had together, they were willing to work with my concepts'.

Klamar certainly isn't the first photographer to turn up to a job only to find it wasn't the kind of job he thought it was, so what do you think - did he make the best of a difficult situation, or did he just mess up? What would you have done?

via Petapixel.com

Comments

Total comments: 437
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healer81
By healer81 (Jul 7, 2012)

they are good pictures, stop hating

4 upvotes
T3
By T3 (Jul 7, 2012)

Are they good because Joe Klamar shot them? Would you feel the same way if some random Joe Schmoe shot them?

4 upvotes
BroncoPhoto
By BroncoPhoto (Jul 7, 2012)

The photos were awful. They're not 'ironically good' or 'challenging conventions' or 'good considering the situation.' One strobe? Bounce it! FIND a way to get better light out of it. He thinks they're special people? He should have posed them accordingly! They are down. right. terrible. for the calibre of people he's shooting and considering the fact that he is a 'professional.' Absolutely no excuse.

4 upvotes
SammyToronto
By SammyToronto (Jul 7, 2012)

Not finding the conditions he expected in the photo shoot doesn't explain the pics he took with weird poses and/or facial expressions. Also, many photos betray a lack of knowledge of the basic concepts of lighting a subject.

Any average Joe can take better photos than the majority of these.

2 upvotes
Carlos Echenique
By Carlos Echenique (Jul 7, 2012)

Considering his situation, I'd say he did a great job. Each of the shots shows the personality of the athlete being photographed. Considering it looks like he had one strobe, an improvised reflector, a paper background and some scrounged gels, Mr. Klamar may well be the MacGuyver of photography.

Bravo for a brilliant improvisation and a truly original take on this subject!

Comment edited 31 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
T3
By T3 (Jul 7, 2012)

That's a lot of pretentious assumption you have going there! You say "each of the shots shows the personality of the athlete being photographed"...so I assume you actually *know* all these athletes, and that's how you know that their pictures reflect their personality?!?

I think a lot of us who have also found ourselves shooting in unexpected and unfavorable conditions would say that "considering his situation"...he did a bad job, or at least a very uneven, hit-or-miss job where some of the photos are some redeeming value, while others are just downright awful, and would have been immediate *deletes* for most of us as soon as we saw them.

3 upvotes
Carlos Echenique
By Carlos Echenique (Jul 7, 2012)

No, I do not know any of the athletes personally. I also have more emotional range than a teaspoon, so I can see some personality coming through the images captured. Whether that accurately reflects the personality of the athlete is another matter.

I have run into situations where the customer has demanded all of the photos taken at the shoot (having been there to watch you shooting) regardless of the image quality. Who knows, his contract may have required that (see the discussion about concert photographers).

0 upvotes
Photo-Wiz
By Photo-Wiz (Jul 7, 2012)

The one he took of Hardee, looks like a career train wreck for the photographer. Doesn't he know you are supposed to toss out the portraits with weird faces or blinking eyes?

0 upvotes
alfredo_tomato
By alfredo_tomato (Jul 7, 2012)

I would have loved if he had asked all the athletes to make funny faces.

0 upvotes
MarkInSF
By MarkInSF (Jul 7, 2012)

Photography has no place for funny faces. Or eccentric poses, odd lighting, imperfect backgrounds. Makes me glad I'm a painter. No one judges a painting by its histogram or says a painting is invalid because the canvas is too coarse. Photography has room for diverse images. I don't especially like some of these but accept that he made credible aesthetic choices, if not ones I would have made. I doubt the athletes feel used as they weren't coerced into these poses. I bet some of them even made suggestions. They all have dozens to thousands of conventional pictures of themselves to put above the fireplace and in the scrapbook. The comments claiming he's an amateur who doesn't know the basics of photograph are foolish. He's had a long, distinguished career in photojournalism. He knows how to use a camera and these images reflect choices he made. Some look rushed, but he admits to being unprepared. I doubt that was his fault. Someone at AFP failed to understand the nature of the event and sent the wrong photographer. That's the simplest explanation.

