President Obama Selfie Photographer Sets the Record Straight: ‘Photos Can Lie’

Roberto Schmidt captured the moment at the Nelson Mandela memorial service, and assures the public that there was nothing controversial about it

Last Updated: July 10, 2014 @ 7:48 PM

President Barack Obama was taking heat Tuesday after a photo surfaced of him taking a selfie (above) with two other world leaders at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service in South Africa, but the man who snapped the picture is urging the world to chill.

“For me, the behavior of these leaders in snapping a selfie seems perfectly natural,” Roberto Schmidt, a German-Colombian photojournalist based in India, wrote on Wednesday in the AFP’s correspondent blog. “I see nothing to complain about, and probably would have done the same in their place.”

See photos: Nelson Mandela Death: The Anti-Apartheid Freedom Fighter’s Life in Pictures

Other members of the media saw it differently. Conservative radio and television personality Glenn Beck, for example, called the photo with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Denmark’s Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt “disgusting,” and proof that the President is “out-of control arrogant.”

Numerous outlets covered the outrage flowing from media members and social media users, alike. But of those complaining, few were actually at the ceremony, which Schmidt described as “not at all morbid.”

Selfies at funerals have become a controversial trend as of late — even collected on an aptly titled Tumblr for all to marvel at (or cringe) — but Schmidt pointed out that the memorial service was actually more of a joyous occasion full of South Africans “dancing, singing and laughing to honor their departed leader.”

Also read: Idris Elba, Morgan Freeman React to Nelson Mandela Death

Observers discussing the viral photograph couldn’t help but notice Michelle Obama’s serious facial expression, which filmmaker Michael Moore called “priceless” and many more assumed was disapproval from the First Lady. Schmidt pointed out the obvious, however, that a photograph only captures a quick moment in time — and she was actually laughing with the foreign dignitaries “just a few seconds earlier.”

“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,” Schmidt wrote. “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.”

Also read: How Nelson Mandela’s Spirit Can Inspire Us All (Guest Blog)

Schmidt has a much more optimistic view of his photograph capturing the candid moment between world leaders “simply acting like human beings.” And it’s the world’s reaction — not Obama’s action — that disturbs Schmidt the most.

“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 concluded.