Former Chronicle photographer Lee Thompson took the ultimate ‘selfie’ while covering preparations for this summer’s World Cup in Brazil.
Lee, a freelance photojournalist of international renown, managed to charm his way to the top of the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue and take a spine-tingling picture of himself, with Brazil’s second largest city, Rio De Janeiro, thousands of feet below.
Lee, 31, originally from Vicars Cross, Chester, explained: “As far as selfies go, I can’t compete with popes, presidents, and radical Russians, because as a photographer my job is to take the shots, not star in them. But when the opportunity arose to take the world’s first (and so far only) selfie with Jesus, I couldn’t resist.
“Even though I had been to Rio many times and admired the iconic statue from afar, I had never had the time to visit the Christ the Redeemer statue in person, let alone imagine snapping a selfie of me popping out of his head just two hours later!”
But a severe lightning storm had damaged the statue in January and Lee knew workers were busy with repairs, so decided to take a stab in the dark and, along with colleague Oliver Harvey, managed to convince the Brazil tourist board to allow them to climb to the top and take some seriously vertigo-inducing photographs.
The former Christleton High School pupil, who lives in London, added: “When I arrived at the foot of the 98-foot (38-metre) tall statue and saw the platform awash with a sea of tourists, the gravity of what I was about to experience hit me and the butterflies in my stomach went nuts.
“With the assistance of two high-wire workmen, we entered through scaffolding mounted on the feet and crawled in circles up 12 flights of rickety stairs that seemed to get narrower with every step.
“Twenty minutes into the climb I reached the heart of the Christ made from beautiful Mosaics. After what felt like an eternity of pressing heat and pitch darkness, we finally reached the small compartment in Christ’s shoulder. I grabbed the rope and pulled myself along the smooth soapstone up into the head of the statue where we carefully opened the hatch. My heart was pounding with excitement and I couldn’t wait another second.
“As I popped my head out of the hole in Jesus’ crown, I was in total and utter awe as my eyes met with a vast panorama that quite literally took my breath away. Talk about a religious experience! I’ve never been afraid of heights or tight spaces, but experiencing acrophobia, claustrophobia and profound awe at the same time was something truly remarkable.
Lee, who has taken pictures of some of the planet’s biggest stars and come under fire in some of the world’s toughest trouble spots, has experienced role reversal after becoming the subject of his own story, explaining that it had “gone crazy”. Good Morning America and New Zealand TV are among the media outlets lining up to interview him.
“Whether you call it a craze, a visual revolution, or simply a photographic form of graffiti, now that Merriam-Webster has added ‘selfie’ into the English dictionary, it looks like the idea is officially here to stay. Even Nasa recently confirmed that the Mars Rover has been pimped up to take selfies!” said Lee.
“To some, taking pictures of yourself is considered vain, but this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity taught me that the selfie is a powerful medium through which we can share our perspectives, inspirations and personal stories with the world at large. It’s not about funny mugshots with scenic backdrops or daredevil stunts. It’s a way to mark the moment and say, “I was here”.
Lee is the co-founder, along with girlfriend Radha Vyas, of The Flash Pack; a group travel specialist offering exclusive experiences and adventures not available to the average tourist.
For more details, visit: www.theflashpack.co.uk .