0 upvotes
Joe Ogiba
By Joe Ogiba (Jul 7, 2012)

And Here’s the Most Expensive Photograph in the World

This landscape shot of the Rhine River just fetched $4.3 million at auction.

Read more: http://newsfeed.time.com/2011/11/11/and-heres-the-most-expensive-photograph-in-the-world/#ixzz1zttl0MZF

http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_llf93cpdsR1qzfye6o1_1280.jpg

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
0 upvotes
CanonPhotog
By CanonPhotog (Jul 7, 2012)

No accounting for taste now is there? ;)

0 upvotes
AlanG
By AlanG (Jul 7, 2012)

If some here think these are good photos, I'd hate to see what they think are bad ones.

5 upvotes
T3
By T3 (Jul 7, 2012)

Haha! Well said! Maybe if you showed them even worse photos, they would laud them as being even better photos!

2 upvotes
Teru Kage
By Teru Kage (Jul 7, 2012)

I'm guessing some of these supporters are just doing it to stoke the fire. They're probably the same kind of people who would argue Hitler was misunderstood.

2 upvotes
jezsik
By jezsik (Jul 7, 2012)

This looks like the same photographer that did the photos for American Apparel.

0 upvotes
viking79
By viking79 (Jul 7, 2012)

Bad publicity is still publicity, so the shots worked at some level. I guess anything to stand out from what looked like a mundane event, cookie cutter athlete portraits.

Comment edited 35 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Jun2
By Jun2 (Jul 7, 2012)

i like the photos.

0 upvotes
Joe Ogiba
By Joe Ogiba (Jul 7, 2012)

"That last assertion, at least, is demonstrably false. Joe’s photos were picked up by dozens of AFP’s major media clients, including CBS.com, where 27 or the 34 pictures in a montage of US Olympic athletes were taken by Joe. Obviously they thought he was doing something right.

As did his own editors. "Joe was sent to this assignment to do exactly this kind of pictures," explained Mladen Antonov, AFP's photo director for North America. "We chose him because of his ability to see the world through different eyes, unconventional and more original. We wanted something different and we got it!"
http://blogs.afp.com/correspondent/?post/2012/07/05/Pixels-and-piety%3A-Photographing-Olympic-icons

1 upvote
MarkInSF
By MarkInSF (Jul 7, 2012)

Easy to say after the fact, but I suspect they didn't fully understand the nature of the event. If they wanted a photojournalistic view of a staged event, they would have told him what to expect. I suppose it's possible they decided to not tell him to see what he'd come up with if forced to improvise, but that would have been unprofessional and inconsiderate to the organizers. I think they just goofed and sent the wrong guy, "It's just routine pictures of jocks. Anyone can do that."

0 upvotes
micahmedia
By micahmedia (Jul 7, 2012)

Some of the pictures are quite good and professional, and truly capture something. Others in this set are píss poor--the one of Anna Tunicliffe stands out as particularly bad.

They bad ones don't "challenge perceptions" --they're just so technically bad that they are ineffective at conveying much of anything.

0 upvotes
andras11
By andras11 (Jul 7, 2012)

One mans trash is another mans treasure, I for one think they are absolutely outstanding and show 'true life' circumstances that people....including athletes and photographers find themselves in. Sometimes the result will please the purists but actually never be discussed or ever receive any attention or publicity and sometimes, like in this case....the photography world stops to discuss what the hell just happened.

May we all be so lucky.......

2 upvotes
Taikonaut
By Taikonaut (Jul 7, 2012)

Fracking genius!

0 upvotes
Paul Auclair
By Paul Auclair (Jul 7, 2012)

whom is the client and/or intended viewing audience for the images?
will the images likely meet with satisfaction/approval with client and/or intended viewing audiences?
are these not general questions/guidelines a professional portrait photographer has in mind when "at work"?
does and/or should a photographer always have the right to be as artsy/outside of the box as he/she wishes at any moment in any/all given situations?
should a photographer not use any sense of judgment when considering to exercise that right to any extreme?
was shooting US Olympic athletes the appropriate time/situation to "think out side the box" if you want to call "it" that?
Yes, the images in question are "picked up"/ "published" "everywhere" so I guess they certainly must be good solid work and the photog surely worked his plan admirably.

