Michelle Obama was not unhappy during Nelson Mandela ‘selfie’, photographer insists
AFP photographer who took picture of Barack Obama, David Cameron and Denmark’s Helle Thorning-Schmidt, insists Michelle Obama had been smiling only moments before
By Natasha Clark
1:10PM GMT 11 Dec 2013
Michelle Obama’s stern expression during a picture of David Cameron, Barack Obama and Denmark’s Helle Thorning-Schmidt at Nelson Mandela’s memorial was captured “by chance” and she had been laughing only seconds before, according to the photographer.
The photograph of the Danish prime minister’s “selfie” with President Obama and Mr Cameron featured on front pages around the world. While the trio looked delighted to be at the memorial in Soweto, the US first lady looked distinctly unimpressed in the background.
However, it was a misleading image capturing a natural and relaxed atmosphere, according to Roberto Schmidt, the AFP photographer responsible for the snap.
“Anyway, suddenly this woman pulled out her mobile phone and took a photo of herself smiling with Cameron and the US president,” he wrote in a blog for AFP. “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.
“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.”
Around two hours into the four-hour long ceremony to remember the former South African leader, the president and two prime ministers posed for a picture on Mrs Thorning Schmidt’s mobile phone, prompting criticisms that it was unprofessional at such an event.
Some took to Twitter to voice their concerns over the behaviour. James Armitage wrote “What morons take a ‘selfie’ at a memorial service? Oh yeah that’s right, Barack Obama and David Cameron.”
Sarah McDermott accused David Cameron of having “zero class or decorum.”
Later photos show Mr Obama swapping seats with his wife Michelle, fuelling claims that she was annoyed with his behaviour.
The picture was taken after President Obama paid an emotional tribute to Nelson Mandela, describing him as a ‘giant’ of history and encouraging world leaders to follow his example.
- David Cameron explains selfie with Obama and Helle Thorning-Schmidt at Mandela Memorial (independent.co.uk)
- Who is Helle Thorning-Schmidt? (foxnews.com)
- Michelle Obama was not unhappy during Nelson Mandela ‘selfie’, photographer insists (telegraph.co.uk)
- Obama & Cameron’s ‘selfie’ during Mandela memorial (itv.com)
- Media reaction to the Obama-Cameron-Thorning Schmidt ‘selfie’ was immature and sexist | Kayla Epstein (theguardian.com)
- Obama selfie: An explanation from Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt and British PM David Cameron (vancouversun.com)
- David Cameron Explains Why He Agreed To Nelson Mandela Selfie With Obama And Thorning-Schmidt (huffingtonpost.co.uk)
- Really? President Obama, David Cameron and Denmark’s PM, Helle Thorning Schmidt take a selfie at Mandela memorial (ambulivictor.wordpress.com)
- Obama Snaps Selfie at Nelson Mandela Memorial Service (wpgc.cbslocal.com)
- Michelle Obama looks furious as Barack chats to attractive Danish PM at Nelson Mandela’s memorial (mirror.co.uk)