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    Walt Shakes

    Walter Ude (@Walt_Shakes) is an award-winning Nigerian writer, poet and veteran blogger. He is a lover of the written word. the faint whiff of nature, the flashing vista of movies, the warmth of companionship and the happy sound of laughter. He blogs at mymindsnaps.wordpress.com.

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‘Photos can lie.’ Photographer defends Michelle Obama in the Obama selfie pictures that went viral

1osIf you haven’t heard about or seen the Obama Selfie photos, then you probably have been laying low under a rock or something.

At Nelson Mandela‘s memorial service held on Tuesday 10th December 2013, the world couldn’t stop buzzing about President Barack Obama taking a selfie with UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt.

Also buzzing were reports that Michelle Obama wasn’t too happy with Barack taking the selfie with Helle and David, because in almost all photos which surfaced online she appears to be cold, distant and aloof. Some news organizations are even reporting that Michelle was jealous of Helle.

See the Photos.2os3os4os5os6os7os8os

The photographer who took the viral photos posted an article online defending Michelle Obama:

‘So here’s the photo, my photo, which quickly lit up the world’s social networks and news websites. The “selfie” of three world leaders who, during South Africa’s farewell to Nelson Mandela, were messing about like kids instead of behaving with the mournful gravitas one might expect.

‘In general on this blog, photojournalists tell the story behind a picture they’ve taken. I’ve done this for images from Pakistan, and India, where I am based. And here I am again, but this time the picture comes from a stadium in Soweto, and shows people taking a photo of themselves. I guess it’s a sign of our times that somehow this image seemed to get more attention than the event itself. Go figure.

‘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.

‘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. For me, the behaviour of these leaders in snapping a selfie seems perfectly natural. I see nothing to complain about, and probably would have done the same in their place. 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.

‘It was interesting to see politicians in a human light because usually when we see them it is in such a controlled environment. Maybe this would not be such an issue if we, as the press, would have more access to dignitaries and be able to show they are human as the rest of us.

‘I confess too that it makes me a little sad we are so obsessed with day-to-day trivialities, instead of things of true importance. -Richard Schmidt | AFP’

There are other photos you haven’t seen, and they are these:9os10os

Leave a comment


  1. nik

     /  December 12, 2013

    the make up kiss

    • Yemie

       /  December 12, 2013

      @ Nik, you’re cracking me up, the make up kiss? That’s hilarious and it really looks like that’s what’s playing out here. Photographer say the pictures dem dey lie but even a bat can see in broad daylight that Michelle looks like she’s seething and Obama looks like he’s balling. Lol!.

      Well, we believe you oga foto, and that press release sounds very honest. Thumbs up Sir, you did a hell of a job.

  2. Yemie

     /  December 12, 2013

    Yes o, its very good to know that the most powerful man on earth’s not always businesslike, not a ‘jew’; so to speak. He plays, he actually does have a boyish, playful side to him. That’s exceptional.

  3. Chisom12

     /  December 12, 2013

    When I look at these pictures I’m not particular about the path of curiosity others have towed, I have a few Quick questions: at what time in the programme were they taking these photos? Who was speaking then if at all someone was? If a person was speaking, are Obama and his friends poor listeners or was the fellow a lightweight amongst the teeming heavy weighters of world leaders present or was the speaker downright boring? Would any of our African leaders be bold/free to do something similar in western countries while at a memorial service of a ‘giant of history’ Westener? I am really curious about these.
    Quick observation: while Obama and his political friends were doing playplay, Mitchelle was comporting herself well and methinks it’s because she may be on her way to an American presidency 3 elections down the line (abeg, make one small picture no come make American voters say no!). The other threesome have nothing to lose, they are already political office holders who will serve out their terms jeje.
    The pics are lovely anyway, they show their human side and I like them.

  4. Marthy

     /  December 12, 2013

    The photos portray that which we want to see about our world leaders. And this photographer did an eternal job, with the photos and by speaking up to correct the wrong impressions about it.

  5. All I see in this picture is Obama’s big beautiful smile :d and I love love love the fact that he and Michelle seem to go everywhere together… it is simply amazing 🙂

  6. Challie

     /  December 13, 2013

    So Im wondering why our leaders cant just live free and live like normal humans, imagine Jonah taking a selfie with Patience and Ngozi…lolzzz. SMH


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