Comment edited 4 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
MarkInSF
By MarkInSF (Jul 7, 2012)

He's a photojournalist, not a portrait photographer. Different tools, obligations, and aesthetic tradition.

0 upvotes
MarkInSF
By MarkInSF (Jul 7, 2012)

He's a photojournalist, not a portrait photographer. Different tools, obligations, and aesthetic tradition.

0 upvotes
Mike Houston
By Mike Houston (Jul 7, 2012)

The photos are unprofessional any way you look at it. It happens. He had a bad day. The problem is he is playing in the big leagues where it is very visible.

Problem 1: Just because he had a studio available, did not mean he needed to try to do something he was not prepared for. I have been in those situations. You simplify. You can't be everything. If studio work is not your expertise, don't do it on the fly.

Problem 2: the photos have no connecting visual theme. This is as much the fault of the photo editor as the photographer. Lighting, pose, position is different from shot to shots. Sometimes editing is what makes a shoot successful.

Problem 3: There is no concept. His concept obviously changed because the situation changed, but I don't see a concept at work here. Some commenters say it shows "regular" people. I don't see that concept playing strong enough.

Personally, I think Klamer froze. I feel sorry for him. I also think the client embarrassed him by releasing them.

Comment edited 7 minutes after posting
2 upvotes
Kodachrome200
By Kodachrome200 (Jul 7, 2012)

I also can't help but point out that everyone else knew what was up

0 upvotes
MarceloSalup
By MarceloSalup (Jul 7, 2012)

When photographs, especially photographs that have been trashed by just about every photographer around, need volumes of explanations, they do not pass the "smell test". They are awful pix.

6 upvotes
carizi
By carizi (Jul 7, 2012)

Klamar has just stated he was just not prepared for the event no matter how "artistc" or "fresh" you think the photos were. By the way, I still enjoy his work. I have visited his web site and dig his photography work.

0 upvotes
Marty4650
By Marty4650 (Jul 7, 2012)

I looked at all his photos and couldn't find any that were "unpatriotic" or poorly done. I really liked them. He provided a fresh way to capture these athletes being themselves, and not in standard poses.

This might be what separates a good photographer from someone who is just a good technician.

4 upvotes
jsandjs
By jsandjs (Jul 7, 2012)

I don't think these athletes 'being themselves' under the situation of the so-called media day.
I would like to see pictures of any athlete only in competition.

0 upvotes
Graystar
By Graystar (Jul 7, 2012)

He's a professional being paid to take promotional shots that are supposed to promote and appeal to the target audience. It was unprofessional to be unprepared, and unprofessional to take shots that didn't guarantee mass appeal. Business is business...he can artsy on his own time.

4 upvotes
Kodachrome200
By Kodachrome200 (Jul 7, 2012)

that is correct. except i am sympathetic to the client changing the assignment at the last minute. I certainly only bring lights and backgrounds when it is called for

2 upvotes
markb3699
By markb3699 (Jul 7, 2012)

Your opinion. Why do I need to read it?

0 upvotes
Matt
By Matt (Jul 7, 2012)

Wow, being able to be a part in representing one of the world's most covered and watch events. The venue where one has a chance to demonstrate their ability against the best from each nation. Whether you are competing or covering the events, you bring your "A" game. Instead, someone without the common sense to recognize the importance to "step up to the challenge" provides the world a view of a nation's best athletes not even worthy of a P&S handled by a 5th grader.

Three major errors here: ONE, someone who thinks he a photographer and attempts to pull off such trash; TWO, the group that hired him, and THREE; the publishing entity who actually allowed the inferior attempt to go out.

For those in the mindset that this was a "fresh approach", the question for you and our misguided photographer here is: Where is your moral fiber? You do NOT experiment when it comes to the Olympics.

