The photographer who captured President Barack Obama, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron taking a selfie at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service on Tuesday insists Michelle Obama’s stern reaction seen in the photo was not directed at the group.
“I later read on social media that Michelle Obama seemed to be rather peeved on seeing the Danish prime minister take the picture,” Roberto Schmidt, the Agence France-Presse photographer who took the photo, wrote in a blog post. “But photos can lie. 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.”
That didn’t stop the tabloids from splashing the first lady’s reaction shots on their covers.
“Michelle’s beside her selfie over flirty ‘Bam,” the Daily News declared.
“Flirting With Dane-Ger!” the New York Post warned.
“No Selfie Respect,” the U.K.’s Sun said.
Schmidt also defended the world leaders’ decision to take a selfie at the memorial service.
“All around me in the stadium, South Africans were dancing, singing and laughing to honor their departed leader,” Schmidt wrote. “It was more like a carnival atmosphere, not at all morbid.”
Tuesday’s event was not a funeral. Nonetheless, the “Selfies at Funerals” Tumblr, which documented the aforementioned trend, categorized the group’s selfie as one.
“Obama has taken a funeral selfie,” Jason Feifer, the site’s creator, wrote. “So our work here is done.”
Schmidt claims he was surprised by the controversy his photos generated.
“I took these photos totally spontaneously, without thinking about what impact they might have,” he wrote. “At the time, I thought the world leaders were simply acting like human beings, like me and you. I guess it’s a sign of our times that somehow this image seemed to get more attention than the event itself. Go figure.”