A photo of Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt taking a selfie with Barack Obama and David Cameron somehow became the enduring image of the Nelson Mandela memorial service yesterday, with the entire Internet playing along, and newspapers and cable news following suit. (The cover of today’s New York Post: “Flirting With Dane-ger.”) But the photographer behind the automatic 2013 artifact doesn’t see what the big deal is. “I guess it’s a sign of our times that somehow this image seemed to get more attention than the event itself,” says Roberto Schmidt. “Go figure.”
The world leaders, Schmidt writes on the AFP blog, “were messing about like kids instead of behaving with the mournful gravitas one might expect.” But he doesn’t blame them, although his reasoning comes out a bit awkward. “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,” he writes. “The atmosphere was totally relaxed – I didn’t see anything shocking in my viewfinder, president of the US or not. We are in Africa.”
“For me, the behaviour of these leaders in snapping a selfie seems perfectly natural,” he adds. “I see nothing to complain about, and probably would have done the same in their place.”
And to those running with the Michelle-was-pissed story, Schmidt reminds us that “photos can lie.” “In reality, just a few seconds earlier the first lady was herself joking with those around her, Cameron and Schmidt included,” Schmidt says. “Her stern look was captured by chance.” But a bored nation concocting presidential fan fiction online is, in its own way, also perfectly natural.