The photographer who captured the now-viral photo of Miami Heat fan Filomena Tobias making an obscene gesture to Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah says he didn’t even see the finger in question.
Steve Mitchell, a USA Today freelancer based in South Florida, told Poynter over the phone not only was he unaware who Tobias is, he didn’t see she was flipping the bird while he was editing his photos on deadline after Wednesday’s game.
“I didn’t see if it was her finger or what. I was focused on him,” Mitchell said, adding that he did notice she was getting a bit too close for Noah’s comfort. He didn’t know the photo had gained so much notoriety, though. “I just knew she was putting her hand in his face. … I’m working on a very small computer when I transmit.”
Heat fans had some words (& a gesture) for Joakim Noah as he was ejected. twitter.com/BleacherReport…
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 9, 2013
The Tobias image took on a life of its own when it was used by sports commentators like Bleacher Report’s Grant Hughes to deride Miami Heat fans, then exploded after the South Florida Sun Sentinel found out Tobias was the widow of hedge fund manager and CNBC commentator Seth Tobias. Seth Tobias died of a heart attack under murky circumstances in 2007, as recounted by New York magazine and The New York Times. It’s a great yarn, involving sex, drugs, divorce, reconcile and a male stripper named Tiger.
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel identified Palm Beach’s Filomena Tobias by putting out a call on the paper’s website. An anonymous tip led to the paper finding the woman’s daughter, Victoria Racanati, Sun-Sentinel visual assignment editor George Wilson told Poynter. When the paper called Racanati on the phone, she said Filomena Tobias was “embarrassed, but she is being a good sport. She was having fun just like any other fan. All she has to say is that people need to get a life.”
Mitchell said he’s had photos get big play in his 23 years as a journalist, including a Newsweek cover during the 2001 anthrax scare and some sports images, but nothing like the attention this image has drawn, thanks to social media (where his work is rarely credited).
“Now everything is on Twitter or Instagram. It doesn’t bother me,” he said. “As a journalist I’m there to tell a story. … I’m just there to take pictures.”