This is the real story of one of the most famous photos of all time - Lunch Atop Skyscraper famous photo real story revealed - The mythical photograph Lunch Atop a skyscraper, taken on September 20, 1932 in New York, appeared in the New York Herald-Tribune on October 2, 1932. That's pretty much the only two true facts we know from one of the most viewed and best-selling photographs in history.
An image that not only impacts for its visual strength and anachronism: today it would be impossible to capture, since it would be considered suicidal. It also has an important charge of symbolism. At the height of the Great Depression, it has been used as a symbol of the rebirth of America, and of the whole world.
It's a photograph full of secrets. Who took the picture? Who are the people who appear in it? Is it a perched with models, or are they really workers who were having lunch on the beam? Are they really suspended 260 meters high without protection? Let's try to unravel all these secrets, and some curiosities.
The official name of the photograph is Lunch Atop a Skyscraper, which can be translated as Lunch Atop a skyscraper, or lunch on the skyscraper.
Contrary to what many people believe, it is not a photograph of the construction of the Empire State. It is a fairly common mistake that has crept into some writings.
The first thing to know, is that it does not have any kind of trick or special effect. The people you see in the picture are actually sitting on the beam hanging at high altitude, without any protection.
It is one of the reasons why it impacts us today. The great skyscrapers of New York built in the 20s and 30s of the last century were erected with hardly protection for workers. Although there are no official figures because they were hidden, fatal accidents were frequent.
Lunch Atop Skyscraper famous photo real story revealed
The first secret to reveal is that it is not a spontaneous photo. It's an advertising photo that was taken to promote the building they were building.
But that doesn't take away any merit from the capture. The men who appear are real workers of the work and as we say do not carry any kind of protection. No actor or model could have shown that naturalness and carelessness while sitting on a beam suspended 260 meters from the ground. They were experienced Masons accustomed to heights, who had been raising the already almost finished building for years.
The skyscraper they were building is one of the most mythical in New York. It is the RCA Building in Rockefeller Center, which in 1988 was renamed the GE building, after the purchase of RCA by General Electric, and in 2015 was renamed the Comcast Building.
It is an Art Deco skyscraper that was finished in 1933, just a few months after taking the picture. With its 260 meters and 70 floors, it was one of the tallest in New York. The photo was taken on the 69th floor.
It is currently the 28th skyscraper in New York City. The world Trump Tower, belonging to the president of the United States Donald Trump, exceeds it by two meters.
Comcast Building is famous for being the world headquarters of NBC, the famous American television network, and the American Radio Corporation (RCA).
Inside it have been recorded mythical television programs such as Saturday Night Live, NBC Sports, or The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
Its location, number 30 of the Rockefeller Plaza, gave name to the famous sitcom 30 Rock, known in Spain as Rockefeller Plaza, and starring Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin. Outdoor scenes are shot on the outskirts of the skyscraper.
Despite being one of the most popular photographs in history, and also one of the most money it has generated, its author is not known.
In the 30s newspaper photographers did not have any recognition. They were simple anonymous workers who were in charge of taking photos to complement the news, but they were not given any value. Only a few paid photographers from the newspapers saw his name next to the photo, something that did not happen with those who sent news agencies, as is the case.
For 70 years it was classified as an anonymous photo, but in 2003 the family of photographer Charles Clyde Ebbets provided evidence that seems to confirm that he is the original author.
Charles Clyde Ebbets was the photographic Director of Rockefeller Center, there are photos of him next to the workers of the original image, he kept a glass negative, he had the photo in his office and press clippings about it in his diary, and he has other very similar photos, in addition to other confirmed evidence.
It can not be 100% confirmed that the photo is yours, but it seems most likely. No one else has claimed the authorship. You can see a part of the Ebbets photo collection on their official website Ebbets Photo-Graphics.
Despite everything the Corbis Agency, which owned the rights to the image, continues to qualify it as an anonymous photo, because there are photos with the same workers in other poses taken by other agencies, so it seems that there were several photographers taking photos that day in the same place.
As happened with the photographer, The New York Herald-Tribune also did not document the identity of the workers who appear in the mythical photograph.
The reality is that, probably, not even the company that hired them knew it. New York's skyscrapers of the turn of the century were built by immigrants who charged a pittance for such a dangerous job, with hardly any security, as you can see.
More than 40,000 people worked on the construction of the RCA Building and other skyscrapers at Rockefeller Plaza.
Although dozens of those workers claimed to be in the photo when she became famous, only three of them have been able to prove the identity of them.
The Irish documentary men at lunch, identifies two Irish immigrants. Third from left is Joseph Eckner, and third from right, Joe Curtis. He was able to identify them because other photographs were found taken the same day, where his name did appear.
The first man on the right is a Slovak worker named Gustáv Popovič. In 1932 he sent a postcard to his wife with the photo, in which he said: "Do not worry dear Mariška, as you can see I still have the bottle". He is the only worker who has a bottle in his hand.
The National American Indian Museum also claims to have recognized three Native Americans in the photo. But it is based on testimonies of its descendants, and there is no conclusive evidence.
Professional cameras of that time kept negatives in glass, rather than on photo paper. This original negative, which you can see in the top photo, was broken into several pieces. Fortunately, before it happened, several high-quality copies were created, which are the ones used in reproductions.
This original negative was stored in the Bettmann Archive, which was part of the Acme Newspictures archive, which was acquired by the Corbis agency in 1995. He sold it to Visual China Group in 2016. His photos can be found on Gettyimages.
The original negative, along with millions of photos, old documents and other valuable material from the Corbis archive, were kept in a safety cave inside Iron Mountain, Pennsylvania, where they are kept at a constant temperature.
As Mentalfloss explains, Lunch Atop a skyscraper is the best-selling photo of the entire Corbis archive in its entire history, while he had it in his possession. It sold an average of 100 copies a month, for more than 10 years.
As we have mentioned, the photo is not rigged, and the 11 men were really climbed to the beam, which protruded from the skyscraper at a great height, as can be deduced from the background.
But the catch does not show what is right under the beam. Considering the large number of photos of the time with a similar staging, and the tranquility shown by the workers, some photography experts believe that actually under the beam there could be a finished floor, which would cushion a possible fall. But it can not be proved.
Copyright Wikimedia / Corbis / Visual China Group
Lunch Atop Skyscraper famous photo real story revealed
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