The Take Is A Lie

Most everyone recognizes this iconic photo from the Great Depression. (Yes, I know it’s a Simpsons take-off, but Getty copyrighted the original photo.) Eleven iron workers sitting on a girder eating their lunch, high atop Manhattan.

Eleven pairs of loafers were dangling over the New York City skyline. It was September of 1932, as the Great Depression was reaching its height. Unemployment and uncertainty could be felt throughout the city and the entire country. But on West 49th Street, a pillar of hope was under construction: the art deco skyscraper that would come to be known as 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

The ironworkers constructing its 70 floors were taking a break, sharing boxed lunches and cigarettes. They appeared to be unfazed by the location of this break: a narrow steel beam jutting out into the sky, hundreds of feet above the pavement.

I’ve always loved the photo, but today I learned the truth about it.

Photo buffs know the truth behind the classic photo: It was staged.

Wait, what?

The men in the picture were real ironworkers. They did build the structure that is now the 22nd tallest building in New York City and home to NBC studios. But rather than capture them in the midst of their lunch break, the photographer posed them on the beam for multiple takes — images that were intended as advertising for the new building. Some historians believe there was a sturdy level of the structure, then called the RCA building, just below the frame.

Now, I am not a smart man by any means, but this shocked me. I understand most every photo is staged at this point in American history, but during the Great Depression? Wasn’t that a simpler time, with simpler people? I gave so much credit to this photographer for the shot, only to find out the guy was effectively a hack. Sad.

3 thoughts on “The Take Is A Lie

  1. The same thing was done during the War of Northern Aggression. A vast number of the battlefield photos were staged. And yes, dead bodies were moved and posed to make things more photogenic…….


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