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The truth behind that Obama selfie

2013-12-11 14:54
Johannesburg – It all started with a candid moment captured by AFP photographer Roberto Schmidt. 

Denmark's Helle Thorning-Schmidt can be seen holding up her smartphone, with Obama lending a helping hand, as they pose for a picture with David Cameron, all three of them smiling broadly in their seats at Soweto's World Cup stadium.

The image quickly went viral and the internet went crazy over the “Obama selfie”.

Everyone had something to say. "Is This The Most Important Selfie Of 2013?" headlined the US-based social news website Buzzfeed, noting that Michelle Obama seemed "not amused" by the impromptu photoshoot.

But now the photographer behind the photo has posted a blog entry revealing what actually happened at the memorial service for former president Nelson Mandela.

The real story:

“I arrived in South Africa with several other AFP journalists to cover the farewell and funeral ceremonies for Nelson Mandela. 

“We were in the Soccer City stadium in Soweto, under a driving rain. I’d been there since the crack of dawn and when I took this picture, the memorial ceremony had already been going on for more than two hours. 

“From the podium, Obama had just qualified Mandela as a ‘giant of history who moved a nation towards justice’. After his stirring eulogy, America’s first black president sat about 150 metres across from where I was set up. He was surrounded by other foreign dignitaries and I decided to follow his movements with the help of my 600 mm x 2 telephoto lens. 

“So Obama took his place amid these leaders who’d gathered from all corners of the globe. Among them was British Prime Minister David Cameron, as well as a woman who I wasn’t able to immediately identify. I later learned it was the Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt. I’m a German-Colombian based in India, so I don’t feel too bad I didn’t recognize her! At the time, I thought it must have been one of Obama’s many staffers. 

“Anyway, suddenly this woman pulled out her mobile phone and took a photo of herself smiling with Cameron and the US president.

“I captured the scene reflexively. All around me in the stadium, South Africans were dancing, singing and laughing to honour their departed leader. 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 US or not. We are in Africa,” Schmidt wrote.

Michelle wasn’t angry

Schmidt added: “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. 

“I took these photos 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.”

Read more on:    nelson mandela  |  barack obama  |  celebrities publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

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