PetaPixel

Men at Lunch: A Documentary About One of the Most Iconic Photos Taken in NYC

Men at Lunch is an amazing new documentary film by Seán Ó Cualáin that explores the story of one of the most iconic photographs of the 20th century: Lunch atop a Skyscraper. the 1932 photo of eleven construction workers taking a lunch break while sitting on a girder suspended 850 feet above New York City.

Here’s the original photograph by Charles C. Ebbets:

It was taken on September 29, 1932 from the 69th floor of the RCA building during its last few months of construction. Despite being published in the New York Herald Tribune a few days later, the photo spent the better part of the past century either misattributed or marked with “photographer unknown”. Not until 2003 did a thorough investigation uncover Ebbets as the photographer behind the image.

Men at Lunch doesn’t focus on the technical details of the photograph or the photographer behind the camera, but instead peers into the photograph itself to answer questions about the subjects. The description on the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) site states,

Ever since the photograph was published anonymously in the New York Herald Tribune on October 2, 1932, the men’s identities have been a mystery. Many of those who have been fascinated by the photo throughout the years have shared the conviction that one of the workers is a distant relative; others, meanwhile, have questioned the photo’s authenticity outright. Accessing the vast photography archives at Rockefeller Center and the Iron Mountain storage facility in Pennsylvania, Ó Cualáin follows the clues in an attempt to discover the photo’s long-held secrets. With the meticulous, painstaking precision of a detective, Ó Cualáin tracks down the original glass-plate negative, and then reconstructs the photograph as a digital projection with actors recreating the workers’ poses, allowing the minutiae of the image to be studied from every possible perspective. Interviews with archivists, photographers, and historians eventually uncover compelling evidence that a few of the photo’s subjects may have roots in the small village of Shanaglish, Ireland.

Here’s the trailer for the film:

The movie will be screened at TIFF next month. Hopefully it gains enough traction to see a wider release!


P.S. By the way, Ebbets was also the photographer behind a second iconic photo: Men Asleep on a Girder. If you’ve always thought the two photos looked strangely similar, now you know why.


 
 
  • http://www.facebook.com/dland Dave Land

    The existence of the “Men Asleep…” photo makes it clearer that “Lunch atop a Skyscraper” was, right from the start, a set-up shot, and not (as I’d imagined) a candid moment captured by an intrepid photographer, but that takes nothing away from its ability to capture the “can-do” spirit of those now-quintessentially-American immigrants.

  • Mai Ebbets

    Glad that this is coming out and people will see history!

  • Joe Mezzanini

    How the heck do we get to see it??

  • ed garlik

    @1:42 does not look like nyc subway???@ 23rd st??

  • viizio

    LIRR or METRO-NORTH (stock images)??????

    still
    …………………….A GREAT PHOTO!!!

  • Guest

    I am utterly confused by this story. The photograph “Men at Lunch” has always (at least in my 20+ years of learning the history of photography) been attributed to Lewis Hine while workers were constructing the Empire State Building. Now this image is being claimed by another photographer? Following research protocol, I researched this photo again and found more than 3 credible sources that still give credit to Lewis Hine. Does anyone else disagree?

  • J. Berryman

    I am utterly confused by this story. The photograph “Men at Lunch” has always (at least in my 20+ years of learning the history of photography) been attributed to Lewis Hine while workers were constructing the Empire State Building. Now this image is being claimed by another photographer? Following research protocol, I researched this photo again and found more than 3 credible sources that still give credit to Lewis Hine. Does anyone else disagree?

  • http://www.petapixel.com Michael Zhang

    Apparently the photo is frequently misattributed to Hine: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lunch_atop_a_Skyscraper

  • Alan Organ

    This is a Lewis Hine image????

  • Potsopopa

    my grandfather Achille Michael Mariano was one of the men who worked on them skyscrapers. He came here from Italy in 1931 an was forsed to work on them to get freedom. As many of the men and women had to do. The Rockerfeller’s made them. I know the untold stories from my grandmother. They had only bread sent up to them to eat so they did not slow production coming down to get in the bread line. They were the men who died everyday just for a better life for their families. Yes. They are true heros.

  • Skaggydog

    Look again, it says Rockefeller Center 1932. I had read Empire State Building as well in 1930.

  • ErickwithaK

    He was forced to, huh? Yes, the Rockefellers had goon squads scouring the ghettos, rounding up immigrants and forcing them, at gun point!, up 850 feet to work on the skyscrapers of the day. Try again.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joseph.i.megill Joseph Megill IV

    Third guy from the left is Joe Megill the second. Local 40 ironworker born in 1905. Second generation Irish

  • http://www.facebook.com/joseph.i.megill Joseph Megill IV

    Third guy from the left is Joe Megill the second.Local 40 ironworker, Born in 1905. Second generation Irish.

  • anna

    where do u find the full documentary of men at lunch