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AFP journo defends presidential ‘selfie’

UK PM David Cameron and US President Barack Obama posed for a ‘selfie’ with the Danish PM.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama pose for a ‘selfie’ with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt at Nelson Mandela's memorial service, FNB Stadium, 10 December 2013. Picture: AFP.

LONDON - The photographer who caught UK Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama posing for a 'selfie' with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt at Tuesday's national memorial service for Nelson Mandela says people are over reacting to the image.

The craze for taking a picture of yourself at arms-length using your mobile phone has become common place.

But there has been widespread criticism for the trio in international media.

Concerns were raised that it was inappropriate to do that at an event organised to remember Madiba.

He died last week at the age of 95.

British newspapers on Wednesday condemned their actions.

Another tweet, directed at David Cameron, said, "You have precisely zero class or decorum."

Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro's handshake could lead to world peace, or a "selfie"next time they meet. pic.twitter.com/K0PeRbeQEJ

One Danish etiquette expert described her leader's behaviour as a "poor representation" of Danish people.

But Agence France-Presse (AFP) photojournalist Roberto Schmidt, who took the image, wrote about it on the AFP website.

He said it has been taken out of context and is receiving undue attention.

Schmidt said the agency produced serious work during the memorial.

Describing what led up to the selfie, Schmidt noted that Obama had just completed his powerful address when he sat down next to his wife Michelle and the Danish and British prime ministers.

"Suddenly, [Thorning-Schmidt] pulled out her mobile phone and took a photo of herself smiling with Cameron and the US president. 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."

Schmidt believes world leaders "were simply acting like human beings, like me and you," and were not being inappropriate considering the festive atmosphere.

"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.

He also points out that Michelle was not upset by the selfie, as assumed by many who noted her stern look in his photograph.

"I later read on social media that Michelle Obama seemed to be rather peeved at 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."

The photographer is also upset that the particular image received so much attention, taking away from the gravity of the event itself.

"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. This seemingly trivial image seems to have eclipsed much of this collective work. It makes me a little sad. We are so obsessed with day-to-day trivialities instead of things of true importance."