Tuesday, May 31, 2011

'Lunch atop a Skyscraper (New York Construction Workers Lunching on a Crossbeam)' [1932] - Charles C. Ebbets

Regarded as one of the most famous images of the 20th Century, 'Lunch atop a Skyscraper (New York Construction Workers Lunching on a Crossbeam)' is a famous photograph taken by Charles C. Ebbets during construction of the GE Building (30 Rockefeller Plaza) at the Rockefeller Center in New York City on September 29, 1932. Before I begin my analysis I would firstly like to state the difficultly in finding information on both the image and the photographer. At the time, Ebbets photographs were used mainly for articles in newspapers and, like Vincent Van Gogh's work, did not hold any popular culture significance until after his death.

The image shows eleven men sat on a girder on the 69th floor, hundreds of feet above New York City's skyline, eating lunch and comes at a time in which sixteen of the city's eighty-two tallest buildings were constructed. The image is one of many depicting the construction of New York City's skyscrapers but not all, including this image, match the daily lives of the workers who participated in the construction of skyscrapers between 1920 and 1935. The cloud like mist in which the buildings in the background peer from shows the sheer height in which the men are sitting. America has always been a country in which bigger was better and in this case the mist represents the process in which America attempts to reach for the heavens. There is a debate concerning this images authenticity, is it real or is it a photo shop fake? After researching as much information as I could on the image, I believe it to be real but staged. It is believed that Ebbets' photographs were taken in order to denounce the obvious dangers that faced the workers and this image does just that by depicting the workers as happy, chatty and smoking and so at ease with their surroundings. However, there is one gentleman in the image that stands out, the one of the far right. He is not involved with the others discussions and is not smiling. He looks at the camera with a slight fear in his eyes and grasping on to what looks like a bottle of alcohol. Is the alcohol an essential for this worker to pluck up the courage to sit on the edge, hovering above the busy streets hundreds of feet below? The fact is that many workers did fall to their death during the construction of Manhattan's skyline and as a result again shows Ebbet's intention of diminishing the common belief that this task was far too dangerous for those creating the iconic American image. It also emphasises the great lengths many had to go through during the Great Depression as many risked their lives in order to put food on the table and clothe their families.

More on the GE building, its distinctive Art Deco design and its famous murals can be found at: http://www.rockefellercenter.com/art-and-history/history/1930s/

1 comment:

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