There’s been a bit of a back-and-forth online today about whether this famous photo—which turned 80 today—was a classic example of in-the-moment photojournalism or a well-executed PR stunt.
The pic, titled “Lunch atop a Skyscraper”, depicts a crew of laborers in the process of building New York’s Rockefeller Center in 1932; it originally appeared in the New York Herald Tribune, and it remains Corbis’s top-selling historical image. We mostly remember it from its prominent place on the ceiling of our high school dentist’s office. (Here’s the trailer for an upcoming documentary on the photo session.)
The Daily Mail used the occasion of the photo’s “birth” to question its authenticity–and The Independent quickly jumped on board. Their smoking-gun evidence of fakery? A second pic from the same set in which some of the workers pretend to nap along the same beam and a quote from Corbis archivist Ken Johnston saying, “The image was a publicity effort by the Rockefeller Center…the event was organized with a number of photographers.” Hmm…
Jim Edwards of Business Insider quickly sought to dispel this “revelation”, highlighting a photo taken more than a week after the Corbis image that depicts a construction crew on the same site eating lunch and smoking on a bar–in other words, doing exactly the same thing.
Even if the photo was staged, does it really matter? The obvious comfort with which these guys sit on the bar hundreds of feet above hard concrete (aka certain death) clearly shows that they did this kind of thing all the time.
So what do you think of the photo: Classic evidence of the resilient American workforce, or staged PR stunt?