‘Lunch atop a Skyscraper,’ the 1932 American iconic photograph and focus of a new Irish documentary, may have all been a sham. A rarely-seen photograph from that same day has some archivists believing the entire scene was a setup.
The Daily Mail reports that some archivists believe the photo must have been staged. In the photo, several workers served as models for what appears to be lunchtime while sitting on a steel beam 69 stories above New York City.
“The image was a publicity effort by the Rockefeller Center. It seems pretty clear they were real workers, but the event was organised with a number of photographers,” Ken Johnston, chief historian for Corbis Images, which owns the rights to the photo, told the Independent.
The photograph was taken 80 years ago on September 20, 1932, during the construction of the RCA site, which would later renamed the GE Building, part of the Rockefeller Center in New York City.
Johnston added that ‘Lunch atop a Skyscraper’ is Corbis’ best-selling image, beating out pictures of Martin Luther King and Albert Einstein. He called the world-famous and often reproduced image “a piece of American history.”
However, a separate image from that same day in 1932 is leading archivists to believe that the entire photo was a setup. A second, rarely seen photo shows several of the men laying down on the beam, perhaps proving that the whole thing was staged.
While it is widely acknowledge that the photo opportunity was indeed intended to garner publicity for the nearly-completed building, whether or not it was completely staged - as in, were the men truly 69 stories high? - remains debated.
Staged or not, the photo holds a special place in the timeline of America, highlighting not only the new era that America was coming into, but also the increasingly diverse population that was doing the constructing.
A new Irish documentary ‘Men at Lunch’ which was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival, tells the story of the history of the photo and, more importantly, the search to find the identities of the men in the picture.
“Like any great photograph, it sparks wonder,” a man in the trailer for the film says. “What kind of men would do this? What the heck was going on here? Who are they?”
Several of the men are believed to be Irish immigrants who had come to America desperate for any kind of work - even if it was as dangerous as working, unprotected, nearly 70 stores about a city.
What do you think? Was ‘Lunch atop a Skyscraper’ staged or the real thing?
Watch the promo for the Irish film ‘Men at Lunch’ here: