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December 11th, 2013
07:06 PM ET

Photographer who captured Obama selfie speaks out

(CNN) – Nelson Mandela's memorial service Tuesday was a historic event where nearly 100 world leaders, past and present, joined thousands of South Africans to honor the anti-apartheid icon.

But it somehow devolved into a media sensation about a selfie.

Halfway through the ceremony, an AFP photographer caught President Barack Obama helping Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt as the two squeezed in with British Prime Minister David Cameron to take a smiling photo of themselves with a camera-phone. The photo also caught First Lady Michelle Obama, looking displeased.

But the photojournalist who captured the image says it has been taken out of context.

In the moments leading up to the photo, Michelle Obama was having a long conversation with Cameron, and the whole group was talking.

"The fact that she's kind of looking furious in the picture, I think she just wasn't involved with that moment, but I don't think it says more than that," said AFP photographer Roberto Schmidt

Schimdt wrote a blog about the suddenly viral photo, noting "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."

Schmidt says that is why the photo is drawing so much attention.

"It's because we never get to see them in such light. Nowadays, access is so controlled that we just don't see that, which I think is a shame," said Schmidt. "If as media we had more access to them, and showed them more as humans, which they are, then maybe, you know, images like this wouldn't be so shocking for people, or so entertaining - they wouldn't make such a big buzz."

Here in the U.S., dozens of mainstream media outlets are protesting White House media access, writing a letter to the White House Press this month alleging the press office has been barring photographers from events where Obama is present, and swapping in their own photographs as a substitute.

The letter to Jay Carney from the White House Correspondents Association (WHCA) decried the “routine” denial of photographers and videographers from occasions when the President is “performing his official duties.”

White House photographer Pete Souza was at the Mandela memorial.

"I don't see the White House distributing a picture of them taking a selfie. I'm sure he has it, but I don't see the White House distributing it. I don't think they would, either, which is a little bit of a shame," said Schmidt.

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