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Famed Photo of Skyscraper Workers May Have Been Staged

By Ben Fractenberg | September 20, 2012 10:00pm
New York artist Sergio Furnari's sculpture pays homage to the famous photograph
New York artist Sergio Furnari's sculpture pays homage to the famous photograph "Lunch Atop a Skyscraper," which turned 80 on Sept. 20, 2012.
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Spencer Platt/Getty Images

MIDTOWN — One of the city's most iconic images turned 80 Thursday, amid new evidence it might have been staged as part of a PR event.

The photograph, "Lunch Atop a Skyscraper," shows workers sitting on a metal beam suspended hundreds of feet in the air above Rockefeller Center while calmly eating their lunch.

New evidences shows there was more than one photographer on top of the world on Sept. 20, 1932, which leads some historians to think photograph was arranged.

There was at least one more image taken of four of the same workers pretending to take a nap on one the beams, according to Ken Johnston, a historian for Corbis Images.

Corbis now owns the rights to both photos, but the shots were originally owned by competing photo agencies, Acme and International News Photos.

Johnston assumed at first that someone from Rockefeller Center distributed the photos to the agencies, but when he looked at the negative of the famous photo earlier this year he realized it was an original, meaning it was taken by an Acme photographer — and so the photo from the competing agency must have been taken by someone else.

But Johnston doesn't think the shot was completely staged.

"Those guys are too strong of characters to be fakes," he said. "They do work up there. There's a great tradition of photographing construction workers up on the beams. "

Corbis tried in the past to find the men in the photo, but found it impossible to verify anything.

"It was either feast or famine," Johnston said. "[You got] 10 names per person or nothing."

Johnston, who works in Manhattan, was reminded of the picture on Wednesday when he left his office on Hudson Street.

"On the street there was a line of about 10 [construction] workers sitting next to each other," he said. "It looked exactly like it. You could have put them up on the beam."