0 upvotes
Kodachrome200
By Kodachrome200 (Jul 7, 2012)

why did he do this cheesy lighting and bad paper background that got destroyed. He tried to do to much when he had to little. He could of made nice shots its clear he atleast had some speed lights and the capability to use them off camera. To a resourceful person that knows the limit of what they can do to a professional standard in a situation like that. that is all you need to do some nice polished photos.

frankly his story is no excuse for torn up backgrounds and highschool photoclass lighting

3 upvotes
Chuck Lantz
By Chuck Lantz (Jul 7, 2012)

His shots are truly unique and truly great, each and every one of them. They present the subjects as real people, who just happen to excel in their chosen sport.

Sometimes being forced by circumstances to work extra fast, under less than ideal conditions, brings out the best in all artists. When I taught art, I used an insanely fast "on the clock" life-drawing exercise, where the students had to sketch a model in progessively shorter time frames, with the final drawing done in under ten seconds.

This resulted in the students being forced to put themselves "in the zone" and drawing more automatically, rather than relying on tricks taught to them. It also resulted in some truly good art.

0 upvotes
bobus
By bobus (Jul 7, 2012)

"Sometimes being forced by circumstances to work extra fast..."

He found time get a shotgun for the photo!

1 upvote
Chuck Lantz
By Chuck Lantz (Jul 7, 2012)

Five bucks sez that each Olympian brought his or her own equipment.

0 upvotes
ALFREDofAVALON
By ALFREDofAVALON (Jul 10, 2012)

Chuck, You are totally mixing apples and oranges.

Comment edited 56 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
cleverinstigator
By cleverinstigator (Jul 7, 2012)

If he came prepared for one situation and then was presented for something he was not prepared for then he should have declined to do the shoot or taken them outside for some natural background and light. This paper background he was using was destroyed through half of his portraits of photos not posted here and he did have enough to put more up.(Paper spool was empty) Yes it would have been a missed opportunity to take the photos but it's better to do something right or don't do it at all. Reputation is critical in the photo industry. He is getting a lot of press over this though.
The Olympics are kind of important and this looks as though it was done in an RV.

2 upvotes
chkproductions
By chkproductions (Jul 7, 2012)

You don't "explain" a photograph. It defeats its purpose.

3 upvotes
Phil Cannon
By Phil Cannon (Jul 7, 2012)

Hey, a guy took some pictures. He is not forcing anyone to do anything with them. Looks like he is a bit more casual than most, so what?

Time will tell if his style remains professional...so what if it goes either way.

When I shout out negative feelings it is usually because I am jealous of something...

2 upvotes
Teru Kage
By Teru Kage (Jul 7, 2012)

By that logic, if you shout out against abusing women, does that mean you secretly wished you were a misogynist?

1 upvote
Samuel Dilworth
By Samuel Dilworth (Jul 7, 2012)

Honestly, Klamar's photos of these athletes are pretty fascinating. So what if he didn't light by numbers and portray them as masters of the universe?

At some point, photographing athletes has to move beyond copying Leni Riefenstahl. Good on ya, Klamar – now stop making excuses for this work.

5 upvotes
Dan4321
By Dan4321 (Jul 6, 2012)

Coming up with excuses or trying to rationalize away failure is not what an honorable man does. A real man would own up to his failure, take responsibility, and see to it that it never happened again. Anyone can ride high on a success, but how one deals with failure is far more telling and indicative of one's own character.

5 upvotes
mgrum
By mgrum (Jul 10, 2012)

On the contrary I think the photos came out far better than if he (or anyone else) had "succeeded"

0 upvotes
AntonH
By AntonH (Jul 6, 2012)

Personally, I don't like the photos but I learned something from it.

“I really had no idea that there would be a possibility for setting up a studio.”

“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,”

Joe Klamar

Bring a paper cutter to a gun fight. That's one of many photogs worst nightmare when we are not getting the essential information of the event. So who is responsible to find it out? Us, the photographer, unfortunately.

If in doubts, it won't hurt to haul the entire army of all your gears to the event. better be safe than sorry.

"Joe had come armed with two cameras and three lenses (17-35, 70-200 and 300), plus one flash and a 12-inch laptop."

