The photographer who caught Barack Obama in the act of taking a ‘selfie’ at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service says he’s sad that such a trivial moment has eclipsed the emotion of the ceremony.
AFP’s Roberto Schmidt wrote a blog post about the taking of the photo that went viral on social media and spawned a thousand media reaction stories.
Schmidt shot Obama, UK prime minister David Cameron and Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt taking a photo of themselves on Ms Thorning-Schmidt’s smartphone halfway through the four-hour ceremony.
He said that after Obama’s “stirring eulogy” he decided to follow the president’s movements through his telephoto lens, and caught the moment.
“I didn’t see anything shocking in my viewfinder,” he blogged, saying the atmosphere at the FNB Stadium was “totally relaxed.”
“I doubt anyone could have remained totally stony faced for the duration of the ceremony, while tens of thousands of people were celebrating,” he said. “For me, the behaviour of these leaders in snapping a selfie seems perfectly natural.”
He said he probably would have done the same in their place.
“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.”
Schmidt also busted the myth, popular on some websites and Twitter, that Michelle Obama’s stony-faced appearance was due to jealousy at the attention the blonde-haired Thorning-Schmidt was receiving.
“Photos can lie,” he said. “In reality, just a few seconds earlier the First Lady was herself joking with those around her, Cameron and Thorning-Schmidt included. Her stern look was captured by chance.”
He said people were interested to see politicians in a human light, and he wished the press had more access to let them show that side of themselves.
“I confess too that it makes me a little sad we are so obsessed with day-to-day trivialities, instead of things of true importance,” he wrote.
Mr Cameron today laughed off the publicity, saying he was happy to be shown to be building political bridges.
Ms Thorning-Schmidt is married to the son of former UK Labour leader Neil Kinnock