The photographer who snapped the instantly viral photo of President Barack Obama posing for a “selfie” with other world leaders during the memorial service for Nelson Mandela said first lady Michelle Obama was not at all upset by her husband’s actions.
Agence France-Presse photographer Roberto Schmidt said reaction that the first lady looked “peeved” when her husband, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt huddled together in front of a cellphone camera was misinterpreted.
— The Wire (@TheWire) December 10, 2013
“I later read on social media that Michelle Obama seemed to be rather peeved on seeing the Danish prime minister take the picture. But photos can lie. In reality, just a few seconds earlier the first lady was herself joking with those around her, Cameron and Schmidt included. Her stern look was captured by chance,” Schmidt wrote in an AFP blog post.
As for criticisms about Obama engaging in such a lighthearted action during a memorial, Schmidt said the service for the former South African leader was “more like a carnival atmosphere, not at all morbid.”
“[S]uddenly this woman pulled out her mobile phone and took a photo of herself smiling with Cameron and the U.S. president. I captured the scene reflexively. All around me in the stadium, South Africans were dancing, singing and laughing to honour their departed leader,” Schmidt wrote. “It was more like a carnival atmosphere, not at all morbid. The ceremony had already gone on for two hours and would last another two. The atmosphere was totally relaxed – I didn’t see anything shocking in my viewfinder, president of the U.S. or not. We are in Africa.”
He said he took the photo “totally spontaneously, without thinking about what impact they might have.”
“At the time, I thought the world leaders were simply acting like human beings, like me and you. I doubt anyone could have remained totally stony faced for the duration of the ceremony, while tens of thousands of people were celebrating in the stadium. For me, the behaviour of these leaders in snapping a selfie seems perfectly natural. I see nothing to complain about, and probably would have done the same in their place,” Schmidt wrote.
Schmidt lamented how the single selfie photo has overshadowed all of the AFP photographers’ work.
“The AFP team worked hard to display the reaction that South African people had for the passing of someone they consider as a father. We moved about 500 pictures, trying to portray their true feelings, and this seemingly trivial image seems to have eclipsed much of this collective work,” he wrote.