Skipping a standard zoom is also a big no-no in my book. For any event, any gig.

The bottom line is, if I were in his shoe, I wold focus on what I can do best with what I have.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 9 minutes after posting
1 upvote
Kodachrome200
By Kodachrome200 (Jul 7, 2012)

"The bottom line is, if I were in his shoe, I wold focus on what I can do best with what I have."

amen those photos were the work of someone who didnt want to admit he didnt have what he needed. he should have simplified way down to an approach that he could have brought up to a professional standard.

0 upvotes
bobus
By bobus (Jul 7, 2012)

"Bring a paper cutter to a gun fight. That's one of many photogs worst nightmare when we are not getting the essential information of the event."

He brought a shotgun.

0 upvotes
odaiwai
By odaiwai (Jul 7, 2012)

"He brought a shotgun"

The shoot was in Texas, I don't think finding a shotgun at short notice would have been hard.

0 upvotes
Antsl
By Antsl (Jul 6, 2012)

A good photographer having a bad day.

Most photographers at some stage in their career have turned up to a job only to discover what is happening is not what they prepared for. It might be a poor brief, language barriers or just the weather throwing its hand. The real test of test of the photographer in these situations is to adapt and move on.

If I was an US team member I would be disappointed in these photos. Given that Klamar was shooting for a French agency, my guess is that could also be part of a personal send-up or private joke. Knowing that many parts of the US are struggling economically, maybe he thinks these athletes should be captured in a more honest situation.

Personally, I think you can share that message while still employing the fundamentals of good photography, namely good lighting, design and emotion.

At least there were other photographers at this event who were also making photos of the same athletes.... it would be good to see their photos sometime soon.

0 upvotes
Geirix
By Geirix (Jul 6, 2012)

If the "client" changed the terms or anything regarding the photo shoot, Klamar should have walked away with his rep. unharmed.

But he did take the shots and look where his rep. is now.

1 upvote
piratejabez
By piratejabez (Jul 6, 2012)

I honestly don't see what the big deal is... his photos reflect who the athletes are. They're interesting. And it sounds like he was under intense pressure. I say, job well done!

6 upvotes
idbar
By idbar (Jul 6, 2012)

I agree. On one side, I've never heard of him before, now I did. Good or bad pictures, they are different, I'm sincerely tired of the mug shots from TV coming from looking down, they are just fake and cliche, and try to imitate CGI animations. At least these look natural.

3 upvotes
Kodachrome200
By Kodachrome200 (Jul 7, 2012)

the photos look like they were lit by a first grader

4 upvotes
T3
By T3 (Jul 7, 2012)

I kind of doubt he really knew "who the athletes are" based on the few minutes he had to work with them, and so it's unlikely that these images really "reflect who the athletes are." Sounds like you're applyinh certain attributes to these images that probably don't really exist.

It reminds me of people who are given a cheap $7 wine and are told that it's actually an expensive $70 wine. Suddenly, people start giving all these wonderful, glorious, fawning attributes to the cheap wine, saying it's one of the best wines they've ever tasted!

2 upvotes
1singur
By 1singur (Jul 6, 2012)

He ended up being controversial, so he did good.

5 upvotes
SDPharm
By SDPharm (Jul 7, 2012)

Amen. Who wants some boring head shots that nobody cares about?

4 upvotes
T3
By T3 (Jul 7, 2012)

@SDPharm-- um...the athletes? I love how you just treat the athletes as pawns to be used and discarded in the name of ginning up controversy and publicity for the photographer! That's classy!

3 upvotes
jj74e
By jj74e (Jul 7, 2012)

being controversial for attention's sake is hardly the equivalent of being good.

no, i haven't heard of him until now, but it doesn't matter because i'll forget who he is within the week. the attention to me is neither good or bad, just a job that went wrong due to miscommunication. if his photos were good enough for me to want to look up who the photographer is, then maybe i would remember him

even if he had a false impression, i don't like the way he took the photos. awkward, unflattering poses, ripped backdrop- these are things a professional should know how to do correctly even without studio-prep in mind. Maybe the ripped backdrop was a result of not being able to prepare, but he could have at least slipped a piece of computer paper underneath to make it less obvious or something

I wonder if the lack of knowledge of a studio setup was the company's fault for giving false impression, or his own for not seeking the information

yes, the pics served well enough, but for a pro...

1 upvote
jj74e
By jj74e (Jul 7, 2012)

To clarify- I'm not saying it's a huge deal. The photos show the athletes, the job was finished, it was fine. But I feel he should be held to a higher standard if he is going to take the job professionally.

0 upvotes
keith Bennett
By keith Bennett (Jul 6, 2012)

intended or not, most of the shots as valid street shots, they make an excellent comment on the times, situation and the athletes themselves -
ie:
gymnast2 - a lovely young thing who's almost not there - - - Phelps - no doubt serious talent, but past the sweet bloom of youth - - - take a look at Hornton's toes, lovely - - - but the shot that says it all for me is the Camarena Williams - intense indeed - - -

so dear Joe - i love your street shots, well done!!

2 upvotes
dji_tea
By dji_tea (Jul 6, 2012)

I have nothing critical to say of him since I don't know what he had to work with. But if I were in his shoes and had at least some time and resources, I would have set up one, plain backdrop (gray or white), two or three strobes for standard portrait lighting plus keylight, and then would have taken closeup portraits, hoping to get a sense of the athlete from expression or demeanor. Once you've got the setup, you can just bring in each athlete one by one and take the shot. At least they'd be technically proficient that way.

0 upvotes
citizenlouie
By citizenlouie (Jul 6, 2012)

He was being honest, that's a positive.

I believe he messed up (just an opinion), but for an interesting effect. It is a great challenge to the conventional portrait photography and it's a very creative thing to do, just not for the right circumstance. I've seen worse mug shots taken for the Olympic team, btw, and those shots follow conventional portrait style. They're just UGLY. Worse, I wouldn't able to recognize the athlete based on his/her portrait (isn't that what those photos are suppose to do?). This shot on the other hand is very funny and shows exactly what Klamer's goal was: interesting and shows individuality. Verdict. portfolio-worthy photo, but unsuitable for the purpose.

0 upvotes
Joe Cool
By Joe Cool (Jul 6, 2012)

He should've just shot headshots as planned instead of instead of trying to force shots that he didn't have the equipment for.

2 upvotes
citizenlouie
By citizenlouie (Jul 6, 2012)

I believe that's what he was doing.... The name is just for the work flow (so it's easier to identify the person).

Lots of "pros" are very unprepared for their jobs, so it's nothing new....

0 upvotes
tbnl
By tbnl (Jul 7, 2012)

Personally, I don't mind them. Just ordinary shots of otherwise ordinary people.

There's going to be plenty of hi-tech, super composed, airbrushed and photoshopped pieces that will make these athletes into modern gods. They'll forever have their image made out to be something much much more than what they feel they are.

I applaud his courage to do something different.

1 upvote
mjglantz
By mjglantz (Jul 7, 2012)

The very fact that the photos provoke controversy and strong opinions is proof that they are art. Perhaps in a specific, somewhat narrow sense, or perhaps not. But they are clearly art.

When a body of work produces nothing but fawning, shallow admiration, or universal boredom, then it's probably worthless. Obviously, neither is true, here.

Personally, I find them intriguing, occasionally bordering on brilliant, but not the best specimens of this genre that I've ever seen.

0 upvotes
fotolopithecus
By fotolopithecus (Jul 7, 2012)

Looks like the photographer is more interested in making a name for himself through controversy, than in his subjects best interest.

0 upvotes
fused
By fused (Jul 7, 2012)

What else to expect from an activity where the barrier to entry is the ability to press a button and the output is totally subjective?

0 upvotes
philippegalowich
By philippegalowich (Jul 12, 2012)

Just badly, or shall I say helplessly executed. Not opposed to the idea of doing things differently but this is just off and just don'ts hit it. Actually the image quality and the 'doing things differently' are unrelated, he could have done things differently but with more mastery.

0 upvotes
Total comments: